Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mouthy Monday (yeah, yeah)

I know I'm late.
I was fixing fence all day yesterday.
Sounds all Colorado cowboy doesn't it?
Except the reality is, our Colorado 65 + mph winds tore down our very suburban privacy fence. It snapped fence posts, sent slats flying all over the neighbors yard, that kind of thing.
If I'm going to keep being honest, my brother spent the day fixing fence, but I had to go to Home Depot.

So,we'll start the day pretending I'm not a day late and a story short, OK?

This piece is going to hit so many of us straight in the gut. I know it did me. I want to thank the young woman who sent it in, because we are going to have some incredible conversations come out of this.


Fear

Today I want to talk about fear. Fear to me is something that the horse world is ashamed of. There is a constant talk of how it takes bravery and courage to do what we do, how when we fall off we get back on, and when we fail at something, we try even harder to get it right. I think this is true; we are brave to do what we do. But I also think we are scared.

Without fear, there cannot be bravery or courage, because bravery and courage means doing something even though you’re scared. I’m not talking about nervous, or tense, I’m talking about honest to god, debilitating fear. I’m scared of riding and I admit it. But I still do it. When I was a kid, I wasn’t scared; I was nervous, but not scared. But now I’m older, and more mature, and I am terrified.
 Each, And. Every. Time. I. Ride.

I think the worst part of getting older and maturing is the fear. I love my horses, and I love riding, but I hate the fear I get that prevents me from achieving what I know my horse is capable of.

When I first bought Candle, I was 16. We did everything together and I wasn’t afraid. But now I am. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing that Candle did, it’s me. It was like I had suddenly woken up one day and realised, holy shit how have I managed to survive all these years?! Now every time I ride, there  is this tense niggling little thought that reminds me, ‘hey we’re in an open field, she’ll probably bolt, or that jump is way too high, she’s going to hit it or refuse and you’ll hit the dirt. Don’t go on that trail ride, who knows what will happen.’

 This aggravating fear is always there, it’s caused me to back off the things I’d had been working on for years to perfect and had nearly reached. This fear of mine has created a monster out of me and my horse.
I bought Candle when she was 7, she had gone through quite a few previous homes on leases, and all of them seemed to have some sort of problem with her. Sometimes it would be that the people who had her realised that she wasn’t the right fit and with others problems would start up and she’d be sent back to her owner. The day I went to try her, it was directly after my retired pony’s last show. I was too old to ride medium ponies, and he was hitting his 20’s. Dad had been talking with Candle’s owner, who was a family friend and we figured we go try her. We had Candle on a free lease for about a year before we decided to finalize the deal.

Candle proved to be an excellent jumper and with her high energy and eagerness to learn I decided to give a crack at Eventing with the local pony club. While we never did get the best dressage scores; plowing through it in 1 minute flat, the jumping and cross country challenged her enough that she never got bored and managed to put her excessive energy to good use. We started lessons with a local coach because I was a backyard rider and knew I wasn’t going to win an equitation class anytime soon. For the next few years everything was great, I didn’t hesitate to take Candle on gallop training in the hay fields, go on trail rides, or goof off with friends and test how high our horses could jump.

 Then the fear started.

I’m too scared to take Candle in the fields anymore, trail rides send me into a paranoid mess of what-ifs, and jumping? I went from jumping 3ft to cross rails within a year.

My fear has ruined my riding, my position which was getting so much better has regressed. I constantly hunch over, waiting for an explosion. I hold my reins in a white knuckle grip, and I look down, always watching Candle, waiting and trying to figure out what she’s going to do next. I’ve confined my riding to a small 20X40 ring, I thought I’d feel safe in there, but every time I ride there’s a new fear. Now it’s the fact it’s  grass footing , in the summer it’s not so bad, but in the fall and in the spring, I tense up when we go around corners or circle, thinking that she’ll slip.

I rationalise my fear all the time.  I say I can’t go out of the ring because if I fall off no one will be able to see me. I say I can’t jump that high anymore because Candle isn’t back up to form after having a layoff after an injury from running through the fence. I say I can’t do half the things I used to do because I’m not a kid any more.

 I can’t ride anymore.

I make excuses why I can’t, my university workload is too heavy, and it’s too late when I get home, not enough time, weathers too bad. It goes on and on and on. But what I don’t say is that I’m too scared.
I once tried to use the excuse that Candle was the reason I didn’t want to ride. But then I hated myself for being an idiot. It’s not her fault, it’s mine and I hate myself for how I’m ruining her. Candle is turning into a neurotic mess; she spends most of her day bolting around her pasture, trying to burn off all her energy that had once been used up being ridden hard every day. She’s spookier, and throws a fit in her stall at the slightest noise, where once I could have left her there all day and find her flat out asleep when I came back. 

