You Know What’s Embarrassing?

I think no matter how old you get to be, everyone remembers acutely the absolute, total, and paralyzing embarrassment of their teenage years. I’m not talking about actual embarrassing things that happen to us during those years (though admittedly there are many), but rather the ever-present sense that every situation – both real and imagined – would embarrass us in some way and eventually we’d simply die from it. (And if you think the memory of this goes away when you’re an adult, just wait until the invitation arrives to your 20 year high school reunion. Wherever you’ve hidden it all, I promise you it will show back up.)

But the thing about teenage embarrassment that we (hopefully!) comprehend when we reach adulthood and have all of our necessary coping mechanisms in place, is that it’s much more perceived than it is real. It’s a sense of embarrassment more than actual humiliation.

Parents reading this blog will hopefully realize that a large part of their student’s development throughout their high school and college years will be learning to deal with embarrassment without being paralyzed by it – and also that not every situation they perceive to be embarrassing (or potentially so) will actually turn out that way.

Confidence and poise are great embarrassment preventatives.

Very recently, however, while auditing a series of clinics featuring teenage riders, as well as talking with trainer and coach friends who have both taught and attended clinics for juniors, I’ve recognized that we currently live in an age where embarrassment (and the fear of it) is causing some actual danger for young riders. And that’s pushed me to speak up in this week’s blog entry. Want an example?

I’ll give you three:

  • When auditing a junior rider clinic, I heard the instructor request no less than four times that a high school student give a cantering horse his head to open up his stride in front in preparation for jumping. The student changed nothing that she was doing and seemed to not be taking instruction of any kind, so the clinician finally gave up and turned his attention to the other riders who were taking instruction from him.
  • A student who traveled on a training trip with another instructor and a group of riders but never told the trainer that she had a heart murmur. She then chose not to notify anyone in the group when she began having shortness of breath two days into the trip because she was embarrassed to admit she had a problem. (She instead called her mother two time zones away with this information and her mother had to get on a plane.)
  • A student in a jumping clinic riding a horse she was very familiar with chose not to carry a crop or wear spurs in the clinic, despite the horse’s reputation for extreme laziness. She could barely get him to canter but refused to take a crop when it was offered, resulting in a wasted ride with a clinician who had flown across the country to teach at her barn.

It’s my sincere hope that upon reading those three examples, parents and students, that you’re horrified at these incidents, none of which I have embellished in any way. (If anything, I’ve simplified them to increase anonymity, as my goal isn’t to call out any specific person. In fact, the incidents are general enough that I fear there are countless other very similar examples out there right now.)

It’s my further hope that you’ve also asked yourself the following questions after reading the examples above:

  • What’s more embarrassing – changing what you’re doing on a horse when an instructor asks you to (whether you agree with it in the moment or not) or paying a great deal of money to ride in a clinic (that has a waiting list) and then not learning anything from it?
  • What’s more embarrassing – admitting that you’re having a potentially serious health problem or dying from your potentially serious health problem?
  • What’s more embarrassing – admitting that you were wrong and you really do need a crop when it’s offered, or having your horse drop out of the canter every three to five strides during the flat work in a jumping clinic and having to resort to reaching back to smack him with your hand?

(Irony alert: In the case of the second example provided, a student potentially could die of their own embarrassment. And that’s the most frightening part of all.)

While I don’t blame social media for everything and likewise don’t believe it to be inherently evil, I do believe that the intense scrutiny we put on ourselves through its use (and the fact that social media allows us to edit things until they’re exactly how we want them to be before we post them) has had unintended consequences when it comes to our ability to deal with embarrassment. More pointedly: I think we’ve begun to go out of our way to avoid it and have forgotten how to address it at all.

Since horses seem to live to embarrass us, you can understand why learning to deal with embarrassment isn’t just a part of normal life, it’s an everyday occurrence for equestrians. And I, for one, support it.

Certainly I hate to be embarrassed as much as the next person, but I tell you what, readers – I always learn from it and will go out of my way to avoid making the same mistake over again. And that’s where the value of embarrassment lies – in the way it helps us focus on becoming better and gives internal incentive not to repeat past mistakes (for fear of more embarrassment). It isn’t fun, but it’s crucial to our long-term development.

The same can be said of education, I suppose – college or otherwise: It isn’t (always) fun, but it’s crucial to long-term development. And I’m not at all embarrassed to say so.

(Want help avoiding the embarrassment of choosing the wrong college for you? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to help guide your search.)

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