Hiking with your movement coach is always an adventure! And who knew that this hike would provide such a fabulous example of how I aspire to be when I work with my horses.
The rock face was probably only twelve feet high. Still, that’s double my height. Plenty far to fall. Zach scrambled up the fairly vertical face with ease, declaring from his vantage point above me that this was an easy one for me to practice my climbing skills. Doubt filled my mind as I made the easy scramble to the base of the small rock cliff. It didn’t seem that high, but it was the most vertical thing I’d ever climbed. I told Zach there was no way I could do it as fear filled my belly.
Zach is a master at patient persistence. Standing on the rock beside me, he said with confidence:
‘Sure you can, I’ll show you how’.
‘First, you’ll place your right foot here. Then, there’s this really great hand hold here. See how solid it is? Next, left hand here. Use your left arm to help pull you across, placing your left foot over here. Then come back down.’
From my perspective, even those four steps seemed daunting. Once that left foot landed in its spot, I’d be perched precariously on the rock face, relying soley on the friction of my shoes to keep me glued to there. But with Zach’s encouragement I decided to give it a go. First three steps were no problem, but that last step out on the ledge felt terrifying. I did it. And was never happier to be back on that flat rock next to Zach! I thought to myself, that was enough for today, I’m proud of myself for trying. I should know better. Zach has more faith in me than I do in myself. He has me practice those four steps until it’s easy.
I’m reminded how often I hear people talk about how Parkour kids, or rock climbers, or people who ride horses, are crazy. But the truth is that to do these things safely these athletes are incredibly methodical. Each foot placement and hand hold carefully planned and rehearsed, each precision jump practiced and tested, relationships and training finely tuned, until they are pretty sure they’ll be successful. No one wants to take unnecessary risks.
I felt really proud of myself for overcoming my fear and doing those first four steps. Great! Time to move on! Of course, Zach would have none of it, convinced still that I could make it to the top, he just as methodically showed me the next steps.
Right foot, right hand, left hand, left foot. Now, move left hand out and bring right foot to the next step up. Stand straight up on left leg, freeing the right foot to move to the next step, then come back down. The first time through I absolutely could not straighten my left leg. I didn’t trust my historically weaker left hip to support me. Once again, I came down a bit shaky and feeling I had reached my limit. But Zach is a good coach and kept cheering me on. So, I tried again until the first two segments were comfortable, rehearsed and confident.
More than once, during our time on that rock face, I was reminded of how much this is like training a horse. Just like dancing Tango, I am in the position of following someone else’s lead. But unlike Tango, on this rock face, insufficient training could get me seriously hurt. Zach is asking me to do something that really scares me. How often do we ask our horses to do something that is terrifying, or might even feel life threatening to them? Zach gave me such a brilliant experience of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of being taught to do something really scary in a way that made me able to face my fears and remain curious.
I could have walked away and said no, I’m done, any time. I had a choice. But somehow, he was able to keep me coming back to try again. He broke it down into small enough pieces that I could feel comfortable and confident to move on to the next step.
As I said before, that last part of the pitch was tricky. The hand holds at the top didn’t feel that great to me. I had to straighten that left leg and push with my left hand to help lift my body to get my right foot to its last position. It felt precarious. I stood up on that left leg, searching for solid hand holds and found nothing, all of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe, I felt light headed. I so wanted to be able to hang onto something up there! I panicked and had to come back down.
Standing on the flat rock at the bottom with Zach once again, shaking from head to toe, I really felt like that was it. I was done for the day. But Zach was determined. He just knew I could do it. He invited me to catch my breath and try again. This time he stood below me to spot me. It took some time to muster the courage to give it a go. I had a million excuses. I didn’t trust my left hip, or my left shoulder. But I felt like I could try again because Zach was so confident in me. The next time I made it through all the steps, so high now that it was scarier to consider backing down than continuing up!
It wasn’t graceful, but it was effective, with one last bit of effort I pushed and pulled my way onto the top of the rock. Weak in the knees, breathing heavily and feeling a bit like throwing up I stood atop the cliff and took a few breaths. My adrenaline was so high I felt like I needed to run across the rocks to burn off some steam. I can’t tell you how good it felt to be successful!
Feeling quite proud of myself, I went and got a drink of water, ready to put my pack on and continue down the trail. But no… Zach had other ideas. Because I had so much fear going up the first time, he wants me to do it two more times. Do it until I’m comfortable. I can tell you it took a bit to work up the nerve to do a second run. But I did, again, with Zach’s confidence and encouragement. The second time was quite a bit easier and third time was a piece of cake. Because we were so methodical, I knew exactly where to put each hand and foot. Exactly what move to do next. Exactly how my body would respond.
As we finally walked away from the once daunting, now conquered, twelve-foot cliff, I felt such a sense of satisfaction. And again, thought about how similar this experience was to what I would hope to offer my horses. Breaking something scary down into tiny steps that feel manageable. Believing in them with so much enthusiasm that they just want to keep trying for me. I want my horses to feel the same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment I did when I ask them to face their fears.
The effort sustained to reach our goals is always worth it! What a view!
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