She’s tense when I ride, because I’m tense, we spend most of our rides trotting, because she’s too strong at the canter and I chicken out. She’s frustrated and angry, because she’s bored and can see our cross country course right beside our ring, the beautiful 7 acres spread that me and my dad had hand built in the days Before Fear, or BF as I started to label everything. I’ve thought about selling her, and trying to find her a home where she’d be happy, but I knew that even if I put her up for sale, no one would buy her because of the market and her reputation.

I found that my fear got a bit better when I realised what it was and what it was doing to me.  I give myself a pep talk with every ride, and found that if I ride when there is plenty of activity going on around me, it distracts me for a while and I can forget about my fear. I remembered that Mugs had written a story about a lady whose fear was just as bad as mine. Peg and her alter ego Maggie Z.

 Finding out about others who are scared is one of the best things that anyone can learn. The shame that riders have for being unable to admit that they’re scared and need help is the biggest barriers to getting over this. Once I’d realised others had this problem too, it opened the flood gates. Instead of keeping my mouth shut when others started talking about how far they were progressing in their training, I started asking about how they got over being scared of going to the next level. Most of them looked at me like I was crazy, not understanding what I was feeling, but the few who did know helped tremendously.

I learned about singing along to the radio loudly, and having someone quiz me about schoolwork while riding. I Learned about focusing on one single goal for a ride, and then analyzing it later to figure out if achieving that goal was linked to other goals. I learned about taking breaks for doing something good, not bad, and establishing a sense of achievement after doing something good.

I decided that I would reward myself and Candle for every time something good happened, from either me or her. I didn’t matter if her form was terrible after flailing through a line of trot poles, the fact that I tried it was the goal. You would think that rewarding her for doing something incorrectly would cause problems, but it doesn’t, at least not for us. When she knows that she can get a reward for trying something, even though I’m sitting on her back preventing her from doing it correctly because I’m a ball of nerves, she still understands that trying is good. And it’s what I’m trying to instill within myself.

Eventually we will get past the trying stage because I’ll be comfortable, and will reach the perfecting stage. I may have created a habit of her stopping and nosing my boot for a treat every time we do something different, but I think that will be easier to stop than fighting fear.  

Yesterday we went out into the pasture, it wasn’t the open field, but we’re taking baby-steps. It was tense and stressful, but by the end we could walk around and sniff the trees and her jolly ball (which apparently was very scary to her?) quietly.  Candle got a reward because she went near her scary thing, and I got my reward for doing my scary thing.  So for now this process works, Candle gets chunks of apple, I get a sense of accomplishment … and sometimes chocolate.

37 comments:

Mona Sterling said...

Dear writer-
I feel your pain exactly. I could write a whole book to you but this is the 'comments' section so I'll try to keep it to a long rambly kind of comment.

1. Sometimes as we get older, our systems change and we start to experience fear where there was none before. I started having panic attacks when I turned 21. I was always a bit of a nervous/type A person, but as I got older it morphed into fear. You might try taking L-Theanine which is a supplement that can help bring your system back in line.

2. You can do this, you can do this! Get Jane Savoie's book "That Winning Feeling". It's not as much about winning ribbons as it is about conquering fears.

3. Check out Mugs' blog list. There are lots of out there dealing with fear and anxiety and riding and just the simple act of connecting with other folks who are going through this can help.

4. You might consider keeping a training journal. I use my blog as one so that when I have a bad day, I can look back and see how far I've come.

5. Crap, I'm already on point five. Last one, I promise. Don't compare yourself to how you 'used' to be. I know it's hard when you go from a place of accomplishment to having to work on 'just get on the damn horse' but it will only make you feel worse. There's lots of us who've been there. Go to the barn as often as you can and just do what you can.

Thanks for sharing this post. It's so important to put this kind of stuff out there.

SquirrelGurl said...

I've been there too, actually I am still climbing out of that hole. I took a couple of nasty spills off of borrowed horses and that was it. I wouldn't ride any horse but my own, I knew her triggers, I knew her stride, her tendencies, I was comfortable in my own little bubble.

Then she started going blind, no more riding for us. I got out of "riding shape." If I wanted to keep riding I had to find an alternative so I signed up for lessons.

I've been riding for close to 20 years and I am back in a weekly lesson program. That first intro lesson was a wreck- I was terrified to climb up on the 25 year old schoolmaster and canter, let alone go over a smalll cross rail.

