“Wow, you really lost your nerve huh?”

That question, or to be more precise that statement, was asked of me by PO. And the unfortunate answer to that question is yes, I really have lost my nerve. For the past two weeks riding has been no fun at all. I have not even had the balls to canter yet. It is horrible! It has been YEARS since I lost my nerve. I kind of forgot what it was like to be afraid to ride.

The sad part is that nothing really happened to make me this way. Yes, Phoenix has not been acting like himself, but that was only on the ground and I am sure bad weather and constantly learning new things did not help. I know a big part of my problem was all that time away from the saddle. It is killing me though that I love lost my nerve. Yesterday I had to sing the WHOLE TIME I was riding. He wasn’t even bad yesterday, just tense. I am sure the fact that I was wound up like a spring had something to do with that. It is so frustrating! The first week back I was getting better, but I just kind of stalled out.

It does not help when Phoenix is looking at everything, even though I rationally know that it is my fault he is looking around for trouble. His owner was riding in the lower ring the other day as I was lunging Phoenix and she saw firsthand how not good we were doing. Phoenix will look for something, which makes me want to look for something, which means I am not paying attention to him, which means he gets to do whatever he wants, so he takes off which finally causes me to pay attention so I have to correct the problem which usually involves lots of yanking on the line. There are about 100 ways I can stop the explosion from happening, I just was not able to see them on my own. It wasn’t until PO started yelling instructions at me for transitions, changing the size of the circle, parallel lunging, etc that I even realized what I was (or more accurately was not) doing.

Watching him explode on the line has made me not want to get on him, but I do anyway because I know I need to work through this, but both of us looking for trouble is not such a relaxing ride. It really has turned into a bad cycle. The good thing is that we are only 3 weeks in so it is not like I let this get too bad or let it stay that way for too long. The other good thing is that rationally I am not scared of Phoenix. I am just not. The other day when one of the yearlings got loose I stayed on Phoenix because I knew I would be safer on him then on the ground (the baby horse did not end up coming anywhere near the ring, but still). That was a good sign.

It is just so frustrating because show season is around the corner and I really just need to knock it off with this fear crap. Today I have a lesson with PO. She is going to ride Phoenix to warm him up. She is hoping that if I see him behaving correctly for her that will help. I hope so. She hasn’t been on Phoenix since December so regardless it will be good for Phoenix. It is just so frustrating because this is such a stupid self created issue! Wish me luck and bravery for today!

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10 thoughts on ““Wow, you really lost your nerve huh?”

  1. Good luck! I know how it can be. I have a 13 year old warmblood that has always been a bit “up” especially in wintertime. I’ve had him for almost 9 years, I got him when I was 20, young and stupid (and still bounced if I came off), and I find that the older I get the harder of a time I have getting over any of the crap he pulls in the winter. It doesn’t help that I thought he would have calmed down by 13 years old.

    I find for me I may start off scared, but after him spooking a couple times I get pissed off, and once I hit the pissed off part I can push through the fear and make him cut it the hell out. But I need to get to that point and that can be the hard part.

    Good luck, hope the warmer weather brings better rides!

  2. You’re overthinking things (I know, I do it too!) and this is a good time to employ the “shut up and ride” motto that Mrs. Mom has going on. I find that when I really do just stop thinking about him and what is he going to do (Chevy is only six, so he still has moments as well) I do so much better, but I totally understand it is so much easier to say that than employ it. Big hugs!

  3. Honor how you feel….own up to it {which you have!!!}…then find YOUR path to deal with it. Most of us only have one horse to get on….everything they do and don’t do gets magnified by the little devil on our shoulders. Start working with him on the ground, then at the walk, when you’re ready, trot and etc. We always talk about keeping it simple, especially green or baby horses! But riders need to “separate the aids” sometimes, too! Keep your riding simple and focused. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, ride in the moment not in your goal, take the showing off the table for the moment {not long term, just till you work through this curve in the road}. Great that you were singing!!! I do that too…I also breathe like I’m getting a massage, long rhythmic breaths. No deadlines….go back to the basics and allow yourself some rides to get through this…..you will, you know! Saddle time with a calm, focused mind will help you stay relaxed…

    The shows will always be there when you’re ready….no such thing as a time table in horse training…It is what it is!!!

    Sending you cheerful, relaxed, and very simple thoughts….one step at time…breathe…

  4. Follow up – Today at the barn I board my horse at there was a Daniel Stewart Clinic. I didn’t ride in it but I watched for a while and he set up a course/grid and each fence had a number on them and as you were riding on course he would yell out the number of your next fence, or sometimes yell things like “even, odd, odd, even” and you would have to jump one fence with an even number, then two in a row with an odd number, then back to an even. He also would occasionally yell out a larger number, like 27 and you would have to take multiple jumps that would add up to 27.

    It’s funny, kind of ridiculous and some people had a lot of fun with it. But I also have some friends who are much more timid riders that were not so excited about it waiting their turn, but then when you saw them go they jumped really well! I think they were so busy worrying about the numbers and finding the correct fence to jump that they stopped thinking about all the things that scared them, and that got me thinking…sometimes distractions can be good things! I may ask my instructor to translate something like this for my lesson.

  5. You’re being hard on yourself and that won’t help your situation either. You’re not being “stupid.” You’re experiencing a normal human reaction. It will be easier to deal with that reaction if you are kind to yourself. Take this from someone who knows. Berating yourself for not getting this will only make matters worse. Be kind to yourself……..it will translate to better riding, I promise!!!!

