Sunday, April 26, 2009

Working Through Fears

I know other people have talked about this sort of thing before, like Very Large Colt and Mugwump. I know it's pretty common in so-called 'adult re-riders,' which I can say because my mom is one ;)

But, guess what - I'm 18 and crazy, and I still have to deal with fear. Maybe it's not the same kind, maybe it's easier for me to push through, I don't know.

I'm going to write about it anyway, if only to share that not all teenagers think they're invincible.

As I've ridden Pandora in more and more eventing-related things -- a hunter derby, an eventing clinic -- I've gradually met a realization that was a little startling to me: I'm a little afraid of galloping.


Yeah. I mean, I love galloping. I love going fast. When I did the western gaming events with McKinna in OHSET, she hauled butt on the way home from pole-bending or flags. That was probably the fastest I'd ever gone, and it was a blast. But, that was in a manicured long arena with a horse who knew her job was to run hell-bent for leather and then pull up and walk out. And it was on a straight line.

I've never really galloped anywhere else.

But when I'm out in an open field, I tense up. I want to cling to the reins. I want the comfort of knowing that I can close my thighs and hands like I do in the arena and my horse will change gaits for me. I look down at the ground 10 feet in front of us, and in my head I get terrible visions of my horse catching a heel and sending us both flying.

The memory of my little slip-stumble-fall in a field on McKinna this last summer, which led to a broken ankle, certainly doesn't help matters.

That being said, I do actually like galloping, and I do actually plan to get somewhat good at eventing one of these days. So, this is obviously something I need to work through.

Friday, I spent some time on it. A friend and I took our horses into the big mare pasture and practiced. We walked a big lap, then trotted a little and picked up a hand gallop. Pandora and I started in a steady canter, then I tried to relax as we cruised past the other mare. (Hey, the other one's a sweetheart, plug of a QH.) We pulled up, walked a lap, and repeated.

I was a little surprised at just how nervous I was. Our first canter/gallop, Pandora was about as tense as I was, blowing on every stride, kind of ignoring my half halts. As we went on, I forced myself to sit up, reminded myself to look ahead of ourselves, and relax my death grip on the reins. I found that once we hit a rhythm, I could keep the gentle, light contact we're both used to, without her trying to speed up.

After a few initial sessions, Pandora figured out how to go mostly straight, without going almost sideways or really trying to bend to the outside. This is definitely something to practice.

I practiced big, looping circles, allowing myself to breathe and trying to avoid images of her leaning on the turn too much and crashing to the ground.

I practiced pushing her forward into a pretty decent gallop (going AWAY from home, at first!), then setting my shoulders, closing my legs, and asking for a lower gear. And what do you know, it started to work! We even were able to pick up a canter heading home, move up into a gallop, then ease back and circle without her trying to blast on full-speed ahead to the barn.

When we cleaned out extra tack for the tack sale, I stumbled across a pair of really nice rubber reins. Pony sized -- my mom had purchased them for McKinna (who, yes, goes in pony reins) but decided she didn't like the rubber. They were dreamy. So easy to keep my hands in the same place, so easy to grip, long enough to walk on the buckle but short enough that they're convenient for gallop work. They are definitely mine now.

One thing I loved about Pandora's attitude? The let-down. My friend and I would gallop for maybe a minute, then walk a lap or two, then do some more canter-gallop work. The moment we came back to a walk, Pandora was on the buckle, relaxed, swinging forward in a great walk. She even stayed there if the other horse picked up a canter and ranged far away from us. If we galloped toward or away from the other horse, Pandora didn't seem to care.

It was like we were both so wound up and nervous about it, that once we practiced a little, relaxed a little, and got back into our normal communication, everything worked itself out.

Before our workout, she was dancing around the cross-ties and didn't want to hold still for mounting. Afterwards, she had this soft, quiet look in her eye, and stood patiently and relaxed even while we stood and chatted. That's her normal attitude of course, but still.

Anyway, I just wanted to share that. It was hard for me to let go and trust Pandora out there. I came in with a huge smile on my face, but I had to CONSCIOUSLY push myself. I was literally muttering to myself, "Okay, let her GO, move OUT, look UP, relax, breathe, circle, and NOW you can half-halt and bring her back."

The experience was so worth dealing with my fear. My trust in Pandora has increased, and although I can't ask her for her opinion, I'm pretty sure her trust in me has increased too.


Beckz said...

Letting go is definitely the hardest thing to do. When you go fast you have to sacrifice some control, but hell it sure is a blast.

Leah Fry said...

I am faced with the fragility and limitations of my own mortality every time I get on!

spazfilly said...

It's great that you were able to have such a constructive workout to ease some of your fear. Accidents suck...the one I had over 10 years ago still haunts me - I get extremely nervous when the ground is muddy. Good thing I'm not an eventer!

rhinestone said...

Thank you for posting this!!! All the time, people expect me to be fearless because I'm almost 18, but I think it's natural for all riders to have some fear.
Yes, maybe I'm a bit more "springy" than more-seasoned riders, but I sometimes get very vivid mental images of wrecks...and that can be just as paralyzing.
I'm working on breathing through that fear and focusing on my "safety gear" - looking up, keeping my shoulders back and my heels down, and especially lots of positive self-talk!