But I kept at it, private lesson by private lesson. Asking my instructor to challenge me by rotating horses every few weeks. I am slowly getting out of it.

Now I am doing 2 jumps in a row, sometimes three! It seems silly when in the past I was doing entire courses but it's a step forward. I'll reclaim my confidence, it's buried in there. It won't be easy and there will be bad days but I keep pushing forward.

I will get my mojo back, I know it!

Racheal said...

Oh, thank god for this post! I broke my hip when I got bucked off my mare a couple of years ago and still suffer with this stinking fear!

Thankfully, I have found someone to ride with that has patience for my shenigans and who is able to broaden my horizons gradually.

Racheal said...

Oh, thank god for this post! I broke my hip when I got bucked off my mare a couple of years ago and still suffer with this stinking fear!

Thankfully, I have found someone to ride with that has patience for my shenigans and who is able to broaden my horizons gradually.

Anonymous said...

I've been there. I swore that horse was trying to kill me. He had it out for me, and *I* was the only one that couldn't get him to go right. So I traded him for an older "been there done that" gelding.

Then the lady who owned him asked if I wanted him back. "He's crazy. There's something medically wrong. You needed to be off him before he hurt you worse than he'd already done."

I still have random moments that my heart races, and I am terrified with really no good reason. I back up that day to whatever works. Most of the time, I imagine myself up on the oldie-goldie, jumping 2' fences, or galloping my trail horse down a cornfield turnrow. I imagine the perfect ride before I get on, and it's more likely to happen.

Susan said...

I was a fearless rider until I started getting hurt. Now I'm in the same boat, working through the fear. I think there are a couple of reasons I got hurt. Both have to do with losing my confidence in myself.

Number one is I didn't keep my focus on me and my horse. I started listening and paying attention to others (I don't mean in a lesson situation). The first time I got hurt, I was on a young horse that I knew I needed to get on the same page with before riding out, but the person I was with was in a hurry. I listened to him instead of to me and the horse. I ended up hobbling around for the rest of the summer.

Secondly, EVERYBODY talks about how dangerous horses are. No matter what you read or who you listen to, there it is. Sure there is basic safety, but there is also confidence zapping fear mongering. As a child, being focused on what I was doing, I didn't take on the fear others. Gradually my subconscious started believing others and viola, it came true.

Anonymous said...

Visualizing your bliss is hard to do but oh so worthwhile in the results! It can push the fear into its proper place - on hold until something dangerous really does materialize and then used for survival, not in your way of thriving. So, every day when you wake up in bed, lay there and visualize your perfect ride, your perfect meal, your perfect date, your perfect chocolate, your perfect anything! Go to the barn, hang out with your horse and visualize visualize visualize. Don't look back to what you used to be, visualize you, now, as you want to be. Tell that story to your horse in a quiet and solid voice - tell your horse the story of your impending partnership in adventure. Expect it and you both will create it. Breathe. Relax. Make the rubber lips blowing sound before you get on your horse - shake your whole body while you do it ! It will tell your horse everything is ok. It will relax your tensed muscles. It might even make you laugh at yourself.

Now all that said is not just empty advice - it helped me overcome my fear of getting on my horse and we never had an accident. I am 54 with arthritis, diabetes (for 45 years), thyroid disease, and chronic tendonitis. I am a cancer survivor. I am on my second marriage and got laid off from my dream job after 10 years. If something could go wrong it did. My fear was really of having something go right because I thought I did not deserve it. I do. You do. Go, Do !

Barefooter

Peanut said...

What a wonderful post! Congratulations to you for taking small steps to set yourself and your horse up for success. You're right - it's all about the try - we focus too much on results instead of the journey.

I used to be a whitewater kayaker. I had a lot of fear, yet I pushed myself (up to a point) because I met wonderful people, saw amazing places, learned exhilarating things. As long as I didn't push myself to the point where I was frozen in fear or rushing through things too fast, I was OK. Sometimes gaining knowledge and experience increases your fear, because you start to understand what can really happen to you. From snow skiing and river kayaking, I learned that if you allow your body to do what it thinks is best (lean away from a steep slope or a big wave, try to bring your nose up first when rolling a kayak) it's a self fulfiling prophecy - that wave or slope will slap you down, or your kayak will refuse to roll up.

