Monday, December 17, 2012

Horseback riding on The Hill


Horseback riding on The Hill

I recently started taking horseback riding lessons again this semester at Denison and they have changed my life. I find myself relating everything I do here on The Hill back to horseback riding.  
When riding, your posture is one of the most important ways you communicate with the horse. The horse can sense when you lean slightly forward or become off-balance in the saddle. Balance is important everywhere in life. You can’t live life leaning too far forward or off balance. If you’re always staying up late, focusing on academics, then you’re not balancing your time enough for friendships. It’s never easy to find this balance, but once you do things fall into place. The more you can stay balanced and live life with your head held high, the better.
Horses are herd animals and they are used to having a leader. You must be that leader, when you’re in the saddle. Even when you don’t entirely know what you’re doing, pretend like you do. A horse can tell when you are not a confident rider and they will start to take advantage of you. At Denison, be a leader. Take control of the reins and steer your life in the direction you want. Don’t let others take advantage of you or begin to doubt yourself. You are the alpha-horse. Take the reins of a group project or speak up in class. Others won’t guess you’re scared to take charge if you just dive right in. Until the confidence comes naturally, fake your confidence until you make it.  
            Both school horses and school kids get tired and lazy. The horse’s walk at the beginning of the lesson is always excruciatingly slow. The horse drags his hooves just enough so he moves forward. As the leader, it is your job to energize the horse and help him achieve a faster gait. You can do this by giving cues such as clicking your tongue, gently squeezing your lower legs, and as a last resort you can give them a real wake up call with a quick smack of the crop. These lazy school horses remind me of the exhausted faces I see all around me on campus. We are all sleep-deprived and lazy. I get it. What we need is that aid and encouragement that comes from the support of friends and family. We need them to give us that gentle nudge (or smack from a crop) to wake us up and force us to perform. Depend on your friends to give you that firm squeeze if you find yourself laying in bed watching Hulu more often than at the library. Set alarms on your phone to serve as a cue when to go to bed and when to wakeup. Make a motivational poster and hang it above you desk. Even horses, who are naturally built for speed, need a little encouragement every now and then.
When I started riding, I used to be intimidated by the canter because I thought it was too fast and too dangerous. My instructor told me the worst that could happen was I’d land on the ground. This didn’t make me feel a lot better. I mean, I’ve fallen off before, and it hurts, but I’ve always survived. So, I hesitantly asked for the canter and lunged into a tornado of exhilaration. My worries and fears were blown away and all that was left was the wind blowing my hair. I felt like a jockey, about to win the Kentucky Derby. Now, cantering is my favorite thing to do on top of a horse. I love the thrill of going fast and feeling the horse’s thunderous hooves underneath me. It’s the smoothest gait even thought it’s the second-fastest gait. The gallop is 30mph where the canter is about 15mph. At Denison, don’t be afraid to take risks. Try a dance class, join a new club, or sit with different people at lunch. I’m not going to say it will be easy to go outside your comfort zone and put yourself up for potentially failing, but you will never know if you like something until you try it. It might be just as fun as cantering.
All too often we live our life with blinders on (those big flaps by a horse’s eyes, so they can’t see around them) and fail to see the connections in life. Everything is an opportunity to learn and can be related to something else. Whether it’s a horseback riding lesson or a physics class, we are always learning. As cheesy as this sounds, it’s the circle of life.