I had a bobble in my confidence this weekend. (This happens often because I have a large, but very fragile ego.) I tried a horse-riding discipline that is super fun, but that I know very little about and that I don’t ever practice. I used a saddle I don’t often use, reining technique that is quite different from my norm, and the setting was wildly different than my quiet dressage arena (it was me + 10 cows in a very small pen). Even my outfit was different: I felt like a fraud in jeans and cowboy boots, instead of riding breeches and tall equestrian boots. I love horses, but I’m no cowgirl!

I was anxious and my horse shut down, unresponsive to my directions. I felt like I was riding a 1200lb bag of wet cement. The louder I asked, the slower he got. I went home in a bit of a panic. I wondered, “How could this have happened?” He’s been so responsive to me the last couple of months. I thought perhaps that I was losing my touch with him again. Maybe I had morphed back into the unconfident rider who just two years ago sat on top of my friend’s ancient horse while she led him around by a rope. He was half asleep with me on his back, but I was scared to death and in tears.

But today, I took my horse back out to that same friend’s house, who is now my dressage trainer. I put my trusty English saddle on him, hopped on, and had an amazing ride. Even though the ride started out a little bumpy, he seemed to be aware of every move I made, and throughout the hour, got softer, more submissive and cooperative. The gentlest touch of my leg sent him shooting off in the proper direction. I never had any doubt, because I knew EXACTLY what I wanted from him. I knew how I wanted his body to feel underneath me. I knew exactly the rhythm of the gait I expected. I knew how to get him to bend that big body of his into my outside rein. He responded and gave me just what I asked for. Minute adjustments gave me big responses; when just yesterday, he didn’t seem to be listening at all. We were far from perfect, but we left better than when we got there, true partners.

As I was driving home, I had a huge A-HA moment.

Horses won’t give you what you want unless you already know what it is you want. To get what you want, you have to visualize it. Feel it. KNOW it in your bones.

The response I was getting from Compass in the cattle pen yesterday was exactly the response I got from him when I first started riding dressage. He was confused as to what I was asking because I was unsure of what I was asking. I don’t know how to cut a cow out of a herd, so how should he? So, being the nice horse that he is, he assumed I was daft and just babysat me. He ignored what I asked and made his own, far superior plan; which was basically keeping us both from getting in a wreck due to my ineptness.

As I’ve grown in my confidence and skill as a dressage rider, I have become more clear about what I want from him. He’s beginning to see me less as his crazy old doddering aunt and more as his mom, his leader. But yesterday, in an unfamiliar situation, I hesitated, and so did he.

As usual, my rides often parallel my life. I often have a fuzzy idea of what I want; some idealistic view of what will make me happy. Because the idea is fuzzy, the result is fuzzy. Whether it’s weight and health, parenting, or relationships, it’s not until I can really picture what I’m after, that I begin to see results.

So, in my riding and in my life, clarity is the key to progress. It’s worth the work of digging deep and thinking long and hard about what I want and how I’m going to get it. And when I know, to move forward with purpose.

This doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying new things or challenging myself to have new adventures. I’ll be back in the cattle pen, probably next week. It’s ok to do things just for fun, even if I’m bad at them. It just means that I won’t judge my results unless I’m riding with a plan and purpose, whether in or out of the saddle.