I woke up at 2:30 a.m. in a clammy sweat, wondering if I have what it takes. I have a young horse, about half-broke, who needs many hours of careful, confident riding to get to a steady state. Between here and there, he may need to test the limits, maybe bucking with me, or rearing, or bolting. We’ve done everything to help prevent that, but I’m 52 years old and not much more than a novice rider. His need to test could be my undoing.
But I can’t leave him as he is; he could be a danger to himself and others. I need to see this through, but I don’t know if I can.
I’m not alone in this, I have an excellent teacher on board. She’s sharing the riding job with me and coaching me throughout. But there’s an interface between the horse and me where only the two of us can go. That is where we have to forge this relationship, just us.
The stakes are high. Every day, we are building the house we will live in together from here on out. It needs to be right. Every day, there is some risk that I could be hurt, and I have less leeway for that kind of thing than I used to. If I push myself too hard, I could implode with reactive fear and aversion. If I don’t push us both hard enough, we could solidify in a half-baked, uneasy mediocrity.
My teacher points out how much I will learn from working through this. About horsemanship, about my own limits. She suggests that, when we succeed (as she has no doubt we will), I will enjoy a relationship and a sense of confidence like no other. Ten years ago, that would have been enough. Today, in the early hours before dawn, I wonder if I can learn these things anymore. If I want to.
The mountain is too high to take in the whole. Today, after we all had breakfast, I took the horse out and worked with him from the ground. As I walked and stood alongside him, we practiced paying attention even when he was nervous about rustling bushes. We practiced responding lightly to subtle moves of the reins. We practiced fancy footwork on challenging terrain. I put a penny in the jar, saving toward a well-educated horse. That’s about all I could do today, and about all I had to.