Riding in a fetal position can cause the same sort of problem - it's something that I've struggled with. I have worked a lot on my body position by taking riding lessons on a more seasoned horse. I try to look where I'm going, keep my shoulders back, and breathe (3 of my big problem areas all caused somewhat by fear). My instructor sometimes has me breathe out loudly and let my lips flap to make sure that I'm actually breathing. :) Last fall I was riding my young mare alone in a large pasture. She got agitated about something and really started throwing herself around. At first I was looking at her head - thinking uh-oh. I realized that unless I quit worrying about what was happening and gave her something else to do, I was in big trouble. We started trotting figure 8s around 2 bushes - changing my focus from her antics to a task really helped both of us.

A couple of years ago, my young mare started to rear with me - I was terrified that I would pull both of us over backwards. Her trainer advised me to visualize riding her for about 10 minutes before I got her out of her stall - visualize the ride going well - she could bend, she could quietly pick up the trot, but throw in an occasional monkey wrench. Visualize what I would do if she reared for example. The next time she reared, I did not pull back on her - after that I was able to feel it before she reared and prevent it. It gave me a lot more confidence.

Sorry to be so long winded. I really admire you, you're doing great!

Peanut

LazyShamrock said...

If you have a friend who understands fear part, perhaps you could ask them to be with you when you ride. If nothing else you know that you wouldn't be helpless if something terrible did happen.

I have a good friend of mine who is at an age where she no longer rides without *someone* watching, and part of overcoming my fear was adopting that as well. I no longer ride by myself, ever.

The friend doesn't have to ride, although not being afraid of horses helps...

Go slowly, reward yourself and keep going. You can do it!

Kate said...

I've been where you are, and understand completely. I've been riding for many years and have had my share of falls, but I took a very bad fall off my 5yo on the trail last June, resulting in several broken bones and a severe concussion (I was wearing a helmet). I hadn't fallen off in over 10 years, although I ride almost every day on a variety of horses, some of which can be fairly challenging. But I'm almost 60yo, and after 5 days in the hospital, part of the time in intensive care, I was scared and stayed that way for a long time. I did start riding again about 6 weeks after my accident, but I was afraid and reluctant every single time, and my horses knew it. Nothing bad happened but I'd lost the connection and even the feel, and I felt awful when I rode and made up lots of reasons not to ride.

Here's what's made a difference to me - everybody's unique but some of these things might help.

1. Allow yourself to feel the fear when it arises- don't block it or criticize yourself because you feel it. Some sort of mindfulness practice, like meditation, can be helpful with this.

2. Make sure you're in a supportive atmosphere with people who understand and will help. Naysayers or those who poo-poo what you're feeling are to be avoided at all costs. If you can ride with others who are cooperative, either in the arena or outside, do it.

3. Make sure you and your horses are in a situation that works for you. I moved my oldest horse (still a challenge) to a barn with an indoor so I could start riding consistently regardless of weather. This has really got me back into the swing of things. I realized that both my youngest horse (the 5yo) and the "project" horse (a 10yo with some issues due to prior bad training) that I had just bought needed more professional training than I was able to give them at that point. So they're at my trainers for at least 30 days, and I'm going up there a couple of times a week to take lessons on them with her. Her training work and coaching have been invaluable so far. So, if you need coaching, training or other help, get it.

4. As another commenter pointed out, positive visualization can be a real help.

5. Take things at the pace you can, don't worry too much about the rest, and reward yourself and your horse (as you describe) for every small triumph.

And thank you for your honesty - sharing this sort of thing with others can be a very powerful source of healing and can help other people as well.

deedee sonnyduo@yahoo.com said...

There is a great book,"Move Closer, Stay Longer" by Stephanie Burns that exactly addresses what you are talking about AND what you aree doing about it.

I had crippling fear. When I finally found out I was right to not over face myself, the relief was massive and it began my recovery. That and riding with friends that supported me and never pushed too hard or too far, but just right or not at all.

Your courage in talking about it is telling. Our heart and desire leads us past the secrecy and embarrassment Bravo to you and Candle.

QLH said...

Talk about timing.
First off, I have to applaud you for being aware and responsible for yourself and your fears. I received a phone call from a friend this weekend 'chewing me out' for not inviting her to an extreme trail event. 'I thought we were friends?' was the first thing out of her mouth. Unfortunately she didn't like to hear my answer for why I didn't invite her. This friend used to be in control of both herself, her emotions and her horses. Over the course of the last 5 years she has lost all three. She is to the point of denial and finds it useful to blame other people for her equine woes. I think the friendship will be lost over this but I can't stand the comments and the 'blame' anymore. Just thought I would share on the timely topic.

Greenie said...

