Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Things My Daughter Learns From Me

My daughter had a difficult horseback riding lesson last week. As always, the two lessons before affected how she was feeling and riding. Two lessons prior, she had had a break through on getting her horse to canter. Finally, after a year or more of manic trotting before finally being rewarded with a rolling canter, she figured out how hard she needed to kick in order to go from a walk to a canter, bypassing that messy trot. But during the lesson after that, her horse spooked at the canter and took off with her--my daughter got her pony back under control and ended the hour with a laugh, but she was rattled. What spooked the pony, you wonder? Her horrified mother who was walking her innocent puppy.

All of this led to an uncertain, hesitant rider on a lazy pony. This is not a good combination, because the pony instinctively knows that she can avoid the work being asked of her. My daughter sat atop that pony and sorta kinda kicked her. Sorta kinda asked her to canter. She sorta kinda did this again and again and again. The instructor, determined to repeat the success from a week ago, gave the instructions while pony and rider trotted like mad but did not canter: "Walk again. Now canter." Those four words came out over and over and over.

And as the words rolled across the ring, frustration set in. I could see my daughter trying to stay determined, but she wasn't very determined to begin with, because she didn't want the pony to bolt again. It's a hard balance--wanting the horse to go faster, but not too fast. Using a lot of leg, but a little hand, too.

Watching my children fail is one of the hardest parts of parenting. My brain understands that it is important, that she is in good hands with her instructors. I know firsthand how cruel it is to learn that you have to relearn everything when you ride a horse. Or when you relearn stuff in life. I know firsthand how tough transitions are from a walk to a canter. Or transitions in life. But let's face it: failing is painful.

My daughter's instructor chose that moment to do what I just did in the paragraph above--to draw out from what was going on in the ring to the bigger lessons in life. If she didn't know if she wanted to canter, did she know what she wanted to do in life? If she didn't see in her mind what she wanted the pony to do, how could she see in her mind what she wanted to have happen in life? My daughter was already a mess, and this lecture made her wilt. Her shoulders slumped, her hard hat fell down, the tears plopped down on her pony's mane. I recognize the wilting because I know I do it when lectured in my own real life. I don't usually fight back; I look down, get quiet, and work on a wall of resentment. I'm not proud of this, but...it's what I do. And looking at my daughter, I grew mad at myself for teaching her to do the same.

To no one's surprise, the lesson ended in more tears. My daughter and I walked around in silence, cooling out the pony. She dismounted and spat out, through angry and sad and frustrated tears, "Can't I just wait in the car, Mom?"

"No. There are things that need to be done," I said firmly. "Let's do them together."

She cried through all the necessary after-lesson chores. Pick all four hooves. Untack the pony. Put the saddle away in one room, the girth and saddle pad in another room. Curry the pony well. Brush the pony. Rub the spots behind her ears where she sweats the most. Give her one treat. Put on her blanket. Walk her back to her stall. Roll the stall door closed. Clean the bridle. Rub the bit clean with a rag. Put it back on the right hook. Thank your instructor (not sure this one was well done, but...).

The ride back home was quiet until my daughter found her sense of humor again and could chat about things other than ponies and transitions and cantering. But in the quiet, after I finished beating myself up for teaching her to get quiet instead of getting angry, I realized that I did teach her other things. Better things. More useful things.

I know she sees me doing what needs to be done, and never, not once, letting someone down just because I'm sad or lonely or frustrated. I do not wallow or lie comatose in the face of frustration or sad. I keep on keeping on, always moving forward, even during the low times in my life during which life's daily tasks were the only things that propelled me forward, onward, upward.

It's humbling and alarming and wonderful how closely apples fall from the trees in which they grow. I can only hope it's a net positive--that my daughter learns a little more good habits from me than my own bad habits. And let me try and work on those bad habits while she's still in the house to watch me.


  1. This is a wonderful story, and these riding lessons offer a fitting metaphor for life's struggles. More importantly, they will serve your daughter well.

  2. These are important lessons you are teaching your daughter -- failing and then rising again. My daughter used to take riding lessons too. The cantering thing always threw her for a loop and one day, her horse threw her too. Talk about having to get back up and try again, and again, and again. I love that you end your post with the wish to work on your own bad habits while your daughter is still around to watch. This is another important life lesson.

  3. Horses are a great metaphor for rising to the challenge, and, as you put, are great teachers. I wrote about this a bit ago and was interested to read how closely your story mirrored my own. Thanks for sharing. http://wp.me/p4Wp6C-8N