For those of you who have always been the “brave” rider, and never experienced The Fear (as I like to call it), you will not relate to this post at all. I know that, because I used to be one of you. I was one of the lucky ones once upon a time.
I would love to hear everyone tell their own personal story about overcoming fear when riding. I didn’t realize how important this subject is, and how crippling fear could be, until I had to face it myself. For all of you who have ever had to overcome “the fear” in the saddle- this post is for you.
I was quite literally, a fearless child. My parents blessed me with my first pony (a QH/welsh cross) named Jack when I was 6 years old. Jack was so stubborn, that he would walk into the corner of the arena and stay there. I would cry and cry, until my mom would walk over and lead him out. This story is predictable, and as you can imagine I eventually bucked-up, put my cowgirl panties on, and made him get out of the darn corner myself! From that day forward, not much stopped me. I rode that pony halter and bareback, galloped through trails, and loved showing off my balancing skills by standing on his back while he grazed in the pasture.
After Jack, I had a lovely purebred Arabian who I predominately showed at Arab shows and in dressage. Unlike flighty, hot Arabs that come to mind for most people, Khemo was as calm and saintly as they come. Our years together were full of success, and never once did he hinder my confidence.
After Khemo came Pal. See my whole post about him by following this link. He was rough around the edges to start, but so incredibly brave. He made jumping fun and exciting- never ever scary. We trusted each other, and I was always game to try something new, because I trusted Pal to take care of me. I had some eventing friends with fancy upper level horses- and in retrospect I understand now that they felt The Fear. It wasn’t all that uncommon for one of the horses in particular (an ex-Rolex mount) to get eliminated in XC because he became too strong for his junior rider to manage. Another one was a frequent dirty stopper. Here is an old video of me riding said horse. This was taken about half way through the lesson, directly after the trainer (who knew the horse well) commented how surprised he was that Windsor hadn’t stopped with me yet. (Please ignore the horrible chip and all of my bad Eq!) I had no idea what kind of effect this could have on a rider’s psyche. I was still lucky.
In college, I rode all shapes and sorts of horses. I had no fear, and would laugh when a horse tried to get me off. I am Wonder Woman! You cannot get me off you silly horsey!! The few times I was unseated, I laughed it off as an arrogant mistake, it didn’t hamper my feeling of invincibility. I rode all sorts of horses on the college equestrian team, with all levels of training. I taught lessons and rode many school horses, some with significant bad habits. A young school horse, a red headed QH mare, once reared straight up the second I got my leg over and flipped over. I pushed away from her as I fell and luckily only her legs came down on me, and not her body. Suxh incidents bolstered my confidence even further! I even knew how to fall like a pro. I am awesome!
Now let’s skip forward to my first nice lease horse. I was trying to get back into competing, and finally had the time and enough money to lease something. Pretty grey Oldenburg gelding. Lovelyyyy flat work. I even showed him at a dressage schooling show once for funsies. He was very athletic and easy to jump. When he felt like it.
I shall hence forward refer to this horse as The Culprit. He had a bit of a reputation for being unpredictable. If he felt like getting you off, you came off. No buts about it. If the wind blew just so, the bird landed on the roof of the covered just right, the horse lunging in the adjacent arena kicked at just the right moment… you would be saying your hail marys. JK, because you were already on the ground. Not even joking. One day he was as relaxed and supple as can be, moving beautifully. I pointed him at a small cross rail just to get going, and he dropped his shoulder and spun out from under me (one of his many signature moves). Thankfully, I never got seriously hurt during any of these, but it started to do a number on my confidence. I started looking for things that he “might” spook at, and riding very defensively. I had several people tell me that he wasn’t worth it, but he was very talented, and I couldn’t afford to just go find a different horse that was as nice as him. I also had this idea that I was a good enough rider to fix him. Where other riders had failed with him, I would succeed. How delusional I was. Sigh.
Before our first A show, I actually got in contact with his old owner, who was like a distant friend of a friend of a friend- through facebook. She told me a bit more about his history. He was purchased to be her junior hunter, but after like 3 or 4 different trainers, they realized that his “unpredictability” could not be trained out of him. She actually warned me, and seemed to really worry about my safety. Giant red flag if you have ever seen one right? I did not heed it. I still had this idea that I could ride him through it or something.