I have been working on fear issues too. Growing up I was recklessly fearless, we joked that my siblings and I lacked the gene for fear. We loved jumping off cliffs and racing down trails at high speeds when we went skiing. We were adrenaline junkies, afraid of nothing, looking back I'm glad we were also lucky and none of us were seriously injured.
When I finally bought my first horse as an adult I was still very much in that state, but when my daughter was born everything changed. It actually mattered if something bad happened to me now. What would happen if I fell? This little baby needed me. I quit riding because I was terrified that I would fall off and be unable to care for her. My father in law rode my horse for me and it killed my to watch him ride off with her. I still desperately wanted to ride, and to be horsaii.
When my girl was 5 months old I needed to get riding again. I decided the best way to combat my fear was to go out buy a helmet and sign myself up for some lessons. The more I learn and the better I get, the less I feel the fear.
I now have another reason to ride, my little girl at two years old is starting to show the horse crazy gene. Some of her first words were horse, ride and all of our horses names.
It only took me one month to get back in the saddle after my son was born.... Mommy seems to need horse time more than ever now. Even if that just means flopping down in the hay feeder and staring at the stars.

nagonmom said...

I think this is a huge problem for many riders. While I will never be a carefree adolescent wild child again, I can get on my horse and feel happy about it. Which is miraculous after being fear-bound for a long time.
It took a well-trained horse that was trust-worthy, and a "cowboy" trainer who was a bigger safety nut than I was.
I would recommend you finding a trust-worthy horse and a patient trainer for a few rides, to get that gut-clenching out of the way. Once you relax in the saddle again, you start to realize that you can too do this. For your horse, an adolescent wild child or any enthusiastic rider you can trust, to burn off some of the energy your horse has stored. After a time, you will feel better about getting on her, after she has been ridden out first. Give it time, and be patient with yourself. I think there is a book Overcoming the Fear of Riding from 1996, old but does help to know many have faced this.

Rose said...

This is a great post! It seems as though an increasing number of horse people are beginning to be more open about being fearful when riding.
Just this weekend I was at a practice session for an extreme trail event (picture numerous spooky horses in a small arena attempting many scary obstacles for the first time, at the same time - I was a nervous wreck). While talking with an accomplished and confident horse person I was amazed when she openly admitted that attempting these obstacles terrified her, it was so reassuring. I believe working through your fears is easier when you are in an environment where you are able to discuss it.

SillyPony said...

Writer, you are SOOOO not alone in this. When this happened to me I was as embarrassed as I was afraid. I used to pop onto half-broke Arabs like it was no big deal, now after having my own horse for nearly 4 years I'm still nervous and I cannot imagine riding another horse. Just the idea freaks me out, even my friend's horses who I KNOW are steady eddies. But if being with your horse is something you want to you, you'll find a way to work through it. Don't be afraid to ask for help and commiseration. Try breathing exercises designed for PTSD sufferers and take it one ride at a time. Hang in there!

Breathe said...

I found my young horse a good home because I was done with getting thru my fear with him. I have a horse, finished and solid, that is challenging enough, but with whom I have no fear. None.

I need this horse now. I need a horse I can gallop through a field to get back to my confident self. Lily is that ride, and I'm happy that my young horse is in the hands of someone who can deliver him a confident feeling.

I rode my steady mare at a gallop a week ago. I feel it helped drain my fear that had built up over the last year of riding out a few bolts. Now I remember in my bones what it feels like, suddenly I'm back in that place of flight, not nearly as much fright.

A trainer once told me some / most horses have to move to get rid of their fear. I think I do, too. But I could only get there on the horse I had faith in.

Anonymous said...

I had most of my fear as a kid.. before I found my seat and my confidence.

I still do not like to ride other people's horses. Which, to think about, is odd.. since my gelding is just green broke and my mare is like dealing with a lit stick of mentally-unbalanced dynamite.
The fear doesn't strike me on my own horses.

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." Bene Gesserit litany from the book Dune.

This is what pops into my mind any time I start getting freaked out. It makes a good mantra.

LuckySC said...

That was so painful to read, and so heart wrenching, I couldn't finish it.

I've been scared before, at one point, after a bad fall, it took me a year to canter again, and I was only 30 at the time. I'm 52 now, and I am not afraid. My favorite competition is Working Cow Horse, which is definitely not for the faint of heart.

I have to wonder, if something other than normal fear is going on here. I am wondering if maybe you might have some kind of chemical imbalance that causes you to be so paraniod and fearful.

I am suggesting this with all the sincerety and kindness in the world, but have you spoken to a doctor about it?

burdfour said...

