When Confidence Comes Knocking at the Door

Vinnie in a June 2015 jump school. Photo by Denny Emerson. Vinnie in a June 2015 jump school. Photo by Denny Emerson.

Yesterday I did something I rarely do. I did not ride a single horse, and I wore a dress. I know — brace yourself! And I was rocking some seriously cliché event rider tan lines, but I didn’t care. I was having a great summer afternoon celebrating my sister’s wedding shower.

I am extremely close with my family, and when my two sisters and my mom and I get together, we usually are borderline out of control — laughing, teasing one another, crying and yelling. You name it, we do it! We have no shame and get along like the characters in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

I’m truly fascinated by the personalities in my family. My two sisters are anything but shy, and I tend to keep to myself and lean towards completing a puzzle, while the other two would rather bungee jump off a cliff. In some ways, my sisters would make great event riders, particularly my younger sister, Anya, who exudes confidence.

She was born with that extra sparkle and will never go unnoticed. She is always ready for a challenge and thoroughly enjoys proving others wrong. She is brave, assertive and eager to learn, which can become a good recipe for an event rider.

Then there’s me. I am not afraid of the world and everything in it, though I tend to skip to my own beat. I walk on a different path. I see things differently than others, and too much conversation makes me nauseous. More than one hour in downtown west Lebanon, and I want to scream, get away from the “city,” and take my horse up on a mountain and hide out for a while.

I enjoy spending time by myself … oh wait, isn’t that what people refer to as a loner? Yes, I am one of those! I do not have all the ingredients that make the ideal event rider. But I don’t care, and this is why:

Eventing, riding and horses are my life. I have always been drawn towards horses and have never looked back since. No matter how broke or broken I am or beaten down, I have not once given up on this sport. I want it more than I have ever wanted anything.

As luck would have it, I am currently sitting on THE HORSE … well, at least in my modest opinion, he is the horse. He has been around the block and has given me more confidence than any other horse I have ever sat on.

I have been riding Gayle Davis’ Theatre Royal, or “Vinnie,” for just over a year now, and he has literally given me wings I thought I would never find. It definitely takes longer than I imagined to get to know a horse. I thought I knew Vinnie pretty well last summer, but that wasn’t quite the case. I can honestly and confidently say I am really getting to know this particular ride now, and it has been an amazing one at that!

Vinnie Stoneleigh Burnham 2014. OT.

Vinnie at Stoneleigh Burnham 2014 in Open Training.

So what the heck is confidence and where does it come from? I believe confidence derives from being successful at what you do repeatedly and over a period of time. Where does success come from? In this instance, and for me and Vinnie when it comes to jumping a bigger fence, success comes from getting to that more or less perfect take off.

But, how do we get to that perfect take off place? This idyllic point at which the horse leaves the ground is not random and is the result of a more or less “quality canter.” How do you get that quality canter you speak so highly of? Practice, practice and more practice and a lots of trust that occurs over a period of time!

I am really and truly starting to feel what the right canter is for Vinnie, and I am trusting him more and more, as I have had trust issues with several non-event type horses in the past. I am stripping down my guard and riding like I think I am capable of riding. I am not the shy and awkward girl that so many believe I am. I am strong and I am determined, and I will be damned if anyone thinks I cannot or will not succeed.

I am beginning to think I am so much more than a Training level event rider. I am looking towards the future and am seeing things I once deemed impossible. I am seeing new goals coming into vision, and I could not be more pumped. I owe this newfound confidence and insight to this very special horse, some very special instructors and an amazing owner.

I am becoming more and more confident every time I sit on this horse, which is why I want to tell other shy or quiet or reserved or timid girls that you can fight for the ride you want. You can prove others wrong. There is not just one type of personality that is suited for eventing. You can be anyone you want to be.

Riding and eventing teaches us so much about ourselves — things we didn’t know about ourselves or things we wanted to keep hidden. This sport is very telling, and the truth always comes out.

Maybe you are the quiet computer nerd at work Monday through Friday and a crazed event rider by the weekend. Or perhaps you have never been a thrill seeker or a pusher of boundaries. This does not mean you cannot compete. You can be deathly shy or afraid of all things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ride a horse.

Keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and you will learn and experience a life you never thought was an option. Be anyone you want to be and keep kicking on.