  6. Ok. I was thinking about this yesterday and decided to look at my book on overcoming fear in riding. Here’s what you should do. At home, away from the horse. Imagine all of the bad that you think you are afraid of (one at a time). For each one, think of how you should fix it. The first time you think of a scary situation, you will feel panicked (you know that feeling). Let it pass and then think of what you should do. Keep repeating thinking about the issue and its solution until the panicked feeling doesn’t occur because you’ve so incorporated the correct response. For example, you are afraid that he’s going to spook at something in the woods at the far end of the ring. You imagine him turning his head out, dropping his inside shoulder and bolting towards the center of the ring; you putting your weight into the inside stirrup b/c of the way his body moves (be very specific in your imagination – ie, picture not just any ring, but the ring you ride in every day). What should you do? Well, put your inside leg on, turn his head to the inside, sit back, etc. If that doesn’t work then what would you do? Maybe use a pulley rein and pull him into a small circle while you sit back and keep your outside elbow at your side, etc. Go over it again and again and again. As long as it takes. You’ll be fine. Remember, you got over this before – you will this time.

  7. Oh, I feel for you. Just know that you will WILL get thru this and recognizing it, which you did, is the biggest hurdle. Just work slowly on this and try not to set a time limit with the shows approaching, to set you back or make you feel anxious about your progress. Just keep envisioning yourself successful and in the moment and try (i know it’s hard) not to think about the ‘what if’s.’
    Keep in mind that you are a GREAT rider! 🙂

  8. it’s funny i should check in on your blog now after all this time, as i have been dealing with a similar situation myself these days, so i definitely feel your pain! my issues are not about riding, but an occasional feeling of anxiety that just doesn’t make any sense. i had been taking cymbalta for my fibromyalgia, but it wasn’t helping so i stopped, and the withdrawal effects have me all messed up (sorry, i know, tmi 😉 but i understand how frustrating it is not being able to control it or rationalize it away… the nasty thing about fear and anxiety is they don’t always need a reason.

    i don’t know if this helps but, in the past when i’ve lost confidence in my riding, i would have an easier time getting past it with a ground person/instructor there to give me exercises, talk me through rough patches and keep my focus on the riding at hand and off my anxieties… it may seem a little mechanical, but sometimes temporarily transferring some responsibility/control to someone you trust can help take the pressure off and keep you from obsessing over the little stuff…. but that won’t work if your instructor/helper in the intense sort who normally stresses you out, so i guess it’s a judgment call :-\

    a trick i like to use when i’m on a potentially explosive horse and i feel myself tensing up in anticipation of disaster is to envision melting into the saddle, making my spine loose like jello one vertebra at a time and just feeling the swing of the horse’s back, following with my own seat. you just sort of unhinge your spine, let your hips swing, take deep breaths and just think about melting into the horse. that always calms me, relaxes my tension away and has the side effect of calming the horse too.

    also, i have always found that i stay with a spook or a blow-up much better when i’m relaxed, as tense muscles first have to relax before they can move and contract again, so your reaction time is much quicker from a relaxed place than a hanging-on-for-dear-life place….

    wish i could be more helpful, but i know you’ll get past it. you already know the problem and it’s not something you should beat yourself up over. we’ve all been there, and will be there again. it’s part of life. sometimes the easiest way past it is to just give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling and allow yourself to work past it one baby step at a time instead of trying to ignore it, jump in with both feet and hope it magically goes away. maybe try shortening your sessions and adding a few minutes/new goals each time, mixing riding and longeing or ground work (there’s no rule that says you can’t get off and longe in the middle of a ride if you feel you’re losing it a bit, then get back on) etc.. each small step in the right direction is something you can build on. wish i could be more help!

    good luck!

  9. Oh my gosh, I completely understand where you’re coming from. There are days when I feel like I’ve lost my nerve with Reveille, too — she’s young and can buck, so I get downright scared. The only thing I can do to counter it is just … ride. Even if I only get on for a little while, even if my only success is staying on her back, I’ll call it a success. Then keep building up. Intellectually, I know that the more I ride her, the less likely she is to do anything and the more likely I am to be able to deal with anything she DOES do. I just have to hang on to that intellectual thought and look away from the fear, basically. Stop feeling and start thinking, just like I expect her to do.

    She’s been extra look-y lately too, when I take her outside. On Friday, I had a great school, and then I took her outside just to kind of wander around in the sunshine. She got tense as I mounted, watching the various splotchy horses in the far pasture play around, but I got through that … then she spooked as we walked off. Got through that, but she was still “up.” When she spooked as we walked over a set of ground poles, that was that — I’d lost my stirrup, and I thought things were only going to get worse. So instead of letting her win and just getting off and going back to the barn, I dismounted and then LED her through the ground poles another four or five times. She didn’t get to quit, but I also felt like it was a safer bet for me to finish her out from the ground than from the saddle. Things were starting to escalate, so … break that cycle.

    One of the things I do when she’s squirrelly on the longe line is lots and lots of transitions on varying sizes of circles. Walk for five steps, trot for seven, let her out a foot or two, back to walk for three steps, back to trot for five, bring her in four feet … yknow, just keep her guessing and insist that she pay attention until I have ahold of her brain.

    You can get through this, I am absolutely confident!

  10. I know exactly how you feel. Seven years ago I fell from a young horse and broke both of my legs. I was wheelchair bound for a year. I have since been riding and some days are like nothing ever happened and some days I get it stuck in my head that the horses are going to act stupid. When I feel like that nothing seems to change my mind and watching a lunging horse buck or someone else having a bad ride makes it worse. As other suggested I lunge first and even stomp my foot trying to see if there are any bucks in there! Once that is done if I feel funny I work in circles, changing directions frequently and doing transitions. After my wheelchair episode I never let anyone guilt me into anything I am uncomfortable with, I am never too proud to be willing to do that again. I beleive that hot weather is coming soon and the horses will be lazy again and we can both feel confident and work on some of these issues safely! good luck and know you are not alone! I enjoy your blog! – Suzanne

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