Wow....what an "I'm not alone?" post. I'd like to dump the fear of fear too.

mysanity said...

Just yesterday I had my first big scare on the mare I'm leasing.

She can go backwards with Really Big steps when she decides something is scary. My heart was in my throat. Where she was backing into was a bad place.

I had forgotten that feeling. I guess our honeymoon period is over.

Gives me something to think about.

Slippin said...

I think it is pretty cool that you are facing your fear and "working' with it! At least you haven't shut completely down and ran away from your fears, you stood up to them and delt with them! I say, Good for you!
I was warming up my 3 year old gelding about10 years ago for my trainer. I was in the indoor arena loping without a care in the world when suddenly my horse tripped, his head disappeared and he did a complete summersault. HOW I ended up 10 feet away from him to the side, I don't know, other than the good Lord was watching over me that day! I only got a nice hematoma on my leg from the saddle horn, but I still remember seeing him with his head in the ground and the rear end coming over like it was yesterday. It took me a long time to get the courage back to lope him. And to this day, when a horse trips, I over react and clamp down and grab what ever I can get ahold of! I have gotten lots better, but I still have a flash of panic when they trip. I also have a tendency now to lean forward..and I know better than that!

Anonymous said...

This post hit the fear nail on the head. When I was 11, I fell off my first horse and suffered a head concussion. The first words out of my mouth at hospital were, "When can I ride my horse again?"

I don't remember being too scared at first. It was just a new voice in my head reminding me of all the things that could go wrong. But it grew worse after another horse bucked me off. I remember getting dirt in my braces and crying. I can still see my mom holding the horse asking me if I wanted to get back on. I regret not getting on to this day. But I couldn't do it. But even through all that, I wanted to learn how to ride. I had horse crazy since the day I was born and there was no way I was going to give up now.

I honestly don't know how many years it took to get through one ride without crying or yelling at people who were trying to help, esp. my mom. But she stuck with me. I spent time with cousins and family friends who rode, took lessons, and had the best help from various women in my life who weren't going to baby me. They pushed me to the point where I was more ticked than scared. I wanted to prove to them that I could do this. One family friend never got off my case and kept telling me to walk it off and goodness how I hated that phrase and made me really want to shut her up. She lent me the sassy pony I've ever met and it forced me to be the boss in our relationship. When I was in charge, I wasn't as scared.

And there wasn't really a day where I was suddenly over it. I still have that voice in my head that plays out every bad thing that can go wrong. But I make myself push through it and like was said, take baby steps, set mini-goals.
Lately, I've been feeling like I've wasted all this time when I still haven't galloped and feel like I'm ruining my mare half the time. But honestly, I did not work my butt off to quit now. It just means I'm horse owner and when is nothing to work on with your horse?

I belong on a horse. It's the only place where the world makes sense. And it was these years of struggle that made me into the person I am today and I know I can do anything. To those out there who have some trouble, stick with it. It's so worth it in the first time you lope, spend 2+ hours on a trail or dismount without tears on your face.

Anonymous said...

I think the best thing a fearful rider can do for their self is admitting the horse they may be riding is not the horse you need at the moment. I was always a timid rider, when I owned ol' spin-and-bolt my confidence finally bottomed out until I only felt safe riding in a circle in a round pen after too many heart-in-throat rides. A decade of riding the normal spook and worry-wart types. Then came My Rock of a gelding and now have a mare that I've almost forgotten what its like to be afraid to ride. such is the confidence boost of the truly quiet horse. We shouldn't be so hard our ourselves. It may be our horse-partner is not the one for us and we blame ourselves for not being braver. Just a thought from my perspective of my fear, now gone, journey.

Anonymous said...

I didn't grow up with horses. They snuck up on me as an adult. Two weeks ago, I was a passenger in a cart with a friend who was driving a new horse (to both of us). The horse bolted and she lost control. My father, a trainer, stepped in front of us to stop us. We ran over him and were both ejected from the cart. I haven't driven since (too sore). However, I miss my pony (not the one who launched us). I miss his smell. I miss his annoying habit of trying to rest his head on my body when I put his breast strap on. I miss his wicked sense of evil pony humor. I miss watching him put his roommate into time-outs. I still plan on learning to ride this summer. I am scared. I've always been scared of things like this. I was never a dare-devil as a child. I always calculated my risks. Howver, I've reached the conclusion that life is too short to avoid everything with risks. It's funny, I too use the mantra from Dune. What also seems to help me is not to concentrate on what I shouldn't be doing, (don't be afraid) but what I should be doing (keep a steady trot, keep the line straight, etc).
Great post. Thanks for making me feel less alone.
POA Girl
P.S. dad is fine- no broken bones just bruises

Kel said...

