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Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Fear is a Sneaky Mofo


2018 has seen me struggle with fear issues a lot more than I’d like. 









I’m naturally kind of a worrier but I find if I keep myself busy I manage okay.  Working less hours these past 6+ months (like doing a normal 40 week instead of the 60+ weeks I was doing for the majority of the last five years) definitely caused a bit of a spike in my anxiety levels.  Before I had such small windows of time that I would make myself push through blah days or nervous days and get my butt in the saddle (or on the bareback pad haha).


And now with my freedom to delay rides to “tomorrow” I find I listen a little too much to the voice that says “you can’t do this”. 





I’ve also had quite a few stops and starts with riding this year, which is also something that’s a trigger for fear in me.  I find that once I’ve had about two weeks off I am mostly convinced that I don’t know how to ride at all anymore.  Between twisting my ankle, death flu, doing condo renos, death cough and possibly breaking my foot about a week and a half ago…. Fear has been sneaking in.


I am never afraid to ride Mystic.  I literally hopped on her from my truck tailgate and rode her bareback in a hayfield bordering the transcanada highway on the windiest day I have ever seen in my life last week.   She isn’t a robot or anything, she has opinions!  But I feel really safe on her.


I am unfortunately struggling with Henry.  He has been a very good boy since he got his new saddle and for the 6 months before that when I rode him bareback.  He has always come back into work after a week or two (or a month!) off really sensibly.  He’s a young horse who has green moments occasionally but he really tries his best and isn’t terrifying to ride by any stretch of the imagination.  So the fear doesn’t seem to be rooted in a logical place.


<3



I took him for his first ride on the lawn (first ride outside since May 2017 when the bucking started) last week and he didn’t put a foot wrong.  I also forced myself to ride him last Thursday on a particularly stressful day and he was 100% an angel and totally took care of me.  But I am still terrified.  When I was mounting up on the front lawn my legs were shaking so hard I could barely stand up.  Once I’m in the saddle I actually feel pretty good.  I feel really secure in my new saddle.  Once I’m riding I don’t feel very nervous at all, which is odd.  I do sometimes get chills up my spine (and probably get tense) in the part of the arena that I broke my nose in.  But it’s the lead up to the ride that seems to be unnerving to me.  A few times I have had him all tacked up and then I can’t bring myself to hop on so I lunge or do groundwork instead. 


Outdoors again!



When my lesson with ST rolled around last weekend I decided just to ride Mystic.  I was running behind schedule and she was waiting at the gate.  I had been having a very stressful day (related to real estate, hopefully will have good news to share soon) and I decided it would be a better call to just have one horse to manage.  Henry and Apollo shared their lesson slot very well.  Mystic is a lot more impatient about being tied alone and it just requires more management and horse shuffling (so she can get some patience practice without destroying the barn). 



We had a fantastic ride!  There was a little boy who was playing with a clunky little tractor in the arena sand at one end and Mystic didn’t even look at him (12 good pony points awarded).  We focused on straightness and getting her stretching into the contact.  She isn’t exactly on the bit now but I can get to her a really nice balanced feeling ride with the proper length of reins and bit of guidance from ST.  We trotted some poles, did some figure 8s and she felt like a fancyyyyyy dressage pony. 


At the end of our ride I told ST I was really struggling with fear around riding Henry.  I explained that he’s been very well-behaved for me but that I am still anxious about riding him.  She suggested writing positive notes for myself after every good ride on him with a focus on what we did that was correct/brave.  She thought that would help cement the positive memories in my brain.  And then if I had a bad ride I could look at the evidence from our previous good rides and not be as worried about it.





She also said that riding is supposed to fun and there is no shame in selling him if he’s not a fit for me.  She told me about a few people who had wrecks/falls from horses who were very good horses (just bad circumstances/timing) but they weren’t able to ride those particular horses again because of the past baggage.  She said that she thinks Henry is a good boy and reminded me that it was likely saddle fit that caused the bucking issues (but acknowledged that it would be difficult to trust him 100% after that).  I am SO grateful for ST, I was kind of preparing myself for her to call me a pathetic baby or something but I think her advice is really kind and fair.    


I am going to try ST’s “Henry Gratitude Journal” idea and see if that helps me chill the eff out a bit.  As mentioned there are some other stressful things going on in my life and I think that’s really amplifying my current anxiety levels.  I took a few online courses about overcoming fear in the saddle and I think I will spend some times re-reading those materials.  I also could do with a re-read of “That Winning Feeling” which has really helped me before.  I’m going to commit to a more regular riding schedule and maybe bring my husband along to help keep me accountable to it (he loves standing in a dusty arena taking photos of me bahahah).


I really want to fix this as I've loved this horse since he was six months old <3



Anyone have any tips for managing fear? 


Part of me feels really embarrassed to discuss this but I hope that thinking/writing about it will help me overcome it.   

30 comments:

  1. There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about with fear, but I understand all too well. I did a training challenge on a horse that broke my hand and proceeded to shake like a leaf when I went to get on her for the rest of the time she was with me. She was 13.3 and not particularly athletic. A child bought her and loved her after I had her. I am a professional. There were a lot of things I beat myself up over, but there you are. Fear is irrational.

