Comfort in Falling
When we think of sports, we think active. Moving ourselves, moving a ball, moving in coordination with others – traditionally sports exercise the body and require a strategic mind. When our bodies and game play are lackluster, we fail.
Horseback riding is a sport exceptionally disastrous in failure.
Whenever I mention my hobby of horses, I heard stories trampled feet, bitten fingers, and startling falls. In watching True Grit, West World, and Clint Eastwood-flicks, folks marvel over the rough and tumble fantasy of an unflappable steed. Pop culture portrays horses as oversized dogs, ready to gallop and perfectly biddable. The truth is, the trail ride on your last vacation was a tightly-controlled environment, and the average horse is not a bomb-proof, Hollywood-tested tank.
Horseback riding can be safe. Though, the 1,000 lbs animal of prey underneath a rider must comprehend non-verbal cues. Even when communication is seamless, horses can trip and miscalculate footing, just like humans. Failure is never pleasant, though a dependency on horses upgrades the likelihood and severity of failure.
Lifelong riders profess falling off your horse is an inevitable rite of passage. Accidentally hitting the ejection button, for some, even emerges as a point of pride. When the drop height starts at 3 feet, the public must recall, horses are installed without air bags. Falling damages our physical bodies.
Despite hefty medical bills, frequent falls deliver a lesson in humility. Knowing how to fall is knowing how to succeed, and failure then precedes success.
Falls require a trigger for descent. The initiation can be the confluence of wrong conditions, ill-preparation, under-correction, hyperreaction. Outside of horses, our tripping manifests in stale comments that sit long enough to become assumptions or the breakneck pursuit of a ill-coordinated tasks.
Stumbling punches the gut, giving us a narrow window to react.
In horses, the stumble is an opportunity. Horses inevitably trip, and a rider can sit tall, salvage, re-balance, and learn. If not, you dive.
If we cannot correct, we dive. Riders fortify their seat from balance, not seatbelts. After the sudden stop of a 30 mph truck, no mechanism binds the rider in safety. Riding professionals acknowledge hanging on desperately becomes more dangerous than letting go. Internal alarm bells flash “abort”, even if fear forces a stronger grip.
Failure gains certitude in the dive. Riders must accept the demise and transition to protect oneself.
Hitting solid ground eliminates the air from your lungs. Gasping for air, body aching, pride plummeting, the first seconds transports us into our new reality. The accepted protocol after falling is to keep the fallen person seated and check for injuries. When you are the fallen person, medical carefulness accentuates our shortcomings. The spectacular fall first peeked everyone’s eyes, now the audience watches with concern, rubber-necking the meticulously assessment to the failure.
Before widespread acknowledgment of concussions, I leapt onto my feet, determined to prove my error an anomaly. The prevailing myth is that the quicker I return to the saddle, the quicker I erase the memories of those observing. Often a flood of emotions overflows, from frustration to embarrassment as you pick sand from yourself.
The feeling sits on shoulders until the evening, when initial bruises explode into deep muscle aches, limited mobility, and creaky movements.
What’s there to learn from this? How do we stumble, dive, and thud more gracefully?
Protecting your body and mind throughout the fall is paramount, thus we must learn to fall. In our parallel daily life, we similarly must learn to fail to protect ourselves. Falling and failure, while painful, teaches us agility, preparedness, and caution.
Failure cannot be finite nor terminal. It’s our spiritual entropy to fail and re-learn, and the greater fallibility we esteem to ourselves and others, the more compassionate we can become.