I used to ride horses.
Scratch that. I used to ride horses well. I still know how to do it; if you dropped me in a saddle right this second, I’d be all right.
Horseback riding is one of those things that all kids should be required to learn. It’s unfortunate that it’s so cost prohibitive. I don’t care about horse shows or competitions or looking good in a pair of skintight pants and knee-high boots. A kid can learn to ride horses while wearing jeans from Target, heeled shoes from Payless, and the cheapest safety helmet you can find. Competition is fun, but that’s not what it’s about.
Riding horses levels the playing field. It’s you and the animal. That’s it.
I taught riding lessons for ten years. I was a good instructor. A very good instructor. I knew what I was talking about, and I really cared about my students.
One of the first things I always told my lesson kids was that they were in charge. Once that horse moved away from me, I couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it. Even a small pony had a good 500 pounds on me. A horse? Twice that. The only person in control is the person sitting on top of the animal.
If you think about it, that’s really empowering for a child. Kids are constantly being “instructed.”
Put your shoes on. Put that down. Take that off. Don’t touch that. Stop it. Come here. Sit down. Be quiet. Move. Hurry. Slow down. Watch your head.
On a horse? It’s all the kid.
You know how they say an animal can smell fear? We talked about that in the last post. It’s true. And horses — especially lesson horses — know when their rider is afraid. They know when their rider is confident. They know when they can get away with standing in the corner, no matter how many times the kid wails on them with her heels. They know when their rider is accomplished, and disobedience won’t be tolerated.
Horses are a great equalizer.
I remember being twelve years old, at a rinky-dink riding camp where my parents let me spend my summer. There was this cocky boy who was also a student. He was a horrible rider, but he liked to talk the talk. At the end of every day, we got a thirty minute free ride. I was assigned this horse Gretchen, who was the cream of the crop. Perfect gray pony who would do anything you told her. She’d never misbehave. Cocky kid was assigned Tassie, this nasty red roan mare who wouldn’t listen unless you were confident.
For fifteen minutes, Tassie stood in the middle of the ring and refused to move for that kid. I was happily cantering around on Gretchen.
So cocky kid whined to the teacher. The teacher asked me to trade.
Three minutes later, I was happily cantering around on Tassie. Cocky kid was pissed.
But here’s the thing: horses are pretty frigging stupid. Their brain is the size of a walnut. Seriously. A walnut. When people tell me they’re afraid of horses, I always look at them sideways and say, “Have you ever been near a horse? Do you realize that you can wave your hands and yell Boo!, and a horse will run away?”
I went out on a few dates with this one guy who came out to the farm with me once. Horses will do just about anything for food, and lesson horses recognize all the sounds associated with snacks. Rattling plastic, crinkling foil, you name it. This guy was eating chips from a bag when we walked into the field. The closest horse, an aged mare, heard the bag crinkle. She lifted her head and started ambling towards us.
The guy? He yelled, “They’re charging!”
And he ran from the field.
But I digress.
Horses aren’t brilliant. So if you aren’t confident, that’s fine.
You can fake it.
I had one student who cried in her first few lessons. I had a zero-tolerance policy on tears. You can’t cry on horseback. It’s like texting while driving. You’re just bound to get into an accident. If you’re crying, you aren’t paying attention, you can’t see, and you’re not in control.
The last thing you want is for the horse to be in control. Thousand pound animal, brain the size of a walnut. Yeah, they can’t be in control.
So I taught that student the “Grr!” philosophy. When she got scared and wanted to cry, she had to say, “Grr!” And I mean, she really had to growl. She had to make herself the scary one. She had to pretend to be the badass. The horse didn’t really know the difference.
It worked. She did it all the time. She bought a tee shirt that said, “Grr!” (That made my day.)
And you know what? She’s a beautiful rider now. A brilliant one. If she reads this and sends me a link to a video of herself riding, I’ll add it to this post. Every time I see her videos on Facebook, I remember the scared little girl who sobbed in the corner of the ring, then got it together to find her inner “Grr!” and got the horse under control.
She faked it until she didn’t have to fake it anymore.
Horseback riding isn’t the only place faking it works, however. It’s just a great place to practice.
I’m terrified of confrontation. I hate it. I always want to squirm and back down. But I find that inner “Grr!” and stand up for myself when I’m right.
I just started coaching soccer for my son’s team. I don’t know anything about soccer. Nothing. I have never played in my life. During our first scrimmage, one of the kids scored a goal. I cheered, high fives all around, the whole schebang.
Then I realized I had no idea what happened next. Do they start in the middle again? Do they just throw the ball out of the goal and play on? I had no idea.
But the kids didn’t know either. I faked it.
Same thing with writing. (You knew it had to come back to that, right?) I don’t have a college degree. I don’t have any creative writing classes under my belt. I took AP English in high school, and that’s about it. Sometimes I read real writing blogs (a great one is www.storyflip.blogspot.com) and read about the mechanics of a scene, or plotting, or the way dialogue comes together with narrative to build a scene.
Then I’ll say to myself, “Huh. I guess that is how that works.”
Sometimes confidence has nothing to do with how strong you are, or how capable.
Sometimes it’s just about how well you can fake it.
In the end, what’s the difference?
**ETA: She did send me a video!