Anon said:
"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.....


I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks of that same passage in the book and uses those words....

Spot on, OP, and bravo for the guts to tell your tale. I'm still coming to grips with my fears and realizing my brain is my own worst enemy.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that! I feel like I'm always finding things to be afraid of. Luckily for me I've gotten over fears in the past so I know I can do it again.

Travel Truth 101 said...

Yay, thank heavens it's not just me that feels this way!

I'm 43 now, and living in a country where I don't fluently speak the language. I had been riding with the same trainer for 2 years here and I could see things were getting more and more dangerous - it was becoming obvious that she was just looking for money, her horses were suffering, and my nerve was starting to go.

I told her that I was VERY afraid when galloping flat out through icy forests (I didn't even want to walk through icy forests!) and she said that it was okay. I knew it wasn't, and then one of her horses slid and fell on the ice with one of my friends on top. They were both fine, but it was the last straw for me.

I now have a great new trainer at the same barn (and it's seriously ruffled a few feathers that I moved trainers!) and she's VERY safety conscious. She can see I'm scared and we have an open relationship where I can say how I feel and she will tailor our training to that.

Now I'm back to a lunge line, but am cantering on it with no reins and no stirrups - I know things are getting better and soon we'll be back outside again. She NEVER puts her horses or students in any danger and I'm getting comfortable on her fat 14hh pony.

It does get better, sometimes you've got to be brave enough to change your situation/trainer/horse and I honestly had to "put on my big girl pants" and realise that I'm not a kid anymore, and it's okay to be cautious.

flyin'horse said...

Thank you for your honest and heartfelt writing. I wish you the best of luck with getting your confidence and joy of riding back.

Ar first I sort of assumed you were a middle-or upper middle-aged person because it seems that so many of the people I'm meetiing now at that age have fear issues, including me.

My fear boils down to losing control, be it with a horse or any other aspect of my life. Having my horse runaway with me in particular. It happened as a child with the result being an injury to the horse and it's eventual euthanization, and as an adult with the result being a 5 day hospital stay.

Now I have a horse that is much more manageable but it's still my biggest fear. I love the feel of a good free canter on the trail but at the same time it can be terrifying.

I think we all have a certain amount of fear in our day to day lives and it can't help but transfer to our life with our horses. The particular relationship we have with our horses is a mirror of the relationship we have with everything else in life I think.

Abba's Acres said...

Thank you for sharing your story! You can see by the comments that you are not alone, and thanks to your courage to speak out, many (myself included) know that they aren't alone.

Everybody has their own unique story. Mine, in a nutshell - though horse crazy since birth, I didn't have my first riding lesson until I was 43 which was also the age I bought my first horse; 2 1/2 years later I was dianosed with MS. My MS is progressive and has seriously impaired my ability to ride. Even though I have a wonderful horse, my lack of confidence in my riding skills coupled with my physical deterioration, has made me fearful. Your experience, along with the wonderful guidance and suggestions given through other readers'/riders' comments, have encouraged me. Whether I can or cannot ride will be determined by practical realities, not by fear.

Blessings and best of everyhing to you!

Teresa
Abba's Acres

bettina said...

Thanks for writing this and to Mugs for posting it. I just had a very bad fall myself and am dealing with fear issues for the first time in my 30+ years of riding. My trainer assured me that I could handle the horse(who belongs to her) and show at a higher level. Nedeless to say, it didn't go well and I didn't get back on after coming off. The mare wanted me off, didn't want to do what I asked, and it worked. I came off, injured myself (broken arm, collar bone,ribs and concussed) but my trainer said I had to get back on and now I'm thinking about finding a new trainer. I wish you and your horse all the best and know that you're not alone!

Monica said...

I know what you are feeling - due to living in a different country than my friend who own my favorite horses I can only ride once or twice a year and since all the horses are stallions it is sometimes difficult for me to get back into the saddle and take them on the cross country rides that I love.
I wear a helmet and try to focus on the fun and joy of those gallops and the enjoyment of spending hours in the saddle again but always there is that fear.
Acknowledging it was the first and best step to defeating it.

Anonymous said...

I have a theory that fear of riding (and probably other things too) and hormones are related for women particularly. I was watching posts on a number of horse forums and there was a repeated pattern of developing fear with age. One strong pattern was after having a child. Before having a child, no fear, after, strong fear for no reason related to horses.

