Monday, June 23, 2014

Get Back on the Horse

There's a saying in the horse world that sometimes comes up, especially among young riders. "You're not a real rider until you fall off a horse seven times." I hit that point several years ago and here are the lessons I learned that I also apply to writing.

Fall #1: 
I was up on an old, bombproof gelding responsible for giving me the "horse bug." I wasn't experienced enough to know how to do much more than hold the reins. There was only a thick blanket between me and the horse. My gelding was following his pasture mate and, of course, they both decided to trot. The blanket started to slip and I landed right on my tailbone. I was completely fine and while I don't remember getting back on the horse, I must have at some point. 

Moral: The first fall is always the hardest. It'll be a shock to your system but get right back up there and you'll be fine.

Fall #2 and #3: 
By this time, I was under the instruction of a professional trainer (if you use the term "professional" loosely). The mare I was up on was a difficult mare to ride. The first time she threw me, we were trotting over poles of various widths apart. I was trotting over the tightest ones and she wasn't collected enough, so she decided to leap. I went over her shoulder. The second time around my heels came up over a cross-rail and, once again, I went over her shoulder.

Moral: Some things are going to be hard to handle but with a lot of experience you can learn. Despite that, there are some things that are outside of your control (agents, publishers, the market) but, at the same time, there are other things that you can. If you concentrate on the latter, you'll be able to overcome the things that you can't. It's all a learning experience. If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on.

Fall #4 and #5: 
I stuck with the same instructor and was introduced to a very sweet but very green gelding. He was five years old and I had no business riding him. My first fall off of him came when he spooked at a giant dryer in the corner of the arena and the second one was over the simple thing of a saddle sitting on top of the arena gate. 

Moral: If your instincts are telling you that you need to get out, get out. Odds are things aren't going to get any better if they can't be worked out. If things are getting so bad that you're starting to think about giving up on your passion, maybe it's time for a change.

Fall #6: 
This one came off my own horse, Lady, at a tiny schooling show. My barn's tiny indoor arena was divided into a little show arena lined on one side with stands for the parents. Behind the stands was just enough space for riders and horses to stand while they prepared to enter the arena. One second I was sitting in the saddle waiting for the announcement to enter the ring for my first class. The next, I was sitting on the ground.

We figured that Lady must have spooked at the arena door banging and shot backward so fast she tripped. I went flying off as her hindquarters hit the ground in front of me. Someone grabbed me and helped as I scrambled to get as far away from her as possible as she got back to her feet. In short, Lady was fine, I was fine, and we won two trophies that day, including the class that I had been waiting to enter at the time.

Moral: If something happens before a big moment, get back on the horse and get in that arena. Don't let anything shake you. It doesn't matter if everyone saw you fall, get out there and do your best.

Fall #7:
One of the things Lady taught me in the year that I owned her was how to sit a buck. It was terrifying at first, but gradually I learned to get over my fear, pull her head up, and push her forward. During one normal lesson, I asked Lady to pick up a canter and she gave me the wrong lead. I asked her to trot so that I could correct it, but didn't wait until she did before I nudged her with my outside heel. She bucked through a flying lead change (something that I didn't even know she could do) and I went flying. I jumped to my feet, laughed it off, and hopped back on to try it again.

Moral: If something happens, laugh it off. And if your story surprises you with unexpected brilliance, embrace it. Harness that and play with it a little. To this day, one of my biggest regrets with Lady is that I never tried to get her to do a flying lead change on purpose. Don't let that happen to you and one of your stories.