Thursday, November 13, 2014

Courage for the challenges ahead

Yup. That's a tiny kid in a tinier western saddle riding a retired hunter/2nd level warmblood. Ooohh retirement.
I'm taking at least seven - perhaps as many as nine - kids to a horse show the first weekend of December. I see it as a sleepless celebration of shiny horses and well-dressed kids, but some of my students are struggling more with it. What is it about shows that sets us back so much? Why do we have nightmares of falling in front of our judges, in our lessons we seem unable to perform basic tasks, and upon talking about 'what classes are you riding?' our mouths go dry?

I don't seem to get nerves like that anymore, but I'm seeing it in full force among my students. They're nervous. Maybe that speaks to my training, maybe they're not as well-prepared as they could be. But I've seen the other route - the paralyzing, every hair in place, total arresting fear after years of preparation - and I prefer mine. No one is going to get hurt. I don't have any kids showing for the ribbons. We're all going out because we like jumping, we like our horses, and it's an excuse to get off the farm for a day. This is a learning experience.

I repeat this at my kids again and again and meet only blank eyes. They nod and say, "yeah, yeah, Kate, we know..." but there's something I'm not saying, I'm somehow not meeting them halfway.

And so I turn to my books. I read about show nerves and the recommended paths of action "make sure you set your trailer up a week before headingout," or "visualize the show going well." Good advice, but does it strike at the fear in our hearts? The unspeakable "what if I'm not _____ enough?" You can fill that blank with: good, pretty, talented, athletic, amazing... or you can leave it blank. Heavens know I've said it to myself. Maybe I'm just not enough.

I keep reading.

And then I read about shame. Shame is a strong word, yes, but I believe it captures what I am after. Brene Brown says:
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Pg. 69, Daring Greatly
The emphasis on belonging is mine. I sense that my most fearful students are worried about this show because they might not feel like they belong in the show ring.  They might be worried about letting the farm down, of not being enough.

To those fears I reply: Recognition and success and approval are not our guiding values. Doing the best we can to allow our horses to make it in this human world, being courageous, and being bold are our guiding values. We are being courageous by facing this fear and showing up. By showing.

We lay the groundwork every day to build trust with our horses, to whisper with our aids, to express our sheer joy at becoming a centaur. And these trials by fire, these things we call "shows" allow us to experience something new with our horse. The horse is sometimes made nervous by the loudness and largeness of the facility, and our own nerves run rampant. And then we emerge. We're dirty. We're exhausted. We're shaken. But we emerge with a stronger partnership and a keener sense of what we can do to improve at home.

Edit: Upon further reflection, I realize that I neglected to specifically mention my students' fear of being judged by the other riders at the show. I give the same answer to those fears that I do to the earlier fears, and add (also adapted from Daring Greatly): if we see someone struggling, do we use this moment to confirm that we're better than she is? She's stuck in ways we are not? Will we roll our eyes in disapproval and walk by? Our other choice is to flash that rider our best, "you're not alone -- I've been there, sister" smile because we know what she's feeling. Yes, empathy requires some vulnerability and we risk getting a "mind your own business" look, but it's worth it. It doesn't just loosen things up for her. It loosens it up for us the next time it's our horse refusing a fence, rolling with his saddle on, or our forgotten last fence.

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