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.
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.
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.