I believe there is greatness in every being on earth. Realizing that greatness is another matter. Finding someone to support the effort is rare. Finding someone to help you produce and nurture it is even harder. I believe many people who pursue riding are on a quest to find their own inner greatness. These magnificent creatures we ride definitely have the quality of greatness within them. Some are more equipped to handle it than others – and yes it seems to exist in varying degrees.
From the first time I sat on a horse I was on a quest to improve my riding. I came to the party late, starting my riding career when I turned twenty. Consequently I have always felt wayyyy behind everyone else in the world of riding. When at 25, I decided to exercise horses at the track, the consensus was I was too old. You need a lot of heart to do that. I had heart, a lot of passion and I never met a horse I didn’t like. Those tools served me well and I became very good at my craft. This was against all odds and fortunately, I never sat on a horse without learning something. One of the great things about horses is each of them has a story to tell. They will tell it to you, if you listen.
When I turned 45 and decided I was going to learn to jump, it was no surprise to anyone who knew me.
Here I was, late to the party again.
This time it’s winding down. Most people I know are not starting new endeavors at this age, particularly athletic ones that involve risk. Once again my passion for horses has led the way. One horse in particular, My Bird ignited this latest flame. I did not set out to event, I set out to learn to ride that horse. When I first met Jim and got over my fear of talking with him, I told him my sole goal was to learn to ride that horse. I was not naive, I knew I was biting off perhaps more than I could chew. I told Elizabeth Madlener the same thing. Neither said much of it, they just instructed – coached. I would love to know what they thought, but both have never waivered in their support of my goal. They have taken me seriously and guided me to improving my riding and learning about that beautiful Bird.
I am sure it will take a great rider to ride the Bird correctly. I am not sure I will ever achieve the goal of riding him the way he needs to be ridden or if he will ever be able to overcome his abusive past. This brings up the greatness in us. I have come to the conclusion that bringing it to the surface is in many ways a brutal process. It requires suffering and the ability to endure humiliation, not the glamor and ease you see on the top riders at the shows. They too have buried their face in their hands and wondered “why am I putting myself through this?” While most of the time this greatness must be nurtured out of our horses, digging it out of us can be both demeaning and tough. This process seems to require stripping our riding down to expose our very fiber. I have experienced this with the great trainers I am privileged to work with.
It seems to me, the great riders we see today were able to handle the systematic stripping down and rebuilding of their riding to new and better forms each time. With every improvement comes some bad habits or tendency which must be dealt with immediately before it becomes a part of our riding. Hence the fact that you are never there. The great trainers rarely let you “rest on your laurels” when you have a breakthrough. They never seem to see how far you’ve come. They see only where you are in relation to where they can take you and proceed to take you there immediately.
This can be hard to take because it leaves you in a perpetual feeling of ineptitude. The question arising, do you want a trainer that will make you feel great at the end of each session or do you want to be brought as far as possible? I’m not saying I haven’t left lessons feeling great, but I always see my deficiencies too and they are what stands out to me. If you are led as far as possible, you will always end up in the place where you need to work harder. If you rest on your laurels, you will have a euphoric feeling, but probably won’t be much better a rider than when you arrived. For me, lessons are not a place to display what I’ve learned, they are a place to be purified. Shows are the place where you show your achievement – and find your deepest weaknesses too. That’s why they call them shows, don’t you think?
The reality of my riding is I want to be good, but I will never be good enough. This is the only way to continue the quest to be a better rider. The only way my mentors can get me there is to work on my faults and weaknesses. Congratulating me on my improvement and strengths will not lead me ahead, it will cement me where I am presently.
There are many roads to cultivate our inner strengths and “greatness”. The pursuit of being a rider and horsman requires all of the elements needed to find it in ourselves.