Remember riding when you were a kid? We climbed on top from a gate or a truck bumper. No bridle, no saddle, no worries. Remember the way the sun felt on our shoulders? If it was hot enough, there was a thin layer of sweat between our horse and our cut-offs–intermingled sweat. We didn’t take lessons, we were free. In our mind’s eye, when we look down, we see our tan legs against his flank and sometimes our colors ran together. We were chestnut tan from the sun; we were dirty bay at the end of the day. It was fun and wild and we didn’t always make it back for lunch. We were fearless.
May I break in on this idyllic memory for a moment? There are a few reasons it went so well; first off, we didn’t fight. Most of us had no steering and didn’t care; if our horse didn’t go where we wanted, we went where he wanted. The plan was to ride; that was good enough. If we were still on an hour or two later, it was a great ride. If we had to get off and lead our horse, that was good, too. It was summer. We had very low expectations and no thought of controlling anything.
As adults, we get to the mounting block carrying a mental load that weighs four times what we do. And those are just the day-to-day stresses: time, money, relationships. We bring a list of things to do, but we don’t exactly remember what’s on the list. Still we hold on. Most of all, we are on a time schedule. Maybe there is a show coming, or we have another appointment, but usually it’s because we are in a hurry all the time and it’s a habit now. All of this, and we aren’t in the saddle yet.
The biggest killer of the long-lost kid-ride? We worry about how we ride, how we look, how our horse looks; even if we don’t compete we judge it all–usually harsher than a trainer or judge would. We have self-doubt. Sometimes it’s just a feeling; a sticky green nonspecific frustration with a red ric-rak fringe of impatience. It doesn’t look good on anyone.
In truth, I don’t know if our childhood rides were actually all that blissful. I doubt it. I do know that we’re more self-conscious now, and thoughts, worries, and anxieties get in our way. Maybe if we heard our thoughts in someone else’s voice, they’d sound silly, but inside our heads, they seem sacred and true, and a bit more so each time we repeat them. Our favorite jab–we wish we rode like we did as kids. Even if we didn’t actually ride as kids, we still have that fantasy.
So, we grew up and got self-conscious–feeling an over-sized awareness that included uncomfortable emotions like embarrassment and nervousness. Self-consciousness comes with judgement. Humility is good, but if our confidence suffers, so does our leadership. Then we sit on our horse’s back talking to ourselves about our horse and his problems. We leave him out of the conversation entirely. Meanwhile our horse is out there in the real world looking for some help.
We can’t become childlike again. Our hormones see to that. And frankly, riding like we did when we were kids was dangerous and if we keep doing that indefinitely, our guardian angels will give up on us.
Maybe the closest we could get to being childlike again is to replace self-conscious thought with self-aware thought. Less judgement and more openness. It means experiencing the world through our senses instead of our intellect. It’s closer to how kids and horses do it.