Man, he’s a little snorty and fussy today.

Wow, he sure is muscular. Yikes. Especially his running and bucking muscles.

Oh, look at that. He pinned his ears at the saddle.

Speaking of saddles, why did I decide to pursue English riding again? There’s nothing to hold on to if things go wrong…

I often wish I would have started riding when I was a kid, when I had no fear and it didn’t hurt so much to fall. At (ahem) 40+ years, I am acutely aware of the risks of perching on the back of a 1200 pound prey animal, who’s first instinct is, “Run first, ask questions later.” I’ve never been the type to think too long about risk; heck, I hopped on a wobbly paddle board in the middle of an icy cold reservoir for the first time yesterday with my kids. I didn’t give it a second thought; it sounded fun!

But horses…as much as I love them, I have to make myself walk out the door and saddle up. Most days, I have to swallow a lump of fear in my throat and take a deep breath to keep from blacking out before I put my foot in the stirrup. I am aware of the actual, physical pain that can result from falling off a horse.

When I was a kid, I fell off and broke my arm. I spent Easter Sunday in surgery. As an adult, I’ve been bucked off, I’ve fallen off, I’ve had horses spook from right underneath me (picture Wiley Coyote in mid air before he drops off of the cliff, eyes wide open, wondering why the ground disappeared).

In the last two years, I’ve had skin scraped off, toes stepped on, back wrenched in ways that have made me walk like an old woman for a week, bruises on my rear…and it takes a lot longer to get over injury at 42!

So, when I say I get a little frightened when saddling up my big, young horse, who’s made of 100% muscle and 1000% flight instinct, there’s a reason.

So, the obvious question is, WHY? Why do I keep pursuing something that frightens me and has risk of pain? This quote sums it up:

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” -Audre Lord

I have a vision. It keeps me up at night.

It started with seeing my closest friends, who’ve been on horses since before they could talk. Watching them ride is watching the beauty of motion. It’s watching Oneness, a dance. It’s like observing the physical manifestation of grace. There’s no way to tell where these girls end and their horses begin.

I want that.

I don’t want to feel like a bouncing sack of wet cement on top of a horse. I want that precision. I want that glassy polish in the canter, the gentle communication at the walk. I want my horse to want to listen to me, looking for leadership and direction.

But the only way to develop the strength it takes to be a horsewoman is to, well, be a horsewoman. There are no shortcuts. It takes miles in the saddle and time getting to know my horse’s buttons and quirks. It’s hours of mucking and brushing and listening to the language of the Great Beast.

But isn’t this the beauty of pursuing a passion? Some of the happiest, most satisfied people I know are those who discover a little inkling of something they might be good at: painting, volleyball, throwing a barbell around, writing poetry, dancing, training dogs…and they dare to be powerful. They risk injury, risk looking like a fool, risk money in pursuit of their vision.

These are the people I admire. This is who I want to be. And so, even though fear is literally making a buzzing noise in my head, I saddle up.

Fear can paralyze or empower. It’s just a matter of which I choose today. It’s also a matter of deciding if the end result is worth the trouble.

But oh, the reward. Each time I ride, there is a moment where I have wings; where I just have to think and he hears my mind and responds. Those moments light a fire in me that burn brighter than the fear of risk and pain. Those are the moments that keep me coming back for more, that make me feel like the fear doesn’t matter.