Back in the day I used to spend a my summers at horse riding camp in Surrey, England. It was a fabulous place – a huge farm in the middle of nowhere. There were endless rolling hills and an amazing number of horses. It was a small camp, run out of a lovely couple’s home, where a dozen or so campers would be dropped off every Sunday at noon and stay until the following Saturday when we would be picked up by our parents – tired, grimy, and happy.
The routine was always the same – up at dawn, shower, dress, clean up the rooms. Rush down to a delectable home cooked breakfast, clean up, then head outside to wait for the day’s horse assignment.
Mornings were reserved for long hacks (rambling treks on horseback) and before we could leave we had to be assigned our horses so we could go out to the fields to collect them, groom them, saddle them, and finally head out.
I remember the angst of waiting for that assignment. We stood, huddled close together, fully dressed in our riding gear, outside the quaint little kitchen window, waiting for the mistress of the house to swing it open and announce our fate for the day. Would we get a nice quiet pony? Would it be one of the annoying temperamental old horses? Would we enjoy a fun hack or spend three long hours battling an unresponsive and obstinate mount?
In the end it didn’t really matter. Or at least now it seems that way. The ponies were, for the most part, equally pigheaded and the horses equally tranquil. There was always the one you had a soft spot for and the one you couldn’t stand. But the fun lay in the prep and the actual excursion.
Except for that one day. The most memorable of all. The day I was assigned the owner’s show horse as my morning ride.
The camp was run by a couple and their daughter, an award winning rider who happened to be a trained lawyer who had put her legal career on hold so she could devote her time to the horses. Every summer she brought to her parent’s camp her prize winning horses. Purebred beasts that outshone the pony school horses in every way possible.
Where the school ponies and horses were dull, bullish animals, hers were sensitive gorgeous creatures. Campers weren’t their usual riders. We were deemed to be too rough on their tender mouths and not experienced enough to handle them.
So the morning she announced my name in conjunction with her more sensitive and somewhat hyper horse’s name my jaw dropped. Clearly this was a mistake. My panicked eye met her calm one and she nodded. No mistake. The kitchen door slammed shut before I could confirm that I had really heard right, but my friends’ excited jabbering confirmed it for me.
I was riding her high strung, sensitive, very big, show horse.
I headed out to the field and all I could think was “She wouldn’t have assigned me this horse if she didn’t think I could do this.” I said it again, and again, and again. And hours later, as her horse cantered out of control through the woods, my rather small body bouncing around in his saddle, following diligently in his mistresses’ other horse’s footsteps, I kept repeating those same words to myself.
I doubt I was ever in control of that powerful beast that day. He was calling the shots, but he let me pretend I was, even as he brushed a tad close to a couple trees, just to see if I could really hold on. He followed her, taking me with him. He stopped when she did. He went where she went. And no one knew I had no clue what I was doing. Before I got on I decided to fake it as long as I could, with the secret hope that maybe faking it would be the same thing as making it.
To all extents and purposes it did.
Years later I find myself in a similar situation. I’ve been offered a job that feels out of my league, but the person who gave it to me really seems to believe in my ability to succeed. With every decision I make I chant “She thinks I can do this. She thinks I can do this.” and I do it. I’m faking it ’till I really make it. Which I’m hoping is soon because the stress of pretending is taking a toll on me.
I’m getting on this horse, I’m going to hold on no matter how hard he tries to throw me, and hopefully somewhere before the end of the ride I’ll figure out how to steer and take control.
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