Saturday, April 26, 2008

Addressing Fear - Part V

Previous posts in this series:
Addressing Fear - Part I
Addressing Fear - Part II
Addressing Fear - Part III
Addressing Fear - Part IV

While taking riding lessons on my trainer's school horse at my trainer's indoor arena, I was also practicing what I was learning at my home in my round pen on Bombay, the gelding who I threw myself from when he launched into what seemed like an endless bucking frenzy thanks to a series of mistakes on my part. Since our accident, Bombay had shown no signs of even thinking about bucking while I was riding him. When he played, he reared and bucked and spun, but he seemed to have the good sense to avoid such gymnastics when carrying a rider. During my recovery, he often walked up to me, sniffed my arm cast, and then looked into my eyes solemnly as if apologizing.

Of my two horses, I actually felt safer on Bombay. He had more recent training, and really wanted to learn this whole business of carrying a rider and learning more cues and new tricks. Occasionally, he spooked by jumping to the side, but he never lost his head and bolted. He never tried to bite, such as when I tightened the cinch, and he always stood rock solid when I mounted and dismounted. He had an all-around good attitude. Some people might have called him crazy and tried to turn around and sell him after the accident, but I understood that I as the rider was the cause of that accident, and this horse was my responsibility. If I wanted to feel safe and make that fear go away, I had to get both myself and the horse trained further by a professional.

I trailered Bombay out to my trainer's facility for several riding lessons. I expected Bombay to be a ball of nerves after the trailer ride, but once I got on him I discovered that he was as calm and reliable as that school horse I had been riding. Though I had owned him for at least three years at this point, I had never intentionally cantered him. My trainer taught me how to do that, and I discovered that cantering is a lot more complicated than people let on. First of all, keeping your balance is a whole new ballgame. When riding a horse at a walk, your body tends to sway from side-to-side slightly. When riding a horse at a trot, your body has and up an down, bouncing movement. When riding a horse at a canter, there is a forward and back motion.

As soon as we launched into the canter I felt unseated and panicked. Though I was still holding onto the reins, I lost my steering. My brain wouldn't allow me to concentrate on both keeping my balance and steering. I must have looked like a train wreck in the making, so my trainer stopped us. She explained that it was such a rough ride because Bombay picked up the wrong lead. She then taught me how to pick up the correct lead for a smoother ride, but I didn't catch on right away. At that point during my lesson I thought I had the most uncomfortable horse in the world, and couldn't imagine that I would ever get to a point where I could ride him at the canter and stay on. We got past that, though.

I trailered my mare Lostine in for me to have riding lessons on her, as well. Lostine had been a broodmare most of her life, and I was her first owner in many years to insist that she carry a rider. Though she is only 14.2 hands high, she is one tough horse. She made it clear that she did not like being ridden by running away when I approached her with a halter, by giving warning bites when I tightened the cinch ever so slightly, by moving away when I attempted to mount, by pinning her ears back when I asked for a trot, and by occasionally bucking during our rides. I had three different trainers assess her, and they all pretty much said that she was fully trained to ride already and was any rider's dream horse. She didn't give them any problems, so that led me to believe that I was the problem and I was the one who needed lessons.

Together my trainer and I learned that Lostine was put off by me bouncing around in the saddle so much. So, I concentrated on sitting with good posture as still as possible as well as keeping my hands in one spot so that I wasn't tugging on her mouth each time I did bounce. The difference in Lostine's attitude was like night and day. The ear-pinning stopped all together. After a physical examination we decided that the bucking was an attitude problem. I smacked her lightly on the hip with my riding crop each time she bucked to correct her, and eventually the bucking stopped as well. She knew the difference between an advanced rider and me, so she never tried intimidating any of the trainers who rode her. I had to change my relationship with her and gain her respect. Once that I felt I had that respect, I felt more comfortable asking for the faster paces. It turned out that her canter was smooth as butter, and I learned how to steer at the canter since keeping my balance on her was so natural and easy. After our last lesson on her, my trainer told me that ultimately Lostine would be the horse who will make me a better rider.

So, one woman and three horses contributed to my horsemanship education. Progress was what helped me get past my fear. Each time I tackled a problem and solved it, my fear shrunk just a little bit more and confidence grew in its place. Instead of sitting in a chair watching my horses' graze all weekend, I now run outside to saddle them up every chance I get.

I still do occasionally wonder if today is the day I'll have some freak accident and end up in traction, but I usually set that thought aside and ride. There are times when I do back down from riding, such as when something is going on in the neighborhood that gets my horses keyed up, or when everything leading up to the ride goes wrong. I'm a bit superstitious and tend to heed my omens, especially when they come in droves. My point is (going back to the poem in Addressing Fear - Part I) that I didn't have a chance conquering my fear from a fold-up chair. Though I may have been a more prolific poet back then, I'm much happier now sitting tall on the back of a horse.


BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Good for you for pushing on and deciding that riding your horses was what you wanted to do.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

If anyone has any tips on reducing fear that have worked for them, please let us know.

Katee said...

I now believe that horseback riding really is a partnership. My horse will do his job, but only if I do my job too. If I rush and skip steps and ignore cues from him we're going to have problems.

When we're at a show and people are waiting to watch us perform or when we're going on a trail ride and everybody else is ready to go, I have to remember that my horse is the most important other being around. If he isn't ready, if he is picking up on my nervous energy and won't tolerate being mounted I can't focus on other people and on my own desire not to "fail" in front of them. If I'm not doing my job, I am setting up my horse for failure and myself for injury.

Being a "wimp," letting everybody down, embarrassing myself and making my horse look like a wild thing are all things that I hate. But I've faced head on the consequences of not listening to my gut and my horse. I hate those consequences and I'm much more afraid of them than any potential bruising of my ego!

Thanks for this series and here's hoping for many, many pleasant fear-free rides in the future!

Twinville said...

You are such an inspiration!

I've been reading along with each of your "Addressing Fear" installments and have hung onto each and every word...often nodding in agreement of 'been there, done that, felt that way, too'.

And I so appreciated knowing that it wasn't just me feeling like a bag of potatoes up on a cantering horse. That there is a reason why it happens and how to overcome it.

When I first rode my neighbor's horse, Nadia, a 20+ yr old arabian, I had her go into a canter and I totally lost my balance and felt out of control. Somehow Nadia sensed that and came to a walk all on her own.

Horses with a good experienced mind are so good to have for beginning horse experiences.
They help build confidance.

I also love how you closed this latest installment. What good advice for all horse owners, especially those of us with worries and fears.

Thank you.