Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Riding with Fear

Fear, to some extent we all have it. Whether it's "show nerves", being embarrassed or judged by others, fear of spooking, or just fear of falling off, we all deal with it while riding. Some of us more than others. Ahhh, to be 13 again and galloping fearlessly through the open fields. Instead, now I tend to think of all the things that can go wrong. I've found that as I get older fear has become a more dominant aspect of my rides. I'm sure several factors play into it:

  • I don't bounce as good as I used to
  • I have to be able to take care of my kids
  • I can't afford to lose income due to being injured
But for me, one of the most important-
  • Previous accidents still present in my mind
Pilgrim flipped over on top of me a few years ago. I got on at the mounting block, he started to quickly walk off (a bad habit he has) before I even got settled. I asked him whoa and I immediately felt him get tense and then we were scrambling backwards, and before I knew it we were flipping over. While it certainly hurt and I had some minor injuries: bruises and a pretty good concussion; I was lucky and walked away relatively unscathed. At least I thought so, that was until my next ride. I quickly realized the damage was quite severe. My accident had completely destroyed my confidence in my riding and my trust in my partner.

Every ride became an internal battle. Every moment of tension or loss of contact during my ride would send me into a panic. It's not that I was doing something wrong, I wasn't doing ANYTHING! If you gave me a quiz, I could tell you exactly what I SHOULD be doing to correct the moment, but my body no longer listened and often completely shut down. The rational side of my brain screams "SEND HIM FORWARD!" but I found myself freezing in fear, often just halting and trying to start over....typically making the problem in the ride worse.

Pretty quickly my fear carried over to every horse I would ride and soon they were figuring out how easily it was to intimidate me. My fear was getting worse instead of better and I found myself wondering if I was going to be able to continue riding at all. How could something I love doing so much cause so much fear? How was I going to fix it?

I don't think I "fixed" my fear, but I was able to get it under control. I am now back to being a confident rider/trainer even with problem horses. I still have moments of fear in my ride, but I've learned to work through them. So for anyone suffering from fear while riding, here are some tips from someone who knows exactly where you are coming from.

Identify your fear
    The first step to overcoming your fear is figuring out what you are afraid of. Before you even get on your horse, sit down and write what you think may happen during your ride. What situation might occur, what is the worst case scenario? Be specific, "I'm afraid of getting hurt" is too vague. "I'm afraid my horse will spook, bolt, and I won't be able to get him under control" is narrowing it down. Some fear may not be physical, but emotional. "I'm afraid of losing at the show", or "I won't ride well and will be embarrassed in front of my friends/trainer/family/etc". All of these fears are normal, common, and important to recognize.

Babysitters are your friend
     Finding a trainer or a friend with a bombproof mount or schoolmaster to tote you around for awhile can do wonders for your confidence. If your fear is of getting injured, a solid mount will help you slowly build your confidence back up in your riding ability with each uneventful, quiet ride you have. If your fear is more emotional, having a solid schoolmaster that allows you to focus on your position, riding correctly, or learning a new movement on a horse who already knows them, will certainly help you prepare for getting back on your own mount. Don't underestimate the benefits of a lunge lesson as well. These can be instrumental in improving balance, gaining confidence, and conquering fear.

Finding an understanding and encouraging trainer is priceless
     I can not stress this enough. I was lucky enough to have a trainer who not only understood my fear, but has helped me every step of the way to get through it. It's a difficult balance of finding someone who is not judgmental, pushes you when you need it, and let's you quit when you need to. A rare find, and if you find one, don't let them go! A good trainer is not only your coach, but often your therapist, friend, and confidant. It's a must that they are someone you feel comfortable with, since the will inevitably see you both at your best and more importantly at your worst.

Find little ways to pump yourself up or relax
    Playing music before or during your ride, doing yoga, go kickboxing, hand inspirational posters of George Morris yelling at you, have family and friends come cheer your on....whatever is your thing, do it! Find ways to make you feel strong and excited about your rides again.

Find fear reducers
    Identify things that help reduce your fears. Riding in a group, lunging before you ride, avoid riding on windy days or in poor weather. Even dropping down a level at competitions can help relieve some anxiety. You are the expert on your fear and only you can know what will help. Don't consider it silly or superstitious if it benefits you and your horse.

Set goals
    We all use short term and long term goals for many things in our lives, including our riding. sing them to help overcome fears should be no exception. Set little, easily achieved goals for your short term and check them off as your accomplish them. Set long term goals for your riding that will help keep you on track.

Whether your riding fears are show related, performing a specific move, fear of getting injured, or just a general fear of failing, know that you are not alone. It's a long road of recovery, and to some extent there will always be fear....but, every time you share one of those wonderful moments of perfection on your horse, you know that it is all worth it!

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