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Why does learning hurt?

I am writing to you with only five hours to go until I mount my riding companion, Flinx, for the 12th time.

Flinx is a 16-hand black gelding, and he his beautiful.

This will be the first horse-riding lesson that I have taken and not been scared; I am excited.

Every week for the last 12 weeks, I have woken up on the day of my lesson with a nervousness in my stomach.

As a child, I had been seated on a donkey about to start a race, when it took off without me (after its owner had pulled on its tail), leaving me on the floor with a sprained ankle. As a teenager, a friend owned a horse, and I would sometimes help out at the stables. One day, her horse chased me around the paddock for what seemed like hours; I stopped helping out after that.

It is amazing the fear we hold onto, without even knowing it. I had not thought about these two incidents when I began horse-riding classes; it was only when I was having a crisis of confidence one day, and my teacher, Renee, started asking me what was going on, that I put two and two together.

“No wonder”, she said. “You have to recognize the old fears before moving forward.”

But there were new fears to come.

There was the lesson where I had been given a different horse to ride, and that horse practically collapsed under me due to an un-detected injury. I nearly fell over the top of its head, and was panicked for the next few lessons. I kept on riding.

There was the class where Flinx got spooked by a shadow (I have now learnt that horses do this all the time) and he reared. The glorious Renee was congratulating me for managing to stay on; I had no idea what she was saying, as my heart had stopped and tears of fear were not far from my eyes. I kept on riding.

I even had a tactic of going to the toilet just as my class had started: one reason was fear; the other was lessening my time on the horse, but Renee was on to me.

One night I came home to husband and described to him how I felt with each impending lesson. “Oh,” he said, “it sounds horrible; why are you doing it?”

Why is learning something new so hard?

Because we have to be willing to not know what we are doing. We have to be willing to fail, again and again, and again. We have to be willing to look stupid. We have to be willing to ask for help, and we have to be willing to be scared and fearful and vulnerable.

Two weeks ago, I trotted around the paddock three times without stopping (the goal for the class), and last week I was zigzagging all over the place, trotting, taking sharp corners, crossing the arena at various commands. I had become a horse rider. I felt so humbled and honored to be able to ride such a beautiful creature that tears of joy came.

Learning to horse-ride takes me out of my comfort zone every week. Every week I look stupid.

I am so excited for my lesson. It is the perfect day to not have any idea what I am doing.

  • Tracy Malone

    It’s such a beautiful moment to realise that a being that could squish you to oblivion in a moment, makes the choice to wait for you to be ready to be one with them. Then you get to feel such grace and power that all comes from such vulnerability. Horses are my greatest teachers.

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