This fall I’ve been horseback riding every week, sometimes even twice a week, and it’s become the thing that I need to do in order for everything else I want to do — writing, creating, thinking, strategizing, designing — to go well. I don’t create anything except experience when it comes to riding. I don’t have any major ambitions with riding other than getting better at it and enjoying the company of an equine friend. By ruthless productivity logic, it doesn’t do anything for my life or my goals on the surface. And yet if I don’t ride out, my days feel overstuffed, rushed and cloistered in a way I don’t like.
But I’ve been thinking about the “inner work” of riding — the way it makes you focus in a total yet relaxed way, or how to communicate with another creature in a subtle, direct and profound way. Lately, though, I realized how riding is about confronting fear. Every time I go out for a ride, there is always a moment where I feel some fear — and I always have to make an effort to get over it in order to get what I want.
Fear, of course, is a very basic human emotion, along with anger, joy, disgust, surprise and sadness. It’s also one that we mask with other emotion words: anxiety, panic, uneasiness. No one likes to admit they feel fear, so we use those more “acceptable” words to talk about it. But deep down, they have fear at their core.
There are big and little fears in life, and big and little fears in riding. It comes from something as simple as having to put a halter on a horse you don’t normally deal with, or something big like riding a horse you’ve never ridden and trusted before — and who knows, today might be the day it will try to buck a rider off. I have a lot of primal fears when it comes to riding and being around horses sometimes, like being thrown off and having my face stomped upon, or falling off from a hard canter and breaking a limb. I have a fear on being on a horse that freaks out and I can’t control it or calm it down. I know, at some point, I will fall off, because most people who ride will at some point. It’s a question of “Is this the day?” and will I be able to stay calm and loose even when it happens.