“Oh, I’ve never fallen off…”
She thinks she’s bragging, but the little girl, or teen, or grown-ass woman (or perhaps man) who utters those words in the horseback riding world has failed to read the room. We are not impressed. In fact, the polite among us are trying not to laugh in her face. She looks with at the other riders with expectation, all of us with muck on our boots, sweat under our helmets and horsehair on our jeans. We, she implies, have fallen, and she has not; therefore, obviously, her skills are greater. We should accept the inevitable conclusion that she is the superior rider.
It’s almost cute, really…
But we know something she doesn’t. We know there are only two types of horseback riders: Those who have fallen off, and those who will.
I have looked up at my horse from the flat of my back more times than I care to remember. You eat dirt, bruise your bottom, say a silent prayer thanking God for whoever invented helmets, and then you climb back on, clothes a little dirtier and ego a little (or a lot) smaller. And while some among us may brag about having never fallen, most of us know that if you judge your success merely by your ability to keep your butt in the saddle, you’re missing the point.
Here’s a fact:
The absolute best way to never fall off a horse is to never climb on in the first place.
The more you climb on, the more you try, the more you challenge yourself, the more likely you are to eat arena dirt. And if you judge your successes and failures merely on whether or not you fall, you’re operating on a false rubric.
Here’s the secret:
We don’t care whether or not you’ve fallen. We’re more concerned with whether or not you have the strength to climb back up in the saddle and try again. And that’s a strength that ONLY reveals itself after a fall.
Riders know that sometimes you fall. Sometimes it’s your fault. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, the winds themselves seem to conspire against you. Sometimes you royally screw up and you pay for that screw up in bruises, and sometimes you come crashing to the ground even though you did nothing wrong.
Riding is kind of like life that way.
Lately I’ve noticed that most people walk through life with this crippling fear of falling. We hide behind Instagram accounts and Facebook and shallow friendships, often even with those we are closest to. We the reveal the best of ourselves but hide the messy stuff. Hide the falls. We work really hard to make sure no one notices the dirt on our butts or the life that happens between the shiny Instagram photos.
Why is that? Why don’t we acknowledge that life IS the messy stuff? The in-betweens? The falling and the climbing back on?
I keep wondering what riding would be like if we rode like we lived. I feel like most of us would be duct taping ourselves to the saddle, holding onto the horse for dear life, and then never taking that first step.
Then we would brag, “Oh, I’ve never fallen off…” as though that were evidence of anything at all.
When riders first fall off, we make sure they’re ok. We remind them that fall is as much a part of this gig as any other part of it. We tell them that we all fall. Then we help them stand back up and offer them a hand to get them back where there were, back in the saddle. We all fall, and we remind them that falling is nothing to be ashamed of.
In life, we forget that falling isn’t failing. So we pretend that we never fall. But we all fall. We’ve all fallen. We will all fall again. Maybe it’s time to admit that.
Darlings, falling isn’t the worst thing. Falling teaches us things that standing still simply can’t. We all come out of the saddle once in a while. We all fall. Then we climb back on.