Edmond P. DeRousse

Riding Through the Decades: Lessons, Challenges, and Mind Games in Equestrian Life

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A decade ago, I was learning how to ride a horse responsibly. It was difficult, but many things in life are. Obviously, I am a decade older now and a little smarter about equestrian things. I have learned many life lessons. Patience, probably the biggest one. Here is a story I wrote about my early horse experience. I lost Aztec about a year after I wrote this. He taught me a great deal about enjoying life. I am still enjoying equestrian life. 

Mind games  

I began taking riding lessons at age sixty-three. Learning to ride is not as simple as just learning a single maneuver. It’s learning a pattern, learning how to lean, learning hand and foot positions and coordination, and learning how to use the equipment. All of this must be processed in the brain at the same time. 

It is also me against horse, me against trainer, and me against me. Sometimes separately. Sometimes all together. Occasionally, I get frustrated. But mostly I get happy. 

I have put an awful lot of junk and wrong thinking about horses in my human processor over the years. I’m much older now. Most likely my storage bins are pretty full so I belief stuff has to be deleted before I can put new stuff in. Which is a problem because lots of new stuff is coming in at the same time as trying to learn to maneuver my horse, Aztec. The fact that my processor is not processing as quickly as it once did is also a problem. That is my story anyway and I am sticking to it.

Here is something else to consider. For those of us who are no longer youngsters, older muscles seem to either have restrictive movement or they simply do not respond as quickly. It is a law of nature. 

Muscles and brain are supposed to communicate with each other. Here is what I mean. My trainer gives a command. My ears hear it and sends the command to my brain. My brain sends it out to the appropriate muscle group. They respond to the command and the maneuver is accomplished. It should work like that. 

But sometimes my brain just gets muddled. Here is what I mean.  My trainer gives a command. My ears hear it and sends the command to my brain. My brain sends it out to the appropriate muscle group. The appropriate muscle group sends back a message to the brain which says “I ain’t doing that today” and the brain has to find another way around it. That simple process has gotten clogged, and the maneuver is not properly completed. At the same time and while trying to understand what went wrong, a new command is on its way. Those are challenging times no doubt. I complain to my instructor about that quite a bit. She finds a way to help me work through it and as a result I have greatly improved. 

Lately, I have been dealing with some new mind games. I am sure they have always been around. I just didn’t deal with them. Now that I am a better rider and have obviously dumped some bad habits, there is more room in my brain to notice those other things. 

For instance, my trainer explains a new maneuver or expands upon an old one. Because I am that better rider, I have an easier time multi-tasking. So besides implementing the maneuver, I find myself dealing with and processing some stuff that has always been around, but I have never noticed. I hear the trainer telling me to raise or lower my toe, to feel what Aztec is telling me, to put my left cheek pocket deeper in the saddle. I hear the riders, who are waiting their turn to practice the maneuver, telling each other how good my ride looks or express their concern that I may be about to have an unplanned dismount if Aztec and I are struggling. I can even hear that obnoxious bird chirping somewhere in the arena.

My trainer has told me more than once with practice one can and will overcome those challenges. She is right.

Now that I have the benefit of a couple of years of riding experience, I have noticed communication between Aztec and me has significantly improved. He better understands my body movements and I can actually feel his responses to my verbal and physical commands.

O what fun it is!

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