Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Communication, fear, control, perfectionism

I cried at my last lesson.

My face scrunched up, my tongue grew thick, I lost my speaking voice completely.

We were outdoors.

It was windy.

There was a new mare in the paddock.

Eli was under me but also 100 miles away.

I was doing everything—everything!—the instructor said. I was fighting through my usual worries about bolting and falling on a distracted horse. I was tamping down the fear and doing the requested movements. Eli remained miles away.

We went from thinking this would be another lesson on haunches-in to downgrading to a lesson about walking forward and turning when asked. That is all.

And even that, apparently, was too much to ask of Eli that day.

There had been little testing spooks and general defiance. But then, out of nowhere, a ducking, hollow, skiddering teleport of a spook. 

Like this, I'm guessing.

I don’t know about you, but for me there is no halfway in crying. Either my face is studiedly, icily neutral… or I am bawling my eyes out for at least a half an hour. This was the latter.

I feel bad for my instructor, who saw right away that I had lost control of myself as soon as I lost control of Eli. She diagnosed this as a fear issue and proceeded to talk about that. She assumed I had Blue-related PTSD (nope!) and that fear made me cry (not really). And she talked about it at length, while I sat there and listened. She built wrong assumption on top of wrong assumption about my riding experience, my horse history and my needs in this situation.

And all the time she was talking, I wanted to stop her and explain what was really going on. But my voice was clogged with emotion. I was sitting in the saddle, perfectly upright and unhurt, but absolutely unable to speak up for myself or defend Blue's honor from the onslaught of assumptions she heaped onto the situation.

She said I should channel my fear into anger and determination. But what she didn’t know was that fear was not the feeling that overwhelmed my stony facade. She didn’t know that, in fact, anger and determination were the culprits.

The lesson ended without me saying another word.

So on Thursday, I will have to try to talk to her about this without breaking down again. This monologue is too long for real life, but it's what I wish I could say.

[Teacher], I want to talk about what happened at the last lesson. I am sorry I wasn’t able to talk at the time, but I want to be clear about what was happening so that we can communicate better going forward. Crying under stress is a physical reaction that I can't control. It's frustrating and annoying but it's a part of me.

I cried because I was frustrated with myself and with Eli. I was trying my hardest and it wasn’t working. I have been close to tears in our lessons before when we are working on something I struggle with. I was disappointed in myself and embarrassed about not being able to get Eli’s attention.

When he jumped, it proved that I couldn’t handle him. He is a 20-something-year-old lesson horse. A child could have handled him better than I did that day. That spook wasn’t very scary; it was very humiliating. It was me failing to excel and blaming myself.

The most helpful thing you can do for me in a situation like that is give me a new task to focus on, preferably something you know I’m good at. I would rather trot endless figure-eights than sit still and listen to you analyze what’s going wrong.

There is a time for analyzing my failures, but that time is when I have myself under control. I can't get under control until I am moving forward.

Just like a horse, I guess.