Choosing To Be Free

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I’ve always wanted to take riding lessons but it wasn’t until quite recently (2 years ago) that I have been able to afford the cost and find a stable within city limits.  But riding is so much more than I expected. Learning to be around and properly handle bid animals is a challenge in itself but riding requires a level of self-control, flexibility, co-ordination and strength that I wasn’t expecting. Every week, Marley, the mare I work with, teaches me something new about myself. She challenges my preconceived ideas by reacting (sometimes aggressively) to what I fail to notice. She forces me to be supportive, assertive and to remain present every second I spend with her. Yesterday was no exception.

We were riding in the outside arena for the first this year and the while the weather was clement, a deafening wind rocked us around. The surrounding landscape had become an unpredictable swaying mass of tall grass and trees and Marley was beside herself with pent up energy and anxiety. She reared and fidgeted while I tried to lead her around the arena.  Her fear and uneasiness were palpable even contagious and I was starting to dread the upcoming lesson. Lounging her for a few minutes at full speed seemed to calm her down a bit but I still was apprehensive. What if I couldn’t control her?   I have learned over the past year to remain composed regardless of her mood but I am no John Wayne and my confidence falls apart when speed is involved.

But as the lesson progressed the wind seemed to clear my head, giving me a same sense of freedom I hadn’t felt since I was a kid. I became confident that I could calm her down by focusing her energy on the task at hand. And it worked until the last 10 minutes of the lesson when my physical strength started to fail. I knew I still had to lope her in a circle but I also knew that my legs were getting too weak to collect her if I needed to slow her down (lingo for squeezing her with both legs while lifting my hands slightly to help her pick up her belly, drive from her hind legs, lower her head and therefore slow down). To make matter worse, she was getting annoyed. All of the sudden, she picked up the pace and started loping faster and faster. I only had two choices. I could stop her in her tracks and start again, forcing her to slow down or I could try to get over my fear and let her be.

The only problem with the second option was that I had to give up control and relax (an oxymoron in my world). I had to trust her while knowing that she didn’t want to slow down. I had to go with the flow, relax, and hope that she wouldn’t trip or run into a fence. Mostly I hoped I could stay on. Meanwhile the sun was setting and the wind was blowing so hard that I couldn’t keep my hair out of my face.  That’s when I heard my instructor tell me to let her be; she knew what to do; I just had to go with it. So I took a deep breath and chose to let go of control. I grabbed the pommel for a few seconds, sat deeper in the saddle and let her take me for a ride. Within seconds a deep sense of freedom and exhilaration welled up in every cells of my body. We rode around the arena at what seemed full speed to me and I felt home…

Letting go of control is very difficult and incredibly scary. Most of us spend years trying to make sense of our lives, building a reality that keeps us safe and sound. But if this environment is perfect for maintaining the status quo, it also stifles our growth. It keeps us trapped in a world of our own making. Letting go of what we know while trusting ourselves and others can be heartbreakingly difficult but it sets us free. It allows us to enjoy life to the fullest and discover part of ourselves that we didn’t know existed. It opens up brand new possibilities.

What’s holding you back?

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