Miss A said...

Great post! I recently had an accident that involved a sudden "feel good" buck at the canter and ended with me falling on my head/neck. Not hurt (though still stiff) and now I'm working through nerves at the canter. It's really difficult once you've been hurt, but it helps to read about other people's experiences.

manymisadventures said...

It's good to know I'm not alone in this!

Rhinestone -- exactly. I think there's sometimes an almost mythic idea of the Horse-Crazy Young Girl, who will ride anything with four legs bareback in a halter at full gallop, over jumps and under low-slung tree branches if possible.

Now, I won't deny that a lot of people are like that, and it's certainly an education when you do things like that. I also won't deny that I get a hankering to do that sort of thing every now and then.

I just wanted to let everyone know that, yes, we know we're not immortal, and we have to deal with fear too!

manymisadventures said...

Miss A -- it's funny. I never have a problem getting right back on after I fall...and it's not that I don't trust the horse..but later, when doing a similar activity, I often have to work very hard to relax myself.

I'm glad you were not hurt badly!

One thing that helped for me was to learn from my accident. When I fell and broke my ankle, I didn't have a good center of balance: I was riding too far forward, so when she stumbled and slipped in front, I pitched straight off over her shoulder. My newfound resolve to strengthen my lower leg and core position really helped me ride better, and the results have built my confidence too.

MyLittlePony said...

Fear is a strange thing. In just the right amount, it's a valuable survival tool. Too much or too little, however both have their drawbacks. I (mom here) think you have just the right amount of fear when it comes to riding.

Anonymous said...

Totally can relate to you on this post. I've always been afraid of jumping solid fences..going cross country. I love jumping, love it, but the thought of the fence not budging it my horse hits it, scares me badly. Such a love/hate relationship lol.

Well put MyLittlePony aka Mom! Agreed, agreed, agreed.

The Equus Ink

Meghan said...

This is definitely me. I have a mare now who is not spooky (unlike the last horse I rode) but has a lot more energy than I'm used to, and I've begun riding her out in a big, open field (the place I'm boarding right now does not have an outdoor arena and has a tiny little indoor) and I'm dealing with a lot of fear. The first time I rode her out there, everything was fine until I put my leg on when she was already cantering and she went into a hand gallop. She was on the wrong lead, which made for a bumpy ride, and it felt like she was out of control (even though she just did what I asked for). I just froze, and tried to get her to slow down with strong pressure on both reins (which I KNOW doesn't work, but when you're panicking, you're panicking). So I was quite scared, and thus unable to think or ride. I finally fell forward a bit, and she slowed down immediately (good girl!) and then I got her back down to a trot, halted her, fixed the saddle which had slipped to the outside, cried, shook, etc.

I did go back out in the field, and although I was extremely scared in the beginning and there were some times where I used the reins to turn her more than I should have, I did work through it and got some nice canters (even got the left lead, albeit while tracking right). I would like to get to the point where we can go out in the field and just be relaxed and do what we would in an arena setting, and hopefully that will happen. I just have to fix ME, she's only feeding off my tension.

Thanks for the post. I do know one of those mythical Fearless Rider Girls, but most of the people I know have fear and always will. It's really not fun to have to work through your fear, but it's even less fun to NOT work through it.

autumnblaze said...

I'm 26 and started riding only around 18. Pretty fearless then... took a couple years off. Got back in (thinking I was were I left off...) had a fwe tough tumbles... Started riding a very sensitive Arab who is spooky, if I'm stressed/worried. He has a mean spook too. I love trailing and he lives at a barn with no other riding horses (all babies/broodies) so we ride alone. I was so stressed for awhile we had 'incidents' every trail ride that were getting worse and worse... I finally said enough. Started in a big field and worked my way back out to the trail. I don't freak at that canter anymore or even if he breaks into a hand gallop in the field(I can barely lean forward and if he has room to run that's what he thinks I want.. used the scare the sh*z out of me b/c when I was off balance or worried, forward I went...). Anyways, I always got back on... well not one time but my foot got caught in the stirrup a little and twisted my ankle pretty bad... actually THAT was the time I said this is ridiculous and realized I either had to stop riding him or buck up. I chose the latter and choose to as often as I can. I think you need to be a little afraid to know what *can* happen so you don't make the stupid mistakes but even then stuff happens. However, we'd all be playing shuffle board if it wasn't worth the risk. ;)

manymisadventures said...

I'm glad we got to talk about this. It's nice to know that I'm not alone!

And it's really nice to see how you guys have worked through your own issues, too. No matter what level we're at...everyone has something that kinda freaks them out.

Marlen said...

plug of a QH??? She is spunkier than that. You should try her sometime. Nice blog though.

manymisadventures said...

I know, she is not THAT lazy ;)

manymisadventures said...

Plus she is a LOT spunkier these days! I should probably not call her a plug, though - one time somebody told me that riding McKinna was like riding a GOAT of all things and it was rather offensive.

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