I don't think it is only in the mind, I think there is also a strong physical cause.

There are few who would disagree that children mostly have a fearless attitude to riding, and that the emotional reaction changes with puberty. It is a hormonally related mental change. There is no need to psychoanalyse it. Learning to ride after puberty is generally accepted as more challenging than before.

Another example of an emotional effect that is due to hormones (mostly, not all) is self esteem. Young women just after puberty are the "class" of people most prone to low self esteem. They must be the most beautiful and admired age group, yet many of them develop the idea they are hideous. Society plays some part but I think it is minor.

Grizzly old men on the other hand are not an age group at all noted for esteem problem.

I think there is too strong a tendency to psycho-analise the reason rather than accept a physical cause and work on that as well.

Watch out for any medications that you are taking that may affect your hormones as well

Anonymous said...

Lots of bells ringing here for me! I've had my own horses for 30 years and have been lucky enough to never be injured but still the fear has overtaken me. This week I got on my horse for the first time since the beginning of December. I feel like I'm wasting him, he is the greenest 7 yo ever! I've had him for 5 years and never cantered him. I know he is frustrated having this quivering, hunched person on his back who keeps trying to make him walk more slowly. We do have a paddock we can ride in but it is grass and on a slope so I'm afraid to even trot in there. He did once fall over in there when he was only walking and I got dragged, my only fall in over 20 years! I got back on afterwards but like the opening poster I now fear going round corners as well as going down hills! It doesn't help that this horse is an absolute devil to lead so if I take him out I feel 'trapped' on him. In the old days if I felt a bit nervous I would get off and walk for a bit and then get back on. Eventually I didn't feel the need to get off any more and all was fine. Now I don't have that option but it's a method that could work for someone else.
I too have a 'mantra' that applies to my situation as I know it's the 'what ifs' that are ruining everything. It's the line from Desiderata that says "Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune, but do not distress yourself with dark imaginings" I'm really trying to quell the dark imaginings!

Jack said...

What a great post. I have just gone back to work as a trainer after a year off due to a non riding accident. It is so true that horses pick up our fear and worries in their riders and handlers, and for me being a small girl working with big stallions (that have always been handled by big guys) this has been a problem too. Ive had a lot of face off's the past two weeks! Last week when a particular stallion decided to test how gutsy I really was, I figured out Horses dont understand when your faking to NOT be scared of them. If you can act like your not scared (even when you are terrified inside) they back off. No violence needed, just deep booming voice and square shoulders... and they get it. Flinch and run, and your a goner.

I think the main thing that other readers have noted, is that you should consider rehoming your horse and buying something that is more suitable. You dont need a competition horse right now, just something that you feel comfortable with. Your horse will benefit from a rider that is more confident too. Right now you are both loosing out. Consider taking lessons on a quieter horse for a while, to see if it helps with the fear. If so, you should really consider a change. Horses do need to work, otherwise they will play up. If you cant work your horse, the problem with just get worse too.

Clancy said...

Different thins wok for different people. I started learning to ride a couple of years ago at nearly 49, and had a lot of fear issues due to being phobic about heights, falling and speed. It wasn't helped by coming off three times or by having a challenging relationship with the horse I bought.

The thing that has turned it around for me, amazingly so, is a program called Friendship Training. I started it to work through problems with my horse, and it has been wonderful for him and our relationship, but it has also hugely improved my own confidence and comfort around horses. I didn't realise how much fear I had been carrying with me until it left. Now I can actually relax and enjoy a ride instead of having my gut in a knot all the time.

Fyyahchild said...

When I first started back as a re-rider after a 5 year break, I took a couple of bad spills off one of my horses and it destroyed my confidence. I talked about it here and Mugs gave me some much needed advice about either learning to ride her or getting rid of her to someone who could appreciate her. I figured out how to ride her but I didn't enjoy it because I was still afraid. I ended up leasing her out to a place where she happily trotted around giving lessons to kids all day (go figure). During that time I found a sweet mare that restored my confidence and I was able to increase my riding skills greatly. Having a horse I could trust made all the difference in the world. When I got my original mare back from the lease she became my favorite and most trusted horse. I could load her up in the trailer and take her anywhere...just her and I. I'm happy for everything I learned from those two mares. I'm also happy to say that while there are still situations that make me nervous and I'm much more cautious than when I was a kid, I'm back to jumping decent sized courses and riding naughty horses for friends to work out the kinks. I like knowing my limits and knowing I can decide not to do something that seems too dangerous and scary. Good luck with your journey too!

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