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Monday, February 1, 2010

Fear - Part 1

I'm posting all 3 parts this morning, in case life gets busy and I fall behind on my blog.  Feel free to pace yourself, as I probably won't post anything for the next few days.

That nasty four letter word.

I think everyone who deals with horses deals with fear eventually.  Some people start out with plenty of fear and gradually overcome it.  Other people seem to have no fear in the beginning, and only gradually aquire a healthy dose of caution as time goes on. (these are the people that scare me!)

I am a very cautious person.  I'm good at taking calculated risks after analyzing known facts, but I'm NOT the type of person to throw caution to the wind and "just go for it".  How did I morph from the timid, scared preteen, to the bold risk-taking rider I am today?  I'll let you in on a little secret - I'm still that cautious timid rider. I still don't take unneccsary risks.  What may look to an outsider as "taking risks" is, in reality, a decision based on a lot of experience and a healthy dose of caution and fear. 
When I first started with horses as a pre-teen, I was the cautious one that never wanted to above a walk, was afraid of speed games etc.  I was fine on the ground - I had shown Dairy cows for several years before joining the horse group so handling big animals on the ground was nothing new.  I was scared on horseback, but that didn't mean a lot.  I spend a lot of my life being scared.  In fact, I've had to work through fear and caution issues so many times, it really isn't that big of a deal anymore (more on that later in part 2).  I think that confused people, because I obviously didn't ride well and was cautious and not "brave" on horse back, but I kept doing it.  And doing it.  And doing it.  Because I knew eventually as I got more and more experienced, I would spend more time having fun and less time being scared. 
Part of the problem was I never got to ride a good kids horse.  I rode horses that took advantage of me, bucked, and misbehaved if they could get away with it.
I loped up a hill for the first time on an old cattle horse, while everyone else went to herd cattle and left me behind at 4-H camp.  I felt empowered.  My quest to ride was not unreachable.
I joined CHAS and rode 6 up cannon teams in harness on Standardbreds.  I rode the middle position (swing) and for the first year wailed and complained every time we had to trot (which was a lot).  A year later I could ride the Standardbred racing trot. 
I met another women in CHAS and I was determined that I could do everything she could, and as a result starting galloping down the beach bareback.  I still fell off a lot.  When I was with her I could do anything, but by myself or in unfamiliar situations, I was still scared. 
I joined the polo team and along with learning how to land on my feet when bucked off, learned how to canter.  One spring break, me and a friend from Switzerland decided to ride every single horse on the team.  I rode the hard ones, the good ones, the bad ones, the squirrley ones.  I went on my first trot and canter trail rides on those horses, near the river, outside the training facility.  I stopped falling off. 
The summer before going to Davis, I spent at a Wild Horse Sanctuary.  I learned how to saddle a 2 year old and give it it's first ride.  I rode greenbroke mustangs.  I was still cautious.  I was chosey who I rode and how I rode them.  I was more than willing to ride like the wind....only if it felt 100% right at the time.  I spent a lot of time riding at a walk on good, broke horses. 
After graduating from college I was given my very own horse - Minx.  I started falling off again.  I learned how to put my own uncertaincies aside because I had to be brave for my horse.  I figured I had until I was 30 to get her broke enough she stopped throwing me.  I figured at 30 I was going to start breaking things.  I discovered the sport of endurance and realized that I didn't struggle with fear on the trail, like I did in the arena.  I was brave on the trail.  Then, during a routine canal ride, part of a bank gave way and Minx fell, landing on my leg, which me down hill.  I thought she was going to roll over the top of me.  We both got up and she bolted for home.  I ran after her for a mile, until an SUV stopped and drove me the rest of the way to the stable.  I beat her to the stable by 30 seconds and the stable owners did not call 911.  I struggled with the fear of her falling on me and then bolting for 3 months.  I'm over it now.  I stopped riding other people's horses, or even CHAS horses I didn't trust.  I stopped lifting heavy things "just because I could".  I started protecting my body now - in my 20's - so I can ride forever. 
I bought Farley and realized how "hard" Minx was to ride.  I decided it was time to conquer my fear of the arena and I started dressage lessons and practicing for the cavalry competitions. 
After 10+ years of sticking with it - I have finally become a rider.  Even though I still deal with fear, it's on a manageable level that could be called "caution", instead of that mind-numbing fear that prevents me from living my life and enjoying the love of my life - horses.  I can FINALLY accept almost any invitation to a horsey gathering or event without worrying that I won't be able to handle it.  I can just have fun. 

