On a brisk winter morning I donned my fleece breeches and headed to the barn for a horseback riding lesson. Despite the 15F weather, I was excited to see our new horse – a chestnut gelding named Teddy – and continue learning how to post the trot.
Experienced riders make it look easy to post, but my uncoordinated 37-year-old body was struggling to make it happen. Mentally it made sense. But translating my theoretical knowledge to a smooth post – while also guiding a horse who liked to trot very quickly – well, that was a different story. Inevitably, my torso was too far forward. My legs weren’t back as far as they should be. And when my trainer told me to slow my post in order to control how fast my horse was going, she might as well have been telling me stand on the saddle and balance like a limber circus performer.
And yet, after warming up in the arena, I asked Teddy to move into a trot. We were going to try this again.
He went into a fast trot and I started posting while my trainer loudly called: Shoulders back! Keep your legs back! Chin up! Heels down! Loosen the reign! Half halt! Slow your post! Engage your core!
I swear at one point steam began pouring from my ears as my mind struggled to make my body follow her instructions. I never realized how much strength and coordination I lacked until I began riding.
Finally she began shouting: You have to let go! Just let go and stop thinking! Feel the horse! LET GO!
Let go?! Let go while balancing on a moving horse who seems intent on going faster and faster? The idea seemed crazy.
But for a moment, while we were coming down the long length of the arena, I did let go. I couldn’t keep everything in my head anymore and had to stop thinking. And that’s when it happened, if only for a handful of hoofbeats: I felt my horse moving under me, I slowed my post, and my horse slowed down. For a few moments, it felt like we were one mass of energy moving forward together. It was amazing.
For me, experiences like this reinforce my belief that horses teach you about life. My natural tendency is often to try and control what is happening around me. But that’s usually not possible and it can be a source of stress or worry. When I’m able to let go – to be present and respond to events as they unfold – that’s when I’m most content. Most myself. And just like I have to keep practicing my post when riding, I need to learn how to “post” more often in life.