The Melt Down – Part 1

So I actually have video of the moments leading up to this melt down, but I am not going to share it, at least I am not ready to share it today. Let me start from the beginning. As you know I have been having issues for a few months now of not really wanting to ride. Some days it is better and some days it is worse. For some reason Saturday’s lately have all been cold and windy compared to the rest of the week. That is so not helping with the confidence issues!

So I was already not feeling very positive when I got to the barn. I did try and do some positive self talk so I was feeling better before I got on. My lesson started off okay. I was just about to get on with my warm up with my trainer asked me about how horse hunting with SolitareMare went to I went back to the walk and told the whole story of what happened. About a minute in to that story the SchoolMaster decided that the little birds chirping in the corner were going to kill him. That made me start to feel like he was going to kill me. I tried to keep it together and kept telling the story while making the SchoolMaster go near the deadly sparrows but my mind started to race.

As always that does not lead to good things. I started getting tense and thus I started to ride completely defensively. As soon as I did that the SchoolMaster went from thinking that the little song birds were going to kill him to knowing for a fact that they were going to because the girl on his back was scared now. He started to fixate, and as we all know I am the master of obsession, so we were an impressively obsessing pair. My trainer tried to get my focus back on my ride. She got us right to working, but it was too late.

I was in full blown panic mode. I even started to cry. I want so badly to conquer my issues that I really push myself out of my comfort zone. So here I am crying and my trainer is starting is on lateral work. The problem is I am now gripping with my arms. She keeps telling me to give, but I am too scared to. Somewhere along the way I decided that I needed to hold a death grip on the reins in order to stay safe. Instead of freaking out about that the SchoolMaster agrees with me and feels that I must hold him up.

So just picture this. I am crying, the SchoolMaster is tight and tense and leaning on me and my trainer is trying hard to get my brain to relax so she is making us work on our shoulder ins and our haunches in. We are a fright train flying around the ring. He is throwing his neck around, but I can’t get his body. I am getting more and more frustrated by the second. As we come down the long side towards my trainer she is telling me to give with my inside rein. I have been yelling back that I can’t for three laps around. She is telling me to just do it. The more I pull the stronger the SchoolMaster gets which makes me more and more concerned. I finally realize that I can’t do this so I slam on my breaks and literally leap off of the SchoolMaster and have a full blown melt down.

I am intimidated by him. I can’t handle this. He doesn’t look to me to make him feel better, and only cares when I am worried too. This is getting worse and worse and I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE. I literally just freaked out for a good 30 seconds. The SchoolMaster is standing behind me looking utterly confused and horrified, the Young Rider just has her mouth open and my trainer is look at me and taking a deep breath clearly getting ready to try and calm me down.

To Be Continued…


13 thoughts on “The Melt Down – Part 1

  1. I feel sorry for you, this has to be so upsetting. Maybe you’re over-thinking your confidence issues and in turn they are right there under the surface waiting to rear their ugly heads. Instead of forcing yourself to ride why don’t you give yourself permission to take some time off and just enjoy playing with Gen. Or maybe it’s the school master you are intimidated by, why don’t you try a different horse in a lesson and see how you feel.

    I’m not a therapist but maybe you should check out a sports psychologist and have a visit. It might help you with your confidence issues.

  2. Oh man, I have SO been there — I totally feel your pain. I had a horse show where Tucker landed and played after the first jump in the first class, and I jumped one more jump and pulled up and trotted right out of the ring. I got myself so worked up that I was literally shaking like a leaf and couldn’t keep going. It is frustrating, and humiliating, but once you get into panic mode there is not much you can do. Probably best that you hopped off for a minute to calm down. At a certain point, there is no “riding through it” and you’re just going to make things worse for you and the horse. It took a long time for me to get my confidence back but somehow over the last year or so I’ve been able to do it. All I can tell you is try not to be too hard on yourself. We’ve all been there at some point or another. I’m so sorry you’re struggling right now. Hang in there my dear.

