Battling My Nerves and My Perfect Spotted Pony…

*News coming out about Courtney has slowed down once again reenforcing that this is most likely going to be a long term situation. If I hear of any changes I will let you all know about them right away*

Nerve…where did you go? You went away this winter and I cannot find you!

I would not say that I am a particularly fearful rider, but I would also not say that I am not the bravest. I know myself and my limits and I think that I am pretty average on the rider scale of fear. This winter though my bravery took a hard hit. Phoenix lost his confidence, and that made me lose mine. Instead of sitting tall and telling him to get over things, I started to watch for things that might spook him. That is not a good way to work. Watching him carry on on the lunge line at my saddle fitting really freaked me out and I just couldn’t get those thought out of my head. I rode Phoenix for about a week in my jumping saddle and he was hit or miss. Either totally fine, or leaping in the air again. My trainer saw Poor Phoenix looking so upset and decided that we should take some time out of the saddle and teach him how to do ground work.

So for 6 weeks while I was waiting for my saddle to come back from Canada I worked on Phoenix from the ground. He can lunge now! It was not an easy process. There were a lot of issues when we first started. Watching him take off and explode over and over again really took my own confidence down another notch. He did get better as the winter wore on, but there were still lots of lingering doubts in my mind about riding him again.

When my saddle came back I had no more excuses. I had to ride him. Lucky for me mother nature came in with another winter storm with plenty of ice giving me another week to put off the first ride back. I took full advantage of my week trying to get my nerve back up. I visualized having a good first ride back. I kept working on my fitness in the hopes that would help me feel more confident. I developed a mantra of “get on, sit up, you will be fine” that I said to myself over and over again throughout the week. Last Thursday night as I was packing my barn bag for the following day I decided to put my breeches in. I knew the ring would be crap, but I also knew that I needed to get back on the Fat Spotted Pony as soon as possible. The longer I was going without riding the more and more I was building a disaster in my head.

Just driving to the barn on Friday I had nervous butterflies. I kept reminding myself to take deep breaths. I knew that the worst thing I could do was to be nervous around Phoenix. When I got him out of the field, I walked him to the top barn the long way to check out the rings. Both were still half covered with snow with the other half being totally wet on top and still frozen right underneath. The footing was worse then I had expected. I had made myself promise that I would get on that day, but there was no way I could let Phoenix do anything more than a walk in those rings. As I groomed him I started to freak out about lunging him. If I just lunged him at the walk and he was bad I would not only lose my nerve to get on him that day, but I would also risk having him slip and hurt himself.

As I was getting the saddle I decided to do something crazy. Like really crazy. Like the kind of thing we tell people NOT to do. I decided that I was going to get on my five year old cold turkey after his 6 week vacation. I do not recommend doing that to ANYONE. I just know myself and my Phoenix and I knew that getting on him was important because if I weenied out for another day I would be mad at myself which would shake my already shaky confidence down another notch.

So as I put on my helmet I told the person bringing horses in to check on me if I was not back in 10 minutes, took a deep breath and headed to the ring. I stopped to tighten my girth and give Phoenix a big hug along with a pep talk. He had to try his best to be good for me. That was all I was asking of him. He didn’t need to be perfect, he just needed to try to not be naughty. I made myself yawn and relax as I went over to the mounting block. I gather all my courage and got on with my only goal being to walk in the little available space in the ring for a few minutes. As soon as Phoenix felt the pressure on his back he started kicking out. I took a deep breath. Kicking out I could handle. I asked him to walk on and that is when things got a little scary. Phoenix started to do what I call a bronco move. He would shake his head and do like a mini rear and then use that extra momentum to buck extra high. The first time he did it I started to freak out so I kept saying my mantra over and over again trying to calm myself down. I reminded myself to not hit him in the mouth and to try and stay balanced. After a good half a dozen big bucks I realized that not only was I not coming off (I would sit tall every time I came to that part in my mantra) but that we were not really going anywhere but up. We were fine.

I let out a laugh, gathered my courage and gave Phoenix a love tap with my legs to get him moving forward. He tried to buck one more time, but I was feeling like my normal confident self so I just reminded him yet again that was unacceptable. As soon as Phoenix realized that I was myself up there he cut the crap and started to walk. He did not give me a single problem for the rest of the ride. It was 60 seconds of scary, but he was PERFECT after that. On Saturday I went to ride again and again felt the nerves before I got on. This time I did deep breathing until I felt like normal before I got on, and Phoenix was perfect yet again! By Sunday the rings had thawed out enough for a little trot work. I reminded myself to stay calm and to just do it. And yet again Phoenix was amazing! Not a toe out of line.

We all know that horses pick up on our feelings, but sometimes feelings are hard for us to control. For 6 long weeks I played the “what if” game with myself thinking negative things like, “what if Phoenix is scared of everything still” and “what if he gets me off”. In all my wildest dreams I could never have imagined Phoenix being as good as he was last weekend. He was perfect! Three rides back into things and I am already feeling way more confident. I am heading to the barn today looking forward to a nice ride this afternoon. My nerve is not all the way back yet, but it will be soon. I know it was a crazy move, but I am really glad I pushed myself to get on him when I did. I am also thrilled that Phoenix did not lose as much as I thought he would on his little vacation. He really is a very good baby horse. I want to start the long process of conditioning him (and myself) so we can be fighting fit by show season!

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5 thoughts on “Battling My Nerves and My Perfect Spotted Pony…

  1. I am so glad you got your issues worked out.

    It is strangely ironic (or not? Cosmic connection perhaps?) that my Phoenix went through some airs above ground issues under saddle recently as well.

    My Phoenix’s sudden crowhopping was the result of back pain and anxiety from a well meaning, but unfortunately underskilled, trainer who fought with him until he broke physically and mentally. 😦

    It reinforced in me that the first and last question we should ask ourselves when a horse starts misbehaving is: is the horse in pain? (The second question we should ask is: Am I communicating in a way that is easy to understand?)

    It sounds like your Phoenix just had some kinks to work out, mine is healed physically but I still have some work on the mental. 😦

  2. Oh gosh..the awful, mind eating case of loss of nerve. Totally sucks and I know I’ll battle that out too once I get my boy healthy again. I rode my BO’s 4 yr old today, bareback which I used to a ton and I was feeling so shaky and nerve ridden!!!! It has been since Oct since I’ve really ridden and I need to work on that so when the time comes to get back on my OTTB, I wont be a wilted cry baby.
    You are doing great!!!! Being able to laugh it off and stay on is more than half the battle. Soon you’ll be mid show season and not batting an eye! 🙂

  3. Have you read Gincy Self Bucklin’s books (How Your Horse Wants You to Ride)? What you did sounds like her seven steps…but it looks like you happened into them by instinct. 🙂

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