On not being a natural

How you know when something comes naturally:

  • You feel relaxed and comfortable in it
  • You succeed without trying very hard
  • Your mind, or your body, accommodates itself instantly to the thing
  • The first time feels familiar
  • Something opens doors and propels you along
  • You move more easily and more quickly through it than other people
  • You can’t explain how or why you get it, you just get it

I have a few of those.  I presume everyone does.

Horsemanship is not one of them.  I thought I was reasonably coordinated, fairly strong, adequately brave, thoroughly sensitive and exhaustively honest with myself.  Working with horses puts the lie to all that.  The myriad aspects of this art do not come naturally and destroy my self-concept.  After 10 years of diligent study with an excellent teacher, I:

  • Fumble and flail with the gear
  • Use my hands in the wrong way
  • Place myself in the wrong position
  • Read the horse wrong
  • Make the wrong choices
  • Increasingly quail from the size of the job
  • Fear more
  • Misunderstand my own demeanor

I finally get it that I’m not a natural.  Maybe I’m reaching acceptance, having moved through denial (“I’m awesome, this is great!”), anger (“what the hell is with this stupid horse?!?!”), bargaining (“horse, please, please just understand what I’m trying to say” or “teacher, please do this for me”) and depression (“—-“).

It feels bad.  I vastly prefer succeeding without effort, sailing ahead just because.  I’m embarrassed and ashamed and resentful that I’m only creeping and crawling forward, much more slowly than others.  I’m repulsed by my awkward moves and failed attempts.

But I’m still working at it.  It’s a miracle that I haven’t fled, but here I am.  I keep learning things, I succeed a little now and then.  And yesterday I had quite a breakthrough — I was actually amused at my own incompetence.  Later that afternoon, I was more comfortable in my own skin than I had been in a very long time.

Maybe this is the point.  The satisfaction might be in the job well done, but it also might be in getting comfortable with exactly where you are.  Natural or not.

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