Warrior On The Way

Dec 29, 2014 - 9:31 AM

I look like an idiot, and it feels like everyone can see how pathetic I am. I’m the weakest person here, and I’m about to just collapse on the floor. I’m totally losing this class.

No, I wasn’t in a winter clinic with George Morris; I was taking my first group fitness class at a gym, determined many years after the fact to get back into my pre-pregnancy shape. I’d always been relatively fit and brave enough, or, er, stupid, so, my first week as a gym member, I innocently went to a Friday night class called “High Intensity Warrior Training.”

(In my defense, this was advertised as “Adaptable to all fitness levels.” I think they meant all fitness levels of people prepared to compete in pretty much any Olympic sport or an Ironman.) I should have known to run when I realized the (very fit!) gym owner was in the class. She introduced herself to me, sized up my general lack of svelte-ness, and said, “Don’t worry if you can’t keep up; it’s fine to walk around between rotations.”

Please. I’m not going to be that person.

The whole thing was sort of akin to doing a pony ride at the state fair, then going to a weekend-long George Morris clinic focused on riding without stirrups. It didn’t work very well.

When you’re schooling dressage, you can perfect your half pass or shoulder-in with those handy mirrors in the indoor, but when you’re in a warrior class, those mirrors (everywhere!) just reflect the total lack of pushups you can do (even though the person next to you is not only doing a pushup per second, she’s reaching a weight above her head at the end of each one!) and how dumb you look while swaying around, trying to coordinate for the lunge-squat exercise. I know exactly how to set up for the shoulder-in, but I can’t for the life of me get this squat thing right. The trainer’s explained it to me twice, and now, while I’m still interpreting it in my own awkward way, I can see she’s noticed my continued cluelessness.

Yet, here is where the gym class, for which I bought a special outfit, wondering if it screamed how uncool I am in some gym-culture way, differed from most riding lessons I’ve had. The trainer came over, all smiles, and demonstrated how to do it, while I weakly imitated her in my shiny new spandex. A few minutes later, she was cheering me on while I jumped (knees totally not square) on and off some step (“I can’t believe this is your first class! You’re doing GREAT! You guys are tough!! A tough bunch!”)

I was kind of taken aback, thinking, “You don’t have to make this up; I’m obviously doing the worst here, even considering the two people who I think have 20 years on me.” (When I first saw them, I thought they were the horses in the hack class that I’d definitely beat, but it turns out they were surprise toe flickers!)

I imagined if I was in a lesson instead, the screaming of, “Why are you jumping up the neck? Sit back! Keep your hands down! No, you’re going to the wrong jump—the red oxer, the red oxer! Keep coming through the turn! Don’t run over my dog!!”

And, as I sweated and panted, I thought, with some confusion, “You don’t have to be fake nice to me; I’ll still come back.”

Yes. Yes, I will still come back. Because the riding culture that really owns me doesn’t accept the weak or the quitters. You don’t cry; you don’t complain. You get back on when you fall off, even if you need stitches or a cast, and for the love of god, you don’t expect trainers to coddle you! These things I knew for a fact long before I was old enough to drive a car.

After the class ended, I wasn’t sure if I was going to throw up. I wasn’t sure if my kidneys were going into failure. Once I’d cooled off and changed, as I was walking out the door, the gym owner saw me and said, “Are you OK?”

I said I was fine, and she suggested that I might be sore the next day, might need to go for a walk. Indeed, I needed ample turnout, and it was days before I thought of squatting for anyone or anything. But I had all the reward any rider needs: a sense of accomplishment. Lots of room for improvement, but hey, I did go between all the flags.

It wasn’t the words from the trainer that kept me going (though I might warm up to the idea of positive feedback too); it was my own need to do it. Someday I’ll complete the warrior class, and no one will question whether I need medical support afterward. I don’t think I’ll be called on to defend the Trojan Horse any time soon, but I may soon be able to perform a pushup that’s not “girl style.”

I’m not sure how long I’ll need a gym (allowing me to work out after dark and offering free child care, something that the horse does not). But I do hope that the life lessons I’ve taken from riding will always be alive and well: to challenge myself, to put myself in places I know I’ll be uncomfortable, but figure out how to work through them, to keep pushing myself. It’s not just about getting fit; it’s about testing yourself and coming out the other side, without relying on anyone but that drive inside you. I lost this round, but, just as soon as I can walk without limping, I’ll circle back, pick up the right lead and try again.

So to all the trainers, horses, friends and competitors who’ve given me those life lessons—you never know where they will pop back up to do right by you, but their usefulness isn’t nearly limited to the show ring.

If you’d like to get more fit in the new year, you can learn more about how to do it properly in the January/February edition of The Chronicle of the Horse Untacked, with a cover story aimed at helping you keep your resolutions, whether they’re related to fitness, fear, philanthropy or more. Want to know what’s in that issue? Check out the Table of Contents for that and the Dec. 22 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

Every now and then we feature a blog from a member of the Chronicle staff. We’re just like you—juggling riding and competing with work and family. President/Executive Editor Beth Rasin balances overseeing the editorial side of the magazine with raising her 5-year-old daughter Maggie and caring for a herd of horses, three dogs and a cat at her farm.

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