Back in the saddle

It’s the kind of quiet Sunday morning made for cycling through the suburbs of Chorlton. Yet there is something out of the ordinary about one cyclist in particular. She speeds past, clad in skin tight jodhpurs with a whip balanced precariously in her basket.

After almost a ten year break, I have taken up horseriding again. One of the twenty seven things I planned to do this year was to have a jumping lesson. Once was enough to make me resolve never to give it up again, repressing all thought of the expense or the embarrassment of cycling through Chorlton in all my gear. This is my story of getting back in the saddle.

The first lesson back was tough. I knew I had lost fitness though the lesson itself was nothing compared to the next day. Muscles ached that I had forgotten existed. When returning to something you used to be good at, it’s easy to be intimidated by recalling what you were like at the peak of your abilities. Such high standards can seem unattainable and put you off before you’ve even started. I found it’s easy to forget about the journey you went on to hone your skills and the setbacks you experienced along the way.

Learning as an adult brings new challenges. I found that I had lost the sense of invincibility I had as a child. Now I have acquired an unhelpful internal narrative which is bent on thinking through all the potentially disastrous consequences of what I’m doing. Adults are also often more self-conscious and judgemental which can be challenging when you’re looking to rebuild confidence.

For my second lesson, I decided to push myself and jump a course. This was perhaps a misjudgement; after approaching one fence at a dubious angle, the horse decided against it while I landed unceremoniously on the other side. Once I had dusted off my jodhpurs, what struck me was a sense of relief. I realized that subconsciously I had been worried about falling off again for the first time. Now it had happened and was a bit of an anti-climax.

When riders have a fall, they are encouraged to get back on straight away. This allows no time for the rider to surrender to irrational fears about what could happen. The phrase ‘getting back into the saddle’ is used beyond the equestrian world and refers to the return to an activity after a break

Through my experiences of getting back in the saddle, I’ve learned that it’s important to get a balance between rebuilding your confidence and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. If I had chosen not to jump, I would not have learned about the importance of getting a good approach to a fence. Yet if I had insisted on jumping a five foot course straight away I would have damaged my confidence (and potentially a limb or two).

There are parallels with my return to writing, another of my childhood hobbies. Writing a blog is undoubtedly outside my comfort zone, though I have come to recognise that it is part of the learning process. Through taking risks and sometimes making mistakes, you get a clear sense of how you can improve in the future. Getting back in the saddle has given me a renewed sense of purpose, or at least something to get out of bed for on a Sunday morning.

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