  3. I feel for you, my friend. We’ve probably all been there to some degree or another. And it’s very difficult to gain your composure once the “freight train” has left the station… and once YOU’re already in panic mode. I think Grey Horse Matters’ suggestion is a good one.
    You already know you’re a competent rider and a wonderful horsewoman. Since your current problem seems to be related to “head” stuff, there’s no shame in taking a detour until your confidence returns. Perhaps by just having fun within your comfort level. No goals…. no time limits.
    Honestly… the best thing I ever did for myself was adopt my golden-oldie, Sundance (RIP). He was certainly no pushover, but he was dead quiet (Not even firecrackers could make him flinch…. well butterflies would make him blink and duck his head, but not firecrackers. LOL). I went back to square one with him and learned how to “breathe” all over again while riding. He taught me much, and I shall miss him forever.
    Of course, we can only share our stories and suggestions. You will know what is right for you.
    Many hugs.

  4. Thank you for sharing your struggles with us readers. Riding is supposed to be fun- hard work, yes, but fun. If you need to take a break don’t beat yourself up about it. One of the reasons I love reading blogs about horse and riding is that we all share so many common struggles and it can be really reassuring! I remember last winter being at work and looking out the window- is it going to be really windy? is it going to hail?…and worrying about my ride. Or if the answer was yes to any of the above maybe it was an excuse to not ride.
    The other day I was at a barn visiting and there was a woman I know who is usually very tense/moody and I was surprised by how happy and relaxed she looked- then found out her horse was lame and realized it was because she didnt have to ride.
    I ended up selling my horse- he was my first and it was heartbreaking- but have since been leasing another and am about to buy him. Somehow a bright chestnut thoroughbred helped me get my confidence back! Is there anybody else you can ride and just hack around or take on a trail ride? Maybe take a break from lessons for a while, love on Gen and give yourself some love too!

  5. I just found your blog a couple of weeks ago, & I want you to know that I enjoy it very, very much.

    That being said, (even though I don’t know you 🙂 ) I think you need to give yourself a break. I know it is easier said than done, but you need to go easy on yourself.

    EVERYONE has gone through a period of fear. That is OK.. you are not alone. Please don’t beat yourself up for being afraid or having panic attacks.

    You will find your magic happy place when you ride, & realize that you CAN do it. 🙂

    Take heart, like I said, we’ve ALL BEEN THERE.


  6. I too, agree with Grey Horse Matters suggestions. My first thought was maybe you need some time on a horse that is bombproof and maybe even “boring” and just play for awhile. Change your focus from training to playing with the horse.

    I’ve complained that the horse I’ve been half boarding for the last 8 months has not been challenging but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun. He’s old, dependable and enabled me to relax and just enjoy riding again, which I hadn’t been able to do since Monty died. I’ve been able to ride in an open field, take little trail rides as well as a few jumping lessons and regroup myself. It feels like PLAYING with a horse again instead of WORKING with a horse (there is a difference). I’m ready now to take on the challenge of a new horse. I have my trainer available at this barn and if I can handle a green horse again, I know I can do it here.

    I feel for you going through this. You are a good horsewoman and you can’t give in. You need to regroup. Maybe a lunge-line lesson with your trainer on a very quiet horse to concentrate on just your confidence and your balance and letting someone else be in control of pace would help. Maybe taking a stroll through a trail or field on a quiet horse would change your focus. Find a barn where you can take a western lesson and play with that. If you change your mount, you may find it’s something in your partnership with the Schoolmaster that is getting in the way and then approach it either to move past it or decide you and he are not a good match and find a new mount. You seem to have no trouble playing with Gen from the ground, you need that same fun feeling of playing with a horse when you are in the tack.

    If after trying to change up your rides you still do not feel confident on any horse, then I like the idea of consulting a sports psychologist to see if you can come at it with another approach.

    Waiting to read your part 2. Hoping in it your found your center and it came together for you.

