“Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing” – Theodore Roosevelt.
So I previously mentioned there was a topic I wanted to delve into at another time, well i decided that actually I would hit it straight away as it is a HUGE part of my life whenever I ride. I am pretty sure that a lot, if not most, of my horsey comrades can remember a time where you had no fear. Literally none, nothing scared you. Carefree galloping through the woods.. fallen tree, no problem lets launch it pal. Well for me, those days are loooooooong gone. I know there are some people probably reading this thinking ‘what is she talking about, love a fallen tree’. Well for me, the fear crept in and I didn’t even see it coming!
It all started with my lovely pony Casper. I had a pretty average fall, hurt myself a little but nothing dramatic, we lost both the horses so I never got back on and then the next day I was swept off on holiday. At the time, I really didn’t think too much into it, but let me tell you, the saying is right… if you fall off, dust yourself off and get right back on that horse. I didn’t even realise that something was slightly off until we were selling Casper (due to a sudden growth in leg length) and the lady asked me to canter him in the open field. I felt something I had never felt before with my trusty friend. I felt sick, I couldn’t breathe.. I was feeling, for the first time, the dreaded anxiety. I was 14.
Being 14, I really didn’t read too much into it, I was excited looking for my first horse and we thought we had found him. The day before the viewing, the guy cancelled, decidedly gutted, we booked in to view three different horses. We ended up buying the last horse of the day, an absolute weapon called Sky. Yes, we panic bought. *NEVER PANIC BUY PEOPLE*. I have to say, as much as it was our fault for panic buying, the owner really should never have sold him to us. The horse was an absolute machine, great at his job, but a total machine. Way too much horse for me.
So, the story continues, we bring Sky home and the first ride.. yes the very first ride… he proceeds to bronc. I bailed. I have never bailed before, remember when I said about ‘Superglue Bum’, well these were very little bucks, but I panicked and threw myself off much to my mums amusement. ‘What you doing down there Ames’. I should have realised then that things were not OK. Sky was a showjumper/eventer but hated flatwork and developed a nasty habit of bolting for the school fence whenever there wasn’t a jump in sight. There is no fear like hearing someone screaming ‘CIRCLE’ at the top of their lungs, knowing full well you are on a circle, but nothing is slowing down. I had already decided at this point that I couldn’t keep this horse, he terrified me. The thought of riding him made me feel physically sick. To make matters worse, he was awful to catch and the minute he would hear the lead rope click, he would rear and bolt away from you. One day he left me with awful rope burns across my hands and that was the end of that. I then became totally terrified at the thought of merely holding a horse or being around a horse, I would shake. I was that damaged in my head that I was seriously contemplating giving up altogether. We were now stuck. I had this super powerful, so impressive, *slightly crazy*, showjumping machine, that I couldn’t sell as I couldn’t ride one side of him. The owner wouldn’t take him back and all our money was in him.
In the firm grip of fear, a friend suggested I hold her super chilled horse and while holding him, sing ‘You are my sunshine’. To my surprise it worked. At this stage the guy who owned the horse we were supposed to see got in contact and said he was back up for sale after a suspensory injury showjumping. We went and viewed the absolute hero that is Rowan; instantly fell in love. We got lucky as the guy was a showjumper himself and straight swapped Sky for Rowan. The best thing about this lovely, grey boy was the rehab he needed. We could heal each other. I spent weeks in-hand walking, then months just walking, building to trot and canter. All of this time and a slow approach led to my confidence building in leaps and strides. It helped he was just the loveliest boy. Photos of the legend below.. he really did rebuild me.
Now I would love this to be the happy ending, but as anyone who has ever battled with nerves when riding, you know that there isn't a cure. Something will trigger you back to a quivering wreck and to someone else it may seem like what is happening is not a big deal, but in your head it is. Even with Woody I was tested when he randomly bolted home with me about two years into owning him.. so out of character for anyone that knew him, but immediately triggered uncontrollable shaking and tears like you've never seen before. I had to hand him to my mum and take five minutes before being literally forced back onto his back. Every time it really highlights to me just how fragile my confidence is.
Once you have lost your confidence, it is so hard to fully regain it. I have a constant battle with my brain (even though I swapped the showjumping for the dressage arena). I am sure people can relate to just how frustrating it is to not be able to control your own thoughts, or the battle to TRY and control your own thoughts. It isn't as simple as 'what is the worst that will happen, you'll fall off and be fine'. For me that isn't even the fear. I don't know what the fear is to be perfectly honest, it is just there. I would love to give you all a cure, but I can't, all I can tell you are steps that helped me:
- Have a horse that is within your capability. Now what I mean by this is that if you have a horse that constantly challenges your nerve, you will get nowhere fast. You need to have a horse in your life that you enjoy, not instils fear every time you even think about riding.
- Remember to BREATH - if you are holding your breath, there is a great chance your furry friend is too. Sometimes it is hard, but seriously focus on your breathing.Sing! Yeah you may sound like the cray cray lady in the corner, but if it helps you, WHO CARES!
- Don't be afraid to either say NO, or I'm not comfortable. Confidence is fragile, it really isn't worth losing it all over again because you were worried about saying no. (That being said, also don't be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, that is also how we get better.. there is a fine line to tread).
- DON'T GIVE UP. Some days will be tough, but you can always come back from a knock. Time and patience. There is a reason you have a passion for these animals, dig deep to that on the dark days.
This topic is hugely personal to me, what works for one, may not for another. I just hope that by reading this it can help even one other person if they are struggling. It really doesn't make you any less of a great rider just because you aren't the bravest. We are all on our own journeys, we are all different and that is exactly what makes this world interesting.
Thanks for reading,
Until next time x