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By , Ballwin, MO
Horseback riding requires discipline, endurance, and mental toughness. My instructor said “Riding is 90% mental and 10% physical.” She was right. Any horse will instantly read their rider; assess their ability. They can tell an experienced rider from a beginner, a fearful rider from a confident one, and they will behave accordingly with how much they think they can get away with.

A good rider must always be aware that she cannot out-muscle a horse. One cannot “force” the horse by pulling on their mouth with all one’s strength. The horse will pull back three times as hard. The rider must be patient with their mount and never become angry with them, or else an ensuing tug-of-war will begin, in which the horse will always win. A rider must be organized to gain the trust of the horse. There are many things to think about when jumping, such as counting strides up to the fence without actually looking down, lifting your seat out of the saddle when it is time to jump, as well as sliding your hands up along the neck, keeping your heels down for maximum balance, and then always looking up and around the turn toward the next fence.

And above all, if you fall, whether by your own fault or the horse’s, you must get back on. Most people think this is to “teach the horse a lesson,” however, coming from someone who has fallen countless times, getting back on is most important for yourself. Of course it is frightening to fall – my voice and body always tremble – but to conquer my own fears, I need to try again. I cannot let myself be defeated by fear. I can safely say that every time I’ve tried that turn or jump again, I succeed. There’s something about just gritting your teeth and setting your mind to something that invigorates me. I feel proud of myself, proud of my determination. Something else my instructor said was, “You have to believe in yourself.” And as terribly cliché as that sounds, I have found that in the moments when I use every ounce of my energy and will, I have had the most blissful moments of riding I have ever experienced.

I have nourished a passion for horses my entire life, but didn’t start riding until age nine. Riding gives me great joy because it challenges me and gives me a chance to work with the beautiful animals I love. I enjoy learning about becoming a better horseman, even if it means targeting my weaknesses which can be discouraging at times. But eventually I work through them, and my determination and hard work pay off.

I wish school could be like horseback riding. School has always been a unique challenge in my life. It never came naturally; and even though I achieved good grades, they came at a heavy price. But mostly, I’ve never had a clear understanding of how to achieve success. I have always been an extremely hard-working student, one willing to spend all night on an assignment, but my hard work rarely pays off. I can study for hours on a test and get a “D.” I look around at others in an honors class producing work twice as good as mine with half the effort. In addition, school is frustrating to me because it is so tedious. The required homework sometimes seems simple, yet I struggle with it. In some ways I feel like a circus pony forced to jump through hoops. I am really a horse wired for the open plains, not a tiny stall or performing arena.

Similarly, I love to learn and explore, yet I feel that in the classroom I am too confined by their rules. I am extremely interested in history, for instance, but become very anxious before tests or class discussions. I desire to sit back and absorb information just for the benefit of gaining more knowledge, not so that I can get an “A” on my test, or get a star for participating enough in class. I ask myself when in the midst of a class discussion, “Why should I be required to talk when it is not my natural learning style?” Being forced to talk in a large group leads me to feel more anxiety. My freshman year I had a phenomenal history teacher named Mr. H. He respected his students, and therefore I respected him. His teaching style was probably fit more for the college setting, but I enjoyed it very much. He treated us like adults. He expected a lot from us. As a result, I knew I would be rewarded for trying my hardest. Moreover, I believed in what he was saying. He was so clearly passionate about what he was teaching, and I couldn’t help but feel the same way. I felt rather safe and relaxed in his classroom. His teaching style was unique, such as sitting and lecturing from a couch, as well as letting students sit there. Most importantly, he didn’t threaten or belittle us, so we maintained the highest respect and behavior for him. This was my first academic experience that gave me the challenge and joys I also achieve when horseback riding. My hard work and intense concentration were rewarded, and I felt proud of myself in the end.

Math has always been a struggle for me. Often I feel defeated by it, and it’s really hard not to lose confidence in my abilities or intelligence. In high school, however, I have learned rules and equations in math, and have become better at applying them in homework situations. Moreover, I have become more confident in asking questions, and also choosing the right questions to ask. Last year I spent a lot of my study hall downstairs with my math teacher, going over my homework or having her re-explain concepts. I am reminded of a tiny pony I rode regularly almost three years ago. Her name was Tulip, and she was extremely hot-headed and disobedient. My instructor advised me as best she could while Tulip reared, kicked, and refused jumps. Throughout the lesson I felt moments of frustration and defeat, yet in the end received much praise from my instructor, and though those lessons weren’t my prettiest, they were good.

As I have gotten older, reading has become a relaxing pastime for me. I enjoy studying characters especially; their background, motives, and views of the world. However, I read slower than the average student, and this can lead to more anxiety. I also have trouble discussing my thoughts on literature in a classroom setting. Reading is a pleasure for me unless there is performance involved -- I am a ferocious reader, but intimidated by teachers insisting that I demonstrate my knowledge through talking. I read for myself alone, and find class discussions boring, repetitious, and a little terrifying. One thing that frustrates me about riding in lessons is that I must follow the orders of my instructor. I long for freedom, and want to make decisions on my own. Similarly, in school I am forced to read the books my teachers give me. Yet I have found a compromise: While giving my teachers what they ask for, I keep myself as well – my hopes, dreams, and desires. I patiently obey my riding instructors, but continually remember my true desires and reasons for riding. I ride now at a new stable that fits me better; I feel no pressure to participate in horse shows, can relax in the laid-back atmosphere, and finally enjoy the new freedom I am given.

Last year I formed even better relationships with my teachers, who I found were very understanding. I honestly shared my need for accommodations, and they responded with a very positive and helpful attitude. It was great to experience a sense of team effort when my teachers allowed me to take tests in alternate settings, provided previously printed notes before class, and gave me the option to speak in class or hand in a written response instead. Finally, the student and the rider are on the same field. I’ve always understood the give and take between a horse and rider, and now I recognize that a teacher and student can have the same relationship.





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