Life has a way of teaching you lessons. Sometimes you have to land on your butt (or in my case, your shoulder) for the message to come across.
I’ve only been riding Aamira for about a year and a half. She’s six, about 14 hands, and an Arab mare (which means that, although she’s generally pretty mellow, she has her fair share of attitude). With Joe’s help, I’ve been learning to train her though natural horsemanship. She’s a brilliant animal, and frequently learns faster than I do.I made up my mind one day last summer to ride Aamira at a canter because a canter happens to be my favorite gate. Besides, I figured I’d never be able to compete in an endurance race if we couldn’t canter.
I had cantered her about a year ago with Joe’s help and figured she’d probably be fine with it. In my experience with Aamira to that point, she hadn’t done anything terribly stupid (like spooking at her own shadow), and she seemed to be generally level headed.
Here I made my first mistake: it had been a year since I had ridden a green horse at a canter.
After saddling, mounting, and walk/trotting without a hitch, I decided that it was time to get a little more speed going. Here I made mistake number two: It’s a good idea to work out the canter kinks before you actually get on her back.
I got her into a trot; then gave her some pressure for a canter. She only trotted faster – her black main bouncing wildly. Balance isn’t one of my greatest strengths so I was beginning to bounce wildly myself. A trot that fast is impossible to post or sit to.
She pinned her grey ears back against her neck. And still no canter.
“That’s just great. She’s ticked. What the heck am I supposed to do?” I decided to push on for a canter. “Dogonne it,” I thought. “I’ve asked you to canter and you’re going to canter!”
My persistence (I guess you could call it stubbornness) began to compete against hers.
More pressure from my legs. Her hooves pounded the gravel in the ring as she trotted faster and faster in a circle. Ears pinned back. More pressure. Finally, she started to step out in a canter.
One moment, everything was great. The very next, my shoulder and helmet hit the ground as I was catapulted off Aamira’s back.
I rolled over and stood up again as fast as I could. Joe had told me that if Aamira freaked out, she might buck towards me, her security. In her mind, I guess, you buck toward safety. She could inadvertently seriously injure the thing that could save her from the terrifying saddle. Go figure.
I looked across the ring. Aamira let out a couple more bucks then looked at me with a confused expression like “Wait. How’d you end up over there?”
“Yeah, stupid,” I thought. “You bucked me off.”
Though a little shaky from the adrenaline rush, I calmed her down, did some ground work, and climbed back in the saddle. Cantering, I decided, could wait till another time.
Persistence doesn’t always count. Especially if your persistence is predicated on misguided actions – like trying to canter a green horse by yourself after almost a year of no cantering.
Don’t get me wrong. Persistence has its place. But even persistence can be wrong if it’s misguided.
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that instincts are neither good nor bad. They are sometimes misapplied or uncontrolled due to our failure to follow Moral Law. Lewis writes,
If the Moral Law was one of our instincts, we ought to be able to point to some one impulse inside us which was always what we call ‘good,’ always in agreement with the rule of right behaviour. But you cannot. There is none of our impulses which the Moral Law may not sometimes tell us to suppress, and none which it may not sometimes tell us to encourage…The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide.
Persistence, though not necessarily an instinct, falls under this description. As I learned, persistence can create bad results if not guided by wisdom or sometimes suppressed.
In essence, both Aamira and I won out in the end. She cantered, and I ended up on the ground. But I learned something from the experience: not only do I need to learn more about natural horsemanship, but I need to exercise more caution in my persistence.