Marianne wrote this beautiful piece for her college aplications. She's on her way to C.S.U. in Ft. Collins.
She wrote, " Since I wrote this essay, I've made so much progress with my mare, and we're a better team than ever. She has taught me more about myself than any person or experience, and she's always there as my shoulder to cry on.
Even at the ripe old age of 18, I've decided that she's my "forever" horse, and I will have her until the day she dies. Horses and riding, Bailey in particular, are the only things that have kept me afloat, sane, and out of trouble."
The Seven Stages for a Nervous Nelly
“Yeehaw!” I shout, more to Bailey than to anyone else, the way I often do when she picks up her canter a little overzealously. I can feel my heart pounding under my protective vest, and my whole body trembles as Bailey’s smooth gait rocks us towards the first fence.
Over the skinny log with straw bales on either side, then a long, breezy gallop past the Evil Beginner Novice Log to the inviting fence two. Breathe, ease into the rhythm, feel the power coursing beneath me, command my abilities and my fears. Up the hill – avoid the red flags, those are potholes – to the up bank.
“Never go long to a bank,” my trainer’s words echo in my mind, and we get the perfect distance. A sweeping gallop left to the straw bales, where Bailey hesitates, but we can do this, Bugs. And we do. A smile spreads over my face. This is what it’s all about.
Over the other logs, through the simple water complex – a set-up with a cross-rail to a vertical – and back down towards the start, past the Evil Beginner Novice Log that was the source of our demise yesterday. Just one more jump, followed by a rollback to the ditch and we were done. Easy as pie! Or so I thought.
“Why didn’t you jump the little log stack?” asks my trainer, Sarah. Well, to be honest, that jump doesn’t look so “little” to me. But Sarah calls every jump little, regardless of its size or difficulty. Bailey didn’t warm up well this morning; my back is in pain after flying off my mare and over the Evil Beginner Novice Log the previous day; I want to end camp on a good note; my legs are exhausted; if Bailey refuses, of course I’ll end up on the ground with grass-stained breeches and a bruised ego. But these were all excuses. Sarah gives me one of her “looks,” she knows I’m chicken.
“Just go up there and try it, I think she’ll be fine.” Sarah tries to ease my now-rediscovered nerves. To my dismay, and as all horse people know, when your trainer suggests that you do something, you can’t just say no. It doesn’t work that way. So regardless of how I felt, there we were, with a good forward canter and rapidly approaching the fence. Steady, add leg, heels down, sit up, don’t you dare jump ahead and risk getting dumped a second time. I find myself trembling all over again and I hold my breath. But what was I worried about? Bailey got to the base of the fence and did the “classic Bailey uber-launch,” cautiously overjumping by at least a foot, just in case. Still, who cares? We did it!
On the quiet, five-hour drive back from Tulip Springs Eventing Camp, I had a lot to think about. Me – the Nervous Nelly of all Nervous Nellys, the self-proclaimed grandma, the over-cautious 17 year-old who defies all stereotypes of rebellious, risk-taking teens – what was I doing trying to train a horse to compete in arguably the most dangerous of all equestrian sports?
More specifically, what was I doing trying to train a nervous, inexperienced horse with the athleticism to jump five feet in the air, spin, and dump you in any and every direction all at once? Certainly this is my least safety-conscious plan of all time. But really, this is exactly what I need.
To understand why, I have to rewind back five years. When you least expect it, life has this unforeseen way of hitting you harder than you could ever fathom. I was just twelve years old when my dad wound up in Harborview Medical Center, and in the twelve days between his tragic bicycling accident and his passing, it became clear to me that my life would never be the same.
Many people talk about the seven stages of grief, and in the years to come, I observed them all in my mom and my brother. My mom gave up snowboarding, bicycling, and anything else she deemed too risky, I watched my brother’s attempt to take on a fatherly role in the family, I eventually saw him give up on snowboarding because of its risks, and as I got older, I became more intimately involved with the family’s finances than any teenager ever should be.
Somehow, I managed to postpone my grieving until high school, when the reality hit me: life is a scary state of existence, and if anything happened to me, my family would surely fall into shambles.
Junior year was the one in which my fears climaxed. Suddenly, every car I passed on the road had the potential to swerve into me. I had to watch them and be prepared. Driving after 11pm on a weekend? Forget about safety! Any drunk driver out on the road could kill me. Home alone? Lock all the doors, turn on all the lights, and if anyone rings the doorbell, have the phone handy and ready to dial 9-1-1 in case that person at the doorstep has dangerous intentions. The mail man? Never open the door for him; you just don’t know if he’s the UPS guy or a well-disguised serial killer. Sound like overkill? I sure think so.
Junior year was coincidentally the year I bought my mare, Bailey. As I worked with her, it became obvious that she was a nervous, spooky, barely-trained mess. She was everything I didn’t need, and she did little to aid my confidence for months on end. Yet week in and week out, I was at the barn, riding and giving my all.
Oft times, I would get out to the barn with a pit in my stomach. I would take my sweet time getting Bailey ready to ride. I would procrastinate for all I was worth in an attempt to put off the dread of yet another scary, hectic ride. One way or another, though, every time I relaxed into Bailey’s stretchy walk rhythm and settled my feet into the stirrups, the dread melted away. Up in that saddle, what happened was up to me. If I rode correctly, Bailey had the capability to listen and respond, minimizing her sudden spooks, among other unsettling behaviors. With my mare, I could actually be in control.
Each and every ride, we carry on like this. I gain skills, and I see them pay off in the horse I have trained and created through my own hard work. I know now why I own a crazy horse and compete in the sport of 3-day eventing: This is a challenge I can face head-on, this is something I can control, and with riding, I can work every day to push past my comfort level and fight back against every fear that has held me captive.
I like to think that I never really went through the seven stages of grief. Instead, I will continue to go through my own seven stages of healing: ride, compete, jump, fall off, get back on, love, and persevere.