Comfort Zone

Readers, last week I learned how to fence.

No, not that kind of fencing. There were no swords present. Instead, I’m talking about the kind of fencing performed by reiners during their warm up – you know, the part where they gallop horses directly at walls (or fences), only to slide to a stop before the inevitable collision.

Summary: Who needs a sword to be terrified?

Me in my natural habitat, aboard my regular partner in crime, Ricochet.

The whole hilarious exodus (working title “A Dressage Rider Goes Rogue”) started at the IHSA National Championship show two weekends ago. Held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, the annual event brings together the best intercollegiate hunt seat and western riders in the country for the final showdown of the school year. I was there to network with coaching friends and wish former clients good luck and, while I was there, I took the opportunity to shadow a buddy who coaches an IHSA western team and is a twenty-year veteran of reining and reined cowhorse events. Sitting beside an expert in a discipline I know so little about and hearing a play-by-play breakdown of exactly what I was watching in warm up and competition was hugely eye-opening – and somewhere in the middle of it all, I heard a voice that sounded an awful lot like mine saying, “That looks like fun.”

…which is how a week later, I somehow found myself sitting atop a 14.3 hand reining mare for my introduction to the basics – which actually aren’t all that different from the dressage basics I’m accustomed to. In fact, everything was going really well – right up until we started spinning and it was suggested that I’d have better luck if I took my inside leg off to increase the speed.

Ever the professionally trained dressage queen, I protested, “That’s against my religion!”

My friend laughed and said, “You’re about to convert.”

We don’t learn unless we set aside our preconceived notions, readers, so convert I did.

Inside leg off and with my friend’s instructions flying across the arena, I spun that mare. I backed her up at high speed. I learned the basics of stopping while going first from the walk and next from the jog – and then things got really serious when I took those fundamentals (along with a few deep breaths) and managed to run her into a pretty decent sliding stop. And then another. And a few more after that (all at increasing speeds) for good measure.

And I learned a lot in the process – and not all of it horse-related.

If you’re a high school student reading this blog today, my recent foray into the reining realm has given me additional wisdom to share with you on horses and on college – and this is what I want you to know:

Galloping a horse flat out toward a fence and praying that you actually have the control to stop quickly when you get there is anxiety-inducing. Doing so while a very friendly and well-meaning cowboy encourages you to go faster in your gallop and accelerate into the stop is likewise terrifying. The entire experience aboard that horse last week was completely out of my comfort zone on multiple levels – and yet how can I take any sort of narrow view of horsemanship now after having it broadened – and with such exciting results?

That smile is the terrified expression of someone who has no idea what she’s gotten herself into…

Much  like you will when you head off to college, students, I left my comfort zone last week. I set aside everything I know about connecting the inside leg to the outside rein as the only means of collecting a horse underneath me; I allowed myself to be coached to do things that felt completely counter-intuitive to the teachings I’ve followed for so long. I opened myself up to something new without question and the reward was immense. Not only did I have fun (sliding is very addictive, people!), but I got a completely different feel for a horse – a feel that I’ve been able to translate directly into the daily work with a horse I’ve ridden for the past 11 years. And none of that would have been possible if I had closed myself off from an opportunity when it presented itself just because it (frankly) terrified me.

College life is exactly like my ride on that reiner, students. A lot of parts of it might seem to make no sense to you when they first appear and, moreover, a lot of experiences or ideas you might encounter along the way are going to seem downright scary at first because they’ll threaten to pull you directly out of what you know and leave you in uncharted territory with only the barest of maps. But the problem with avoiding those situations is that if you linger in your comfort zone forever – if you don’t push yourself to try new things, study new subjects, meet new people, and believe things that are the exact opposite of what you believe right at this moment – you won’t grow or change at all during your undergraduate years (and – spoiler alert! – that’s kind of the point of the whole higher educational experience).

Are all of the things you try going to be successful? Of course not! (I don’t want to talk about my first attempt at a slide. We’ll just pretend it didn’t happen.) Are all of the new ideas you ponder going to result in epiphany? Probably less than half will have that result. But for every failure, I guarantee you’ll find something new and interesting that opens another door to another opportunity and introduces you to an idea or a person or concept that teaches you something you’ll use for the rest of your life.

As for me, I’m ready to go back and spin some more. I still have a lot to learn, after all. About everything.

(Want help finding a school to help you have your own out-of-the-box experiences? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to guide your college search.)

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