On Facing Limitations

Limitations are an unfortunate fact of life. Whether they are physical, mental or emotional, we all have them to some degree. The horses have them, too.

No where in life am I as aware of my limitations as when I am riding. I start tuning in and they all start to come out of the woodwork. I no longer ride horses that have been known to buck or rear– as I’ve grown older, those those behaviors now make me afraid. I don’t have the same muscle control and stability on the right side of my body as I do my left, affecting how finely aids can be applied. Most recently, I’ve had to face a different sort of limitation, that of finite energy. Adrenal fatigue has meant re-evaluating my life and daily activities and chopping out 2/3 of what I would normally be doing. It’s like time management, only with energy.

Limits, however, serve a purpose beyond reminding us that we are mere mortals. Whether it is the horse’s physical limit of strength for collection or an emotional limit affecting trainability, it’s our job as riders to work within the limits, but to keep pushing the limits out. It takes skill and dedication to push the limits out, but they also force us riders to cultivate a great deal of patience– with ourselves as well as with the horses.

Acknowledging limits, whether they are ours or the horses’, physical or mental, is an important step to developing any horse and becoming better riders. We cannot grow unless we know the very edge at which we stand.

From there, we can strategize and try different approaches to move the limit-line back. I once had a young student who was terrified of falling off. Her fear prevented her from learning to canter. But by recognizing and acknowledging her limit, I worked with her to move her fear-line back by teaching her how to fall, should she find herself in that situation. She first learned to duck and roll while standing on the ground, then on a patient horse at the halt, then the walk, and finally the trot. At last, her confidence in herself (and the horse she was on) had grown to the point where she wanted to try cantering. It has been over 5 years since our last lesson, and I still occasionally see pictures of her riding in my Facebook news feed.

The key to pushing the limits back is that it takes time and an intentional strategy.

With some time, and much more patience, I will return to my normal daily activity. I add in more activity to my daily routine as I feel better, backing off when I experience fatigue. As with my young student’s fears, to crash through a limitation line and pretend the limit does not exist would be to ultimately experience a set back, whether it would be diminished self-confidence for my student or depleted energy reserves for me.

Are you the type to push through a limit-line and pretend it doesn’t exist (or at least not there) or do you acknowledge and respect the line, and methodically work to push the limit back?