I was only seven years old when my first pony bucked me off his back. My dad was guiding our 35-year-old Shetland pony J.B. with a long rope inside our family’s round pen. John Boy was stubborn for his loyal and friendly breed, so he had to gain my parents’ trust before I could roam free with him in our pasture.
As we went around the pen, my mom asked, “How does it feel, sweetie? Do you feel like you have control of him?”
“She’s doing just fine, hun,” my dad replied on my behalf, “Okay, J.B. Let’s turn around and go the other way.”
I used the reins as my dad instructed him. Pulling the reins to either side meant a change in direction. Tugging on the reins toward your body and saying “whoa” meant for the horse to halt.
But suddenly, J.B. wasn’t listening to my father’s commands. He got ornery and started snorting. His ears went back and he shook his head — he hated the bit in his mouth. One of his front hooves started kicking the dirt. He began to fight my dad with the rope. Then J.B. went up on his hind legs, and I lost control of his bridle and reins.
My mom and dad helplessly watched as my back and helmet hit the rockhard ground. “Get out of there, hun!” Still on his hind legs, J.B. was now right over my body. Reality hit me and I got up as fast as I could — I was seconds away from the weight of his 400-pound body crushing me. Terrified, my mom ran into the corral to console me. My dad grabbed the rope and escorted J.B. back to his stall. After that moment, we didn’t know if I’d ever ride again.
My parents would find out later that J.B. was abused by his previous owners. On top of the abuse, he was repeatedly tranquilized as a way to calm him down. Unsurprisingly, the trauma of this made him anxious and aggravated around people. We didn’t know this until we brought him home, because he did not want to be ridden or even touched. After the incident, my parents decided it was too dangerous for me to ride J.B. again.
Six months later, I was finally open to trying again. We had a gaited pony named Black Jack. He was similar to a Tennessee Walker and measured less than 14 hands, so he was smaller than a horse but considered big for a pony. It’d be a long way down to the ground if I fell off Black Jack. Questions were rambling in my head. Could I trust him? Would he start acting up? How would I know he wouldn’t buck me off? Thinking of these fears made my breathing become heavy, and I was hesitant to put my foot in the stirrup before mounting him.
I was worried until my dad said, “Why don’t you try again, hun, just one more time? Try to get back on the horse.”
What happens if you live everyday the way you are right now?
And when you die, you talk to God and He slides a piece of paper across the table and says, "This is who you were supposed to be, this is what you could have done. What happened?” —Unknown
A bit of wisdom my therapist shared with me when I was trying to conquer some obstacles in my life was that “it only takes 30 seconds of immense courage to be brave and face our fears head-on.” We can’t allow our fears to get in the way of us being who we’re meant to be — if anything, we can use them to push us and move us forward.
So even when you’re scared, get back on the horse. I did. It was frightening and it was hard, but I did it. I trusted Black Jack, I trusted my own abilities, and I faced my fear. And you can, too — whether your horse is a literal horse or it’s facing some of life’s toughest challenges like phobias, failure, death, anxiety, falling in love, etc. When something goes wrong, you figuratively fall off the horse. And it can feel disheartening if you keep getting bucked off. But when you get back on the horse, you’re trying again. And that’s what matters most: you keep trying.
Don’t let falling to the ground discourage you. Get up, dust yourself off, and get back in the saddle.