On the first day of the show, I wanted to start of easy so I enter the .85 and .95 m. In one of the classes I had a run of the mill refusal, and in the other, I had a rail. Not bad for day 1 of a 5 day show- I felt confident that the next day would go smoother and I would be able to move up to larger classes. The next day I start with the .85 again full expecting an easy blue. The Culprit tried to LAUNCH me after fence one. Landed and immediately bucked huge. Thankfully, I was able to stick it, and it was a long turn to jump 2 so I had time to regain my balance/stirrups. Jump 2 went find and we came around to jump 3a and b, which was a 2 stride combination. Trainer was talking to me from the rail, something about good turn keep him balanced ya-da ya-da. About 3 strides before 3a he drops his shoulder and spins out as quick as he can and dumps me in the dirt. I was MAD. Trainer was MAD. She had not really witnessed his truly bad moments, because I was only training with her part time. We go to the warm-up and really push him. I gallop him a bit, and we jump closer to 1.05 with no problems at all. He is PERFECT.
She instructs me to not give an inch in the next class, and to stay in the back seat. I go in for the .95 and really stay back and keep my leg on him to every jump. We get through the whole round and are coming up to the last combination, a triple. He sees it and I can feel him not wanting to. I stay back and keep my spur in. We argue a bit but I insist and lay my crop on him. He leaves the ground for effort A, but like not really. He comes down on it somehow and we crash into the base of effort B.
I literally thought I had broken my neck we hit so hard. He flipped and landed on his back somewhat on top of/near me. I layed there for awhile and slowly moved my limbs. I was deduced that I was not paralyzed. The EMT wanted to take me to the ER via ambulance, but I didn’t have amazing insurance at that point, and I know how expensive ambulance rides are so I declined. As I was sitting there outside the ring, the pain in my neck got so bad I couldn’t move it at all without wanting to scream. I relented and let my trainer take me to the hospital. The whole drive she was saying I would never get back on that horse again. Thank goodness a CT revealed it to not be fractured. I was just suffering a crazy bad muscle strain. My husband came to pick me up, which was the worst car ride of my life. The dilaudid they gave me did NOTHING. After basically sleeping for 2 days straight on muscle relaxers and pain pills I was actually fine. I feel VERY lucky that I got off with no long term repercussions. It could have been so much worse.
I lost all confidence after my time with The Culprit. I leased a TB that I had known for YEARS and I still couldn’t even get around a schooling show at 2’6. He did require a confident ride, but was in NO way dangerous, and I still could not muster up the required confidence to get him around. 2’6 had NEVER looked big to me, and all the sudden it may as well have been 5 ft. I used to gallop at solid walls with ditches in front during my Training level eventing days, and now I jumped at every sound while on horseback. I know that MANY people have suffered much worse accidents compared to mine, but I couldn’t convince my brain to cooperate. I kept telling myself to just “shake it off” etc, but all the sudden by body was stiff and didn’t listen to me anymore. My heart now felt The Fear, and just couldn’t shake it.
After I decided to end the lease on the TB, a good friend of mine convinced me to lease her lovely hanoverian gelding. My first show on him was a schooling show in the hunters at 2’3. Against literal children on ponies. A 27 yr old adult on an very obviously A quality 17.2 hh hanoverian going around 2’3 competing against kids. I felt ridiculous and embarrassed, but also TERRIFIED. Like, I literally just sat there and pointed him at the jumps, I could not even think-type of terrified.
I will NEVER again judge or look down on someone who is experiencing The Fear. Up until this point in my life, I just didn’t GET it when I would meet people who were nervous/scared. I thought that your mind should be able to logically overcome your fear, but it just doesn’t work that way, no matter how much you might want it to. The Fear comes from a deeper, non-logical place, and invades your body like a virus.
I am finally to the place in my riding that I WANT to jump bigger, go faster, and take more risks. It has been over 3 years to get back to this point, and a saint of a horse to build up my confidence again. I could not be more thankful.
S0- what are your stories? Who else has had to overcome The Fear, and how did you do it?