  7. Take a deep breath. You’re okay. It just sounds like you’re stuck in a rutt. Maybe take a break from the schoolmaster? Is there someone else you can ride? Even at a walk? Or a lunge lesson on the schoolmaster? Can you spend a few days just brushing the schoolmaster and taking him for hand walks? That may help you connect to him. I heard Jane Savoie’s DVDs about overcoming fear are good. Maybe have a glass of wine before getting on? I know it has helped other friends of mine.
    We’ve all been where you are. When I first got PJ he scared me when he shook his head. To overcome it, first, I had my trainer get on him and I watched and saw what PJ would do next. Second, I practiced at home, in the car, wherever, what I would do when he did it again. I imagined him shaking his head and then imagined what I would do, which was send him forward, but I needed something more concrete than just “send him forward” so I practiced clucking to him out loud whenever I imagined the head tossing – the clucking was my trigger to do everything else involved with sending him forward. I also made it a cue to myself to relax when I made that sound by slowing my breathing and basically forcing myself to calm down when I made clucking noices. Because I was doing this from the comfort of my couch, it worked. I think they call it cognitive behavioral therapy. Now, whenever I get nervous I cluck to myself. I hope that helps you.

  8. If it makes you feel any better… I once quit in the middle of a jumping lesson, in tears, and announced to my trainer that I was selling my horse (who I adored) because obviously I couldn’t ride him.
    We have all been there. It doesn’t help at the moment that the world is melting down, but it is a shared experience – you are not alone.
    Maybe this horse is not right for you? Maybe you need a break? Or maybe this was just an ultra sh*tty day and it is over. 🙂

  9. It was definitely just a bad day. We have all been there. I do not ride when it’s too windy, too cold, icy, rainy, etc. And we have an indoor! I find that if I am not really relaxed my horse picks up on it right away and the ride becomes work. Give yourself permission not to ride if you don’t feel like things are relaxed. I have learned to tell myself that the horse will be there…or “a” horse will be there when I am ready. I have had too many freaky things happen with the wind and cold. It’s just not worth feeling so nervous about it. You have nothing to prove to anyone, so ride when the temperature is right and you feel right.

  10. I agree some time on another horse might be a good call. I know it’s not always possible, but consider it. I also liked the suggestion of spending some time doing other things rather than what you’ve been working on – lunge lessons, grooming, groundwork, etc.

    For me, my “ruts” are usually frustration of not being able to “click” with my horse on something. If I keep focusing on it, I only get angry and get worse. Talking yourself out of it really only gets you so far.

    From this “head case” – get out of your head! It seems useful, but it’s never helped me!

  11. I agree with all those before. And like everyone else, I have been there too. I had (and still do albeit retired) an Arabian that I loved and rode constantly. Then I got married, moved and quit riding. Kept the horse and doted him (like you and Gen). I wanted to start riding again but was terriified to ride him. He would be so excited and I was just not ready for that. He wasn’t being mean – he was just excited to get back to work and do something. It terrified me and became a defensive panicky rider. I held onto his mouth and basically trapped him. Yeah – it wasn’t pretty. Best thing I did is quit riding him, took lessons on a quiet schoolhorse, got my confidence and rhythm back and in 4-6 weeks, my trainer had me back on my arab and it was a completely different and wonderful experience. I rode him until he finally retired at 30. He is now 35ish and spoiled rotten. I have leased (and trained) another guy for the last 4 years. When you were having major issues with your leased baby, I took courage from your experience and attitude. It got me through some scarey times with my new guy as we were learning to canter without the bucks. I love your blog as well as the comments/suggestions from your other readers. I just got back from a clinic with Jane Savoie and she is very good. She talks alot about deep breathing while riding and it works. Also, learning to control the what’ifs and scarey thoughts help. My trainer tonight reminded me about forgiving and not holding grudges with my horse. A year ago he may have bucked with every canter, but he doesn’t anymore and I need to let that fear go! I vote for taking a break from the schoolmaster and trying another horse for a short bit. Break the cycle!

  12. I just want to say, not only am I receiving solace, confirmation, and camaraderie from reading about your personal experiences, I’m also finding some peace and helpful advice through your readers’ comments.

    Isn’t a relief knowing we’re not alone in our fears, concerns, and horse journeys?


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