Photo by Filip Eliasson / Unsplash

A harsh lesson in how others' prejudices can cost us, and what to do about it

The little Appaloosa booped me again, and I had to remember to get out of her head's way. Then she was weaving and moving and weaving and moving, all while I do not have a functional left hand, all while my trainer, Em, patiently waited for me to tighten the girth (I can't, trying hurt so much I cried).  

Finally I climbed aboard. The horse was twitchy. Normally, as in two years ago, that would have been right up my alley. Today I am stiff as a board, my body language communicating down the reins to her, anxious about my crippled left hand.

Smiling, Em reminded me that I was the one who asked for a difficult horse.

She's precisely right. I had.

We rode up a quiet street. I noticed the tightness of my body, how overreactive I was to my horse's movements. Christ, when did THAT happen?

Em had to correct me in ways I am not used to being corrected. I was learning some new things, true, but my overreaction, my tenseness, was out of character and unnecessary given what my mare needed. She needed me to be calm.

Christ, when did THAT happen?

It took about two years. Slowly, steadily, day by day.

Here's how.

When I first came to Eugene I had been riding and training for years, my seat solid, my skills good. My trainers trusted me, and put me on green horses to keep my skills at a very high level. When I finally, finally found a trainer in Eugene, she put me on her best-mannered horse, a staid mare who loves scratches and was close to her third decade. Not what I'm used to.

She said it would be good for me to ride a well-mannered horse. Yes, fine, but not all the time.

My trainer had many folks in the arena at once, was constantly on the phone and distracted,  so at best I got minimal attention, and spent hour after hour doing the same thing in circles. That may work for some folks, but I need to ride horses that are very hard to handle, for that is what I get in the real world.

I had brought introductory letters to my new home from my trainers and stable owners and I had videos, all of which spoke to my level of competence. That apparently didn't matter. I thought that we would ratchet up over time. Nope. Never really did.

Riding a well-trained, predictable horse stripped me of my edge and lowered my skills. I'm not mad at my trainer. I'm mad at myself for sticking with that stable for so long. That was my fault.

After months of that, I found myself in Africa last year, riding the kind of horse I was used to. I found out, to my horror, how much edge I'd lost riding the well-behaved mare.

My skills had leached away.

When I asked my trainer to let me ride a more difficult horse, to work on animals that had some anxiety, two things my previous trainers trusted me with implicity and explicitly, the first word out of her mouth was "insurance." Nope.

That's when I knew we were done. I never went back.

I found Em, at my new stable, after I'd had shoulder surgery. Now I had a limb down and a sore hand, two hands, actually, which added a whole other level of complexity. Told Em what I wanted and needed.

I found out that I righteously suck at a lot of things right now which used to be intuitive and second nature. It's not just that my left side is crippled in the short term. I've got a lot of work to do to regain that easy connection to my mount and the confidence to handle an irritable or unpredictable animal.

I had allowed an ageist person to control my learning, and limit me in ways I never realized.

It's a damned good lesson in the cost of ageism, being treated like a delicate piece of china when I am accustomed to being thrown to the ground, kicked, stomped on and getting right back on the damned horse.

Not being trusted to work with anxious animals, when that's precisely the kind of practice I needed. I'm typically very good with big animals, but that needs regular practice.

If I had called my previous trainer out on this, no doubt I'd have been met with great defensive resistance. "But I'm just...." Nope.

Ageism is when we limit, make assumptions about people based on their age and not on their ability. That lives inside us, not the person we're judging.

She's a perfectly nice person. But fearful. More worried about insurance than she is committed to making sure I get the skills I require. I need fearless people. Em's putting me on and with horses which are going to test me. I asked for it. Am getting it. If I get hurt, that's my choice because I asked for the challenge.

Each day I'm out there I am seeing in bas relief what I lost by riding that mare, and not being regularly tested.

It comes back. It takes work. I simply have to be willing to suck at this for a while until my mojo returns.

The greatest challenge for me is to be humble enough to receive feedback where I am lacking, and to be corrected where I have forgotten, and take guidance where I used to feel utterly at ease. The only thing that hurts (other than my arthritis) is my pride. That's minor.

If I want to return to riding spicy horses, this is what it takes. It's a fine thing to slide backwards. It is not a fine thing to have what clearly appears to be age prejudice be the cause of it.

As for my other trainer, who again is a perfectly lovely person, I hope she doesn't encounter what she did to me. None of us is likely avoid the all-pervasive ageism which is woven into our culture.

For my part, however, the next time I sense it where my skills really matter, I'm going to move on a lot faster.

Now I've got work to do.

Photo by Lily Banse / Unsplash

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