Check out my blog - Boots and Saddles!


  1. I had a horse rear up and fall over on me- only that little bugger did it on purpose. I remember laying on the ground with my leg pinned under him, watching him roll towards my head thinking, "this is it, I'm going to die." I have a scar on my nose from his front hoof. That was almost 10 years ago and I still have a mental freak out if it feels like a horse is going to rear.

  2. It is interesting to read about the fears of others. I am 43 and have been riding for almost a year. I loped for the first time on January 2 at my first play day event. After we trotted around the last barrel of a barrel race, my horse broke into a lope and all I remember is holding on and letting him go. I was so scared but at the same time I had a huge grin on my face. I haven't loped since and don't foresee doing it again anytime soon because I do feel out of control and am not comfortable with the speed. I'm excited to think where I will be in my riding next year or even in 10 years.

  3. I was one of those blissfully ignorant beginner riders. I had no fear to begin with; the more I rode, the more I learned caution. Probably the best thing for my riding ability was the fact that as a wrangler, I didn't have my own horse, I had to ride whichever horse was available. I fell into a slump for a while of only riding "safe" horses, but my parents thankfully forced me out of that rut. If they hadn't, I would never have fallen in love with my mare.

  4. I am DEFINITELY more cautious - some may call me chicken - working with/riding horses, since I got hurt badly 10 years ago. It hasn't stopped me from riding, but I always see things that could happen that other people don't always see... and they wonder why I'm so cautious. Fear is REAL and it's a healthy, sensible thing, I think.
    : )
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  5. My fear issues have been a barrier to training Phebes. Me being a relative newbie rider having only walk/trot experience on horses (at age 26) then a twenty year break of no horses, moving directly into starting an emotional youngster under saddle. I'm still battling fear of the canter / gallop with Phebes. She wants to act up during the gait transition from trot to canter. I'm not sure if she is emotionally picking up on my fears....but probably she is.

    I have to laugh at our irrational "fear" of speed at the canter / gallop. A horse really isn't traveling all that fast, maybe 9-25 mph? But it sure feels incredibly fast! If we were riding a bike downhill, or cruising a back road in our cars we'd think nothing of it. So it probably isn't the speed that is inducing fear so much as the potential loss of control because our vehicle has a mind of its own.

    Mel you are welcome to visit and get me working through MY FEAR. ~E.G.

  6. Like GunDiva, I was one of the blissfully ignorant...or as my mum says, "too dumb to get scared."

    I have been scared since I started riding endurance, mostly by a gelding I rode for 8 years and nearly 2000 miles. He never stopped dumping me on the ground, even after all that time. 13 years of karate training taught me to "fall properly" but the ground does not get softer after your 40th birthday--I have tested this extensively.

    When I got Fiddle, I gave the gelding back to his real owner and got a huge shock: greenbroke Fiddle was safer to ride than the Toad ever was--and more FUN too. Now that I'm not worried about gravity verification quizzes all the time, my equitation is improving too!

    Fear can be a good thing. It can keep you from doing something stupid. Good on ya, Mel, for not letting fear keep you from doing something you want to do.

  7. An active imagination can definately be both a curse and a blessing when it comes to horses. One thing I didn't address in these posts is the anxiety I still feel around 4:30 every evening - that is the time that if something was wrong with Farley my barn would notify me (because they are feeding, they would notice). it's now been a year since Minx died, so it's an example of fear related to an actually event instead of something made up in my imagination! I must say that the fears rooted in actual events are much harder to overcome than ones made up by my imagination!

    I've never had a horse rear up and fall on me, but I bet it's awful! I don't blame you a bit for still be anxious about that one!

    Endurance Granny - If I was closer we would definately be getting together and riding! Instead you and I will just have to post and reassure each other over the internet. :)

    AareneX - Isn't it funny how hard some "broke" horses are to ride? It still amazes me that I can just relax and worry about getting spun off every second.


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