The past two weeks I’ve been attempting to overcome a fear. It’s a stupid fear that I’m embarrassed to have. One I’ve glossed over and tried to hide from others. It’s Fear of Canter.
I learned to ride horses as an adult. I took lessons, bought a pony or two or three, and next thing I knew I was foxhunting. Then last year I had a fall. I’ve had lots of falls. It happens when you ride horses. This fall was not particularly bad. I should have been able to get up, brush myself off and hop right back on. I’d had the same fall several times before, but this time I landed wrong. Really wrong. Separated shoulder, and wrist broken in two places wrong. One fracture and one bone with an indentation so big they thought at first I had chipped it. Six weeks in a cast, six more weeks in physical therapy. Suddenly we were in hunt season and neither I nor my horse was in shape to foxhunt. So that was my excuse. I missed the whole hunt season because I was still healing and we ‘weren’t ready’.
Spring. Then summer and I still ‘wasn’t ready’. I’m a writer, so I had all sorts of convincing reasons why I couldn’t canter. Treasure was acting up. My back hurt. It was too hot/wet/dusty. I had a hangnail. The moon was in the seventh house. My friend MaryAnn coaxed me and prodded me, trying to get me to move past this block. Once I tried to canter in the ring. I did it, but had a panic attack so bad I was bawling and shaking. All sorts of excuses followed for why I’d try it again ‘next time’.
But then MaryAnn was moving to Texas, and I was determined to try to get through this before she left. She, of all people, should be the one to break me out of this rut. She’d been the one who’d taught me to ride, taught my kids to ride. It was MaryAnn who had introduced me to foxhunting. She’d seen my bone breaking fall, got me back on my horse after the physical therapy. I wanted to at least do one sloppy, heels-in-the-air field canter before she moved. So we set a date, I took a Xanax, and she put me on the most mellow, relaxed draft horse in the world. Even with the Xanax, my heart pounded, and adrenaline raced through me as I cantered him all of three lazy strides up a hill. And again. And again. And again. The next day I graduated to riding the fields in a small group, with short canters up hills and across the flat. This week I was in the ring, on a different horse, cantering. And I wasn’t scared. And the next day back out in the field again. I’m confident that I will be foxhunting this fall. That’s something I honestly thought I might never be able to do again.
So many times I thought of taking the easy way out. I’ve got other hobbies. I could sell my horses and my tack, and just do something else. But I love my horses, and I love riding. It was the memory that kept me trying, determined to eventually overcome this fear that was truly all in my head.
Why bother? Because there’s something about horseback riding. All the motorcyclists, the rock climbers, those who fly planes, they might understand. There’s speed, adrenaline, experiencing something that’s beyond the limitations of the human body. But horseback riding is different. You’re on top of a living being. An 800 pound, powerful, fast animal with a brain of its own. A brain that doesn’t always agree with what your brain wants it to do. There’s that occasional spike of fear when he spooks, the knowledge that this animal could kill you, that you are only on his back because he is allowing you to be there. Yes, there is trust, but that trust is tempered by the realism that this is a prey animal, and a perceived threat (even if it is a plastic bag in the wind) trumps even the very best training and discipline.
But, oh the feeling. Thundering across the dewy fields as the sun rises, peach on the horizon. The sound of the hounds in the distance. The feel of powerful muscles, under your seat, the cloud of breath in the autumn air. In one moment, I feel the divinity in my heart, and I am immortal. That one second is worth a thousand panic attacks.