Gem has been carting me around for seven years now and hopefully we have just as many more to come in the future. Our last outing on cross country got me thinking about my level of confidence.
I’m not an inherently brave person. I don’t seek high adrenaline sports or events to get my pleasure in life. I like challenges, but I like them within a normal view of safety. Horse riding in general, and jumping specifically, are inherently dangerous but there are lots of ways to mitigate that and create a relatively safe bubble. I’m not the person to jump on a new to me horse, go galloping across the fields and jump just because someone handed me the reins. In fact, I pretty much have to feel pretty secure before attempting anything on Gem which is a fact that bothers Trainer a little bit.
The interesting thing is that I was actually more confident before I began riding Gem although I would suggest that the level of confidence I have now is healthier.
My riding experiences before Gem were pretty extensive although not in a regulated training sort of way. I spent my youth riding all over the place: the mountains in PA, along the battlefields in Gettysburg, along the rivers in WV, and in Acadia National Park in Maine. These rides were never slow. I did more galloping, flat out racing and technical work than I have ever since. I rode my Aunt’s horses and to this day I can’t figure out if they were just that darn good or if my memory has faded out any issues I might have had. Either way, I felt invincible. I could cross fast moving, deep rivers and swim alongside my horse. I could travel down hills that made the horse slide down on their butt and back up the other side laughing. I never said no to anything although a lot of that had to do with the fact that my Aunt and Uncle were always there and were my rocks. This was multiplied by the fact that I had never, not one single time in thousands of miles of rugged terrain and break neck speeds, ever fell off. Not one time.
I grew older and ventured out on other horses and adventures without them: lessons, trail rides, my honeymoon riding in France.
Then I got Gemmie. Yes, a lot had changed. I was now an adult and had a lot of responsibilities as well as a healthy sense of my mortality. The first time I rode her, I had my confidence fully installed. I knew I could ride and this horse would be no different than any other. Except I was dead wrong. Gemmie did not (and still doesn’t) tolerate anything other than perfection.
It took all of a month, maybe less, for her to destroy my confidence and make me into a whimpering, fetal position riding freak. I fell off her at least a dozen times and felt so inadequate. I couldn’t even ride 10 feet down a trail with her at first without freaking out, falling off or crying. It was bad.
Since she entered my life I have learned to hook up and haul a trailer solo, rode countless miles alone on trails, went horse camping alone and with friends, started in endurance and completed a 100 and now I am jumping not only in the arena, but out on the cross country course as well. All things I never would have imagined being able to do.
Have I ever reached that level of confidence I had before I threw my leg over Gem that firs time? No. I think though, that that is a good thing. My confidence before stemmed from a lack of anything bad having ever happened before. Sure I knew you could fall off and in theory it would hurt, but I had never experienced the feeling before. Nor had I experienced the feeling of a horse not listening at all to you and doing whatever they wanted to instead. Or the sensation of the horse under you no longer being there because they have turned 180 degrees, dropped their shoulder and departed at 100 mph. All these things, Gem taught me.
But she also taught me to sit up, put my leg on and ride. Actually ride. My confidence now stems from the knowledge that I can handle the situation as it presents itself, deal with it and move on. I know what I can handle and what I can’t and move within that realm as it shifts and changes to allow for new skills and new challenges. I won’t be found galloping wildly down a lane with Gem, but that is okay. I can be found working on bend, grids and cross country fences with the knowledge of what I am doing wrong and how to fix it.
Confidence is a tricky beast, but I am glad I don’t have the same as I did before. The confidence that Gem has taught me is more solid, less easily destroyed by a single bad ride or experience and is a stringer base to work off of.