    Two things that helped me.

    1) remembering that bravery comes first, confidence comes after.
    2) sometimes I would put a number on the fear, like 1-10. Just looking that closely at it helped a lot .

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment. It really helps to hear that others struggle with this too (even professionals!). I'm definitely going to keep those two things in mind, especially putting a number on the fear... I think I'll do that each ride so I can track my progress more specifically with overcoming this issue. :)

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  2. There doesn't have to be a logical reason behind fear. Sometimes we are just straight up fucking terrified for no good reason. Been there, done that! I think your trainer gave you some great advice as well as what Kate said above. I don't have any words of wisdom, but certainly don't be ashamed. Everyone goes through it!

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    1. Thank you, it feels so embarrassing to talk about but it helps to hear that others have struggled too <3

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  3. Fear is very sneaky. Carmen had me riding very defensively and I am still battling that. There is a really good book that helps me: Brain Training for Riders (https://www.amazon.ca/Brain-Training-Riders-StressLess-Performance/dp/1570767513/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525802633&sr=8-1&keywords=brain+training+for+riders). It breaks things down into manageable steps.

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    1. That book sounds fantastic, will definitely add that to my new "brave riding reading list". :)

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  4. Fear is a really, really hard thing and something I have struggled with for YEARS after my riding accident. It has taken years of baby steps to get to where I am today - a relatively brave, comfortable place. I know that legs shaking feeling all too well.
    Things that help me:
    - Power posing before I get on (YES, it sounds stupid but I swear it works - google it!)
    - Having a mantra to chant under your breath (mine is "I am confident and brave and can do this.")
    - Keep yourself breathing as you ride - talk to yourself, your horse, sing, whatever to move air around. When I find myself getting nervous, I have straight up conversations with myself, or if that is feeling negative, I sing. Stupid songs, whatever comes to my head.
    - Keep your brain busy - it's much easier to worry if you're going around in circles. Harder to worry if you're focusing on figure 8s, circles, leg yields, constantly moving pieces. Same concept as why we're less anxious people when we're busier.
    - Don't let yourself play the 'worst case scenario' game. Or do. Some people (me), this escalates me into panic attack territory. Others, it helps them realize that the worst thing that could happen is not that bad.
    - Do what makes you feel comfortable and just push a little outside that comfort zone each ride. Terrified to canter today? Whatever, walk/trot transitions it is! No way you're dropping your stirrups? That's cool, but now you have to go two point around until you want to die.

    Time and wet saddle pads. You'll gain confidence as it builds and fear is nothing to be embarrassed about at all.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing those awesome ideas! Definitely a lot of things to add to my fear toolbox. That part about the worse case scenario imagining really sounded familiar to me, will have to be more aware of that habit in myself. Thanks again <3

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  5. I get afraid for no good reason on the regular. Always have. I think bringing the hubs along would be good for you. Maybe just knowing there's someone on the ground will be reassuring for you.
    For me, when I get afraid, the only thing that really helps me get past it is to keep doing the thing I'm worried about. Eventually it dissipates. I wish it didn't happen, because usually it's completely illogical. But I think some of us are just wired that way.
    I have great faith that you and Henry can get past this. You guys love each other, and he IS a good boy. <3

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    1. Yeah I think I just need to keep doing the thing (but with some new mental habits) and eventually I can become less of a scaredy! Thank you for your faith in Henry and I <3

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  6. I have no advice since I am also wracked with fear, but I can offer empathy and sympathy!

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    1. Thank you! It helps a lot to hear I'm not the only one struggling with this stupid fear thing. <3

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  7. I think your title is spot on! I also think a lot more people struggle with fear than admit it. I'm sorry you are going through this but you are definitely not alone.

    I've struggled with fear a lot too. I think it comes from working in an industry that is so safety conscious ever since I turned 18: I'm really good at recognizing my own mortality and recognizing the many hazards in horse back riding that cannot be completely mitigated. The part that's the toughest is that in most things you can be scared and just push through, but in riding your fear affects the horse under you and makes them scared too. I don't have any perfect solutions but here are things that have helped me:
    1. Figure out what riding situation scares you and how to get out of it fast - e.g. practice one rein stops, disengaging hind to prevent bucking, emergency dismount, whatever is most applicable to you. You may never need it but knowing you have the right tool in case the worst happens helps a lot mentally.
    2. Ditto to Holly about talking or singing, keep yourself breathing no matter what as that's the best way to prevent your fear from transmitting to your horse
    3. Ride with people when possible. This can be distraction, motivation and safety net all in one.
    4. Create space from people who are scared for you while you ride. Battling my fear was so much worse when I had worried family members or a timid coach on the sidelines. I had enough fear for us both so a calm trainer who made everything seem like it was no big deal was key

    Good luck!
    Also, maybe the horse simulator would be a good place to regain some confidence in a much more controlled environment?

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    1. I definitely have found as I get older and see/hear of more accidents they really increase my awareness/fear of what can happen. I love that list, definitely some gems to add to my fear toolbox. And what a great idea about the horse simulator - I love that!!

