On Insecurity and Fear and Finding Your Lion

Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography


This week, I got insecure.

If you pick up The Plaid Horse’s March Issue, you’ll see a truncated Publisher’s Note. I missed the deadline of my own magazine because, well, I was riding a few too many times and not working hard enough. Part of me wants to beat myself up for that, but as both a perfectionist and a slob, I have a lot of practice forgiving myself. However, I try to write an article twice a month, so here we go:

As I sit here on Facebook seeing everyone’s progress, huge jumps, and big horse show wins, I started really doubting myself. I’m brave, right? How are all these people jumping jumps that are so much bigger than I am? Those horses are so much harder than anything I could ever begin to ride, and yet everyone else is gliding up the ranks, fearless, plunging forward into the new.

And here I am, more or less in the same spot. Even though I’m fitter. Even through I’ve been practicing more than ever. Even though I’ve spent hundreds probably thousands of hours trying to up my mental game in the last few years.

I sit here wishing 2’9” didn’t (still) look enormous to me, that I didn’t think about every angle and every step of each different hunter ring and how much bigger it made certain jumps, and whether they put the filler boxes in my division or left them out.

Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

I sit here knowing that I love every minute in the saddle. I feel at home the second my left foot hits the stirrup. My ability to feel grows exponentially, and, if I’m showing, the buzz and the braids and the sheer force of will it takes to get to the ring is intoxicating.

But enthusiasm is not bravery. I don’t know where or when exactly my fear started. It wasn’t there when I was a child, but now it’s very real. I can’t control it. I can try to breathe, visualize to focus, sing songs, and get mild respite. But I quake in my boots and sit on a long rein that translates as little trembling as I can.

I want to want to jump big jumps, but the littlest ones grow to epic proportions as soon as I’m five feet off the ground. What about when I make a mistake? What if I make this horse worse? What if I fail? We all know where this thinking goes – it goes into a fulfilling prophecy where I actually make all of these mistakes.

Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

So I found myself during Coachella’s off week insecure and beating myself up for letting the horse show pass me by while there are all these divisions that I might never make it up to. Dreaming of Indoors and Devon and admonishing myself for being both incapable and jealous. If I’m not going to make it, I should focus on work. If I never get there, I might as well not even try. Isn’t that what Katie had just said to a group of young riders last month? I seriously hope I misunderstood her, but I don’t believe I did.

But then, miraculously, my left foot hit the stirrup. I saw a gray mane and two perfect ears rounding out the timid rider’s field of vision. I took a breath and looked up. I smiled. I couldn’t imagine spending my time any other way. There is no better feeling in the world than riding a truly great horse down on an adventure.

As we started to trot around Jumper 1, which was far larger and more crowded than I will probably ever feel comfortable with, Roy picked his head up and looked around to see if he could see what I was already spooking at. I tensed even more.

I reached down and petted him and explained to him that this is a partnership and I already had fear and nerves covered. I needed him to be a lion – to be calm and brave for the both of us. To hold the torch as we navigated uncharted territory. I felt him exhale deeply and show me the way. And, yet again, he became my lion.

Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

The effect on me was instant. Roy made me believe in myself again – across the board – to strive for better in myself, to write even though I missed the mark this time, to boldly shorten my reins and pick up the canter. That is the universal horse sentiment that transcends jump height, breed, and discipline – the feeling I have in common with every other horse lover.

I sit here basking in the merit of having my hat in the ring, even if that ring holds far smaller jumps than my aspirations. For sitting next to me at my computer, I feel the heart of a lion.

About the Author: Piper began her tenure as the Publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine in 2014. She received her B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Trinity College [Hartford, CT] in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. She is an active member of the hunter/jumper community, owning a fleet of lease ponies and showing in adult hunter divisions.
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