I’m a nervous rider. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again for as long as it’s true, and, if you’ll pardon my language, it sucks. The trouble is that I love to train young horses until they behave like young horses and do something stupid, at which point my usually relatively capable self melts into a puddle of shivery mush with the approximate riding ability, intelligence and affinity for horses of mud.
I wasn’t always jumpy like this. When I started riding nearly twelve years ago at the age of
four, I was a pretty run-of-the-mill beginner. I don’t remember being much scared of anything, even after my first fall (the pony trotted forwards and I trotted backwards over his bum and onto mine). Another pony had a bit of a moment and jumped over the side of the arena with five-year-old Firn in tow and I came off quite hard, thereafter refusing to ride that particular pony ever again, but thankfully the nervousness didn’t spread to other horses.
When the Mutterer started teaching me about five years ago on a younger and rather dafter version of Skye, I was nervous through lack of practice, but very quickly got over it. I reverted to my run-of-the-mill beginner self; not much of a daredevil but not nervous either. After six months or so I trusted Skye almost as much as I trust her today, and I became an utterly fearless little rider bouncing up and down as Skye cantered patiently along with her happy, awkward burden. I was so desperate to ride that I got on anything with four legs and a tail, no matter how crazy it was. I rode stallions, half-backed youngsters, and, on one memorable occasion, a slightly demented Welsh pony which you controlled only with the reins; if you stopped pulling he would go very fast and if you pulled hard he would go only moderately fast.
Luckily for me, it was in this time that I learned how to stay on top through most equine fireworks. I was much too skinny and little (and lazy) to pick up my saddle and get it on Skye’s back, so I rode bareback, fast, wherever we went. I don’t do it much anymore – bareback is fine for an hour, but not if you still have three horses to work afterwards – but losing a stirrup still isn’t a crisis for me since I got so used to riding without them.
Sadly, it was the arrival of Achilles that terminated my fearless stage. The Mutterer and I backed him when I was twelve and he was three. (Achilles, that is. Not the Mutterer. The Mutterer was twenty-five or so). A twelve-year-old kid who’s been riding for two years, backing a 15.1hh Friesian stallion. Yes, it didn’t end well. Achilles bucked and bolted and I lost my nerve. I had almost regained it when I backed Siobhan, who succeeded in ridding herself of her rider three times in the first month or two, once rather painfully onto the back of a car (yes, that wasn’t fun). I was still just hanging onto the remnants of my courage when the Mutterer and I took a nearly-reformed Achilles and a very much in season Arwen for an outride and I fell off Achilles twice in as many minutes. The last one was a bit nasty: Achilles and I parted company at the first buck and he landed on me at the second one. So I’m told, anyway. I still can’t remember much after losing my reins.
That really did it.
To clarify, I am really the most insufferable wuss. I was not, in fact, particularly hurt but for a very mild concussion. My li’l sis Rainy came off Arwen and busted her collarbone three years ago and subsequently has ridden out for hours on the very same horse. Unfortunately, I don’t have half her courage. The remnant of my nerve had gone, and fearless Firn had turned into a quivering little mouse just waiting for the next evil horse to come along and kill her.
Needless to say, poor Achilles was abandoned. He became a paddock ornament for months. I lunged him on and off to keep my conscience quiet, but mostly, he hung around getting fat and being neglected. He was so impeccable on the lunge that I got on him again after almost a year. Even then, all I could stand was walk and stop, walk and stop for ten minutes or so until my courage deserted me and I would make a hasty dismount.
Yesterday we cantered.
Yes, Achilles and me. Cantered. You know, the one where all four feet go off the ground, that’s just a step or two away from a gallop. Intentionally. We were just in the lungeing ring, and he did buck once mostly because he was leading with the wrong leg and got a bit frustrated, but to the right he didn’t buck at all and I didn’t fall off and Achilles didn’t turn into a fire-breathing monster and nobody died.
Well, there’s this little thing called faith that I’m slowly acquiring. It’s believing in Lord Jesus, and knowing that He believes in you. For the truly faithful person, there is no fear. Nothing can harm you because Jesus is with you; even if you do fall off and break something there is nothing to fear, because it’s all part of His plan; even if you do fall off and die, there is nothing to fear, because when I die Jesus will come to fetch me and I’ll rest in His arms forever.
I’m not truly faithful. Not yet. I’m still working on that. But when that horse gets up on its back legs or flicks up its heels to kiss the sky, or even just stands there rolling its eyes to show the whites before I can even get on, even when I get a stab of that sharp, thoughtless fear, I don’t have to face it alone anymore. I grab the mane and push my heels down and cry in my heart, “Jesus, help me,” and He sends His angel to ride pillion with me and you know what? I’m okay. I bite the dust sometimes, but most of the time I ride it out. I’ve got a good instructor and I can ride, but not on my own strength. I can ride because Lord Jesus helps me and He says that, with Him, I can. And if He says it, I believe it, and fear or no fear, fall or no fall, that settles it!