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  8. Aww, I'm sorry this is happening. I think you've got lots of great ideas! This is probably NOT the direction you want to head in, but as you know, I've gained a ton of confidence back just focusing on riding the horse I'm comfortable on and working hard to expand my comfort zone on her. It was so much easier to gain some tools and experience that gave me more confidence in my abilities when I wasn't worried about something 'bad' happening. I hear you on it feeling a little irrational (Ginger is actually easier/safer than Bridget in pretty much every way, but I had a bad fall and Ginger made me so nervous!)When I had the same conversation with my coach, she was basically of the opinion to not overthink it or get too emotional about it, just accept that is how I feel in the moment and that it just is what it is, it's nothing to feel bad about or embarrassed of. Much like your coach, she had ideas to help me move forward with Ginger if I wanted to, or would have supported me selling her (without judgement) if that's what I wanted. No idea if my rambling helps, just know you're not alone :)

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    1. I am the queen of overthinking and getting emotional (so what your coach said is right on the nose for me!). I consider myself very lucky to have Mystic to be brave on while I re-learn how to do that with Henry. She is my Bridget I think :P Thanks so much for sharing how you managed your fear <3

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  9. Oh man definitely don’t feel embarrassed haha - I have an entire blog dedicated to being a ‘fraidy car lol. It’s a real thing. You aren’t alone. My friend who is working on training level eventing was just telling me how a brief bronc session on a green horse (not even her own) who was getting pinched by a saddle has shaken her a bit too. It happens and it sucks. But like you say, we work through it. For me personally the anxiety of anticipation is always way worse than the act itself. And the more routine and mundane and boring I can make something, the better. Good luck !

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    1. Aw thank you, it's so nice to hear I'm not alone. I know I will always have worrier tendencies but I hope I can improve my current coping techniques!

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  10. Sounds like you're taking an incredibly proactive approach! You'll get there. <3

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    1. Thank you, I will do everything I can to get better <3

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  11. Don’t be embarrassed whatsoever! I deal with exactly the same issues as you. Outside stressors heighten my anxiety around Lily, specifically, with whom I have so much baggage. The less I ride, the more anxious I am around her when I do decide to ride. Hence the current situation. There is definitely no shame in choosing to sell Henry if you find you truly don’t feel safe on him. I’m coming to terms with this myself.

    As for how to work through it, Holly has absolutely stellar advice above. I do all of those things! Right down to singing. If I’m riding with someone, I’ll ask them to talk to me if I’m getting nervous because talking forces me to breathe as well. It’s more difficult to be tense if you’re breathing.

    I love your ability for self-analysis, Kate. Not all riders are capable of stepping back and looking at their behaviors and triggers the way you do. Thank you for sharing that side of yourself. It makes those of us who struggle with the same issues not feel alone. ❤️

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    1. The outsider stressors are huge for me right now, and after some time off things are just way out of whack with my anxiety levels. I understand that the fearful part of me will never go away 100% but I would like to find better ways to cope. I am definitely trying this singing thing :P
      Thank you so much for your kind words, I am blown away by all the love I have received on this post. <3 <3 <3

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  12. That's the thing about fear, its definitely not logical which annoys the heck out of me. (I find my anxiety is highly overly logical and that's a whole nother can of worms.) Big hugs! Sometimes it just takes more time to build that trust bucket up. Before long you'll probably trust Henry as much as your trust Mystic.

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    1. Yeah the non-logical part is so frustrating! I hope Henry and I can get to the same level as Mystic and I, I'm certainly willing to put the time in :)

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  13. I've been struggling with fear so much with the racehorses and it's a daily battle to try to come out on top. I am hoping to overcome it and that the confidence will spill into the rest of my life.

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    1. I think the more of those daily battles we win the easier it gets, but man it's tough sometimes. <3

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  14. Oh man ya fear. Its been a long fight for me and it has taken a commitment to planning, patience and setting myself up for success. I think doing only what I knew I could handle and then building on positive experiences was key. I still head out to ride with butterflies pretty much every time but as my relationship grows with Shiraz, my fear gets less. Getting to know her reactions, how and when she will likely spook is helping. I am starting to feel like I can say she probably isn't going to do anything really dangerous to me which I honestly wasn't sure of a few months ago. Fear doesn't always make sense and stress can definitely make it worse! But it can be managed with careful choices and doing what you are comfortable with. Good luck!

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    1. Fear is not fun! I think it sneaks into all areas in my life but shows up in different ways. I have a really difficult time committing to a riding schedule and I think fear is the main reason, but I'm trying to get myself to ride as much as possible (to prove to myself that I can do it, even on tough days). Thanks so much for sharing your fear story :)

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  15. For me, I don't find books helpful. The ones I've found deal with anxiety that interferes with riding. They don't address being close to tears before getting on & then being good to go once aboard. I KNOW this happens but it does not stop the pre-ride jitters. The only advice I have is to listen to the people close to you, NOT to the great sea of conflicting advice that is the horse world.

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    1. I sometimes find books helpful, gives me a more formal plan of attack mentally. I'm honestly happy to try anything when it comes to conquering fear stuff, never know what might help! :) Do you have anything that works well for you?

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