I’ve been riding for 20+ years, so I can confidently say I’ve been in the game for a while. Yet confident is NOT always how I feel. It’s how I WANT to feel, but not how I feel.
It starts off like this:
I’m getting ready to go the barn – Excited!
This is gonna be a great ride – Pumped.
Putting the tack on – Feeling Good.
Putting on my helmet – Feeling ok, but something else is creeping in.
Taking the reins – “I’m okay”, I think as I stutter in my mind. (Quietly already shouting help but it’s only internal). We mustn’t show others that we are nervous! That is a big NO NO in the horse world. Not sure why, that’s for another post.
Lifting my leg over the saddle - GAHHH!!! I’m in a wide open space, what happens if….
Trying to relax my hands so they don’t have the death grip on the reins, or showing my horse I am nervous (which is ridiculous because he already knows which makes it WORSE!!!).
Now what? Try to be brave, Julie.
Does any of this sound familiar or am I the only one that goes through this?
Statistics show that “The largest number of equestrian injuries occur in white females in the 2nd, 4th, and 5th decades of life. Serious injuries are due to falling or being bucked off a horse and most commonly occur at home or at a recreational/sporting facility. Prevention strategies (educational and passive protection equipment) should be especially targeted to this high risk group.” You can see the list here.
The fact is that when you have had a serious riding accident, and I’m not talking about a life and death type of accident, but one where you lose time from work and in the saddle, it will stop all your forward momentum.
You WILL lose confidence and anyone who says you won’t is lying to you. Ok, maybe 1% continue on as if nothing has happened, but the other 99% of us get…scared.
These are words that are very rarely spoken in the horse world, if at all.
I’m not sure why. We are all humans and those of us in this equine community are doing something that takes being either very brave, very stupid or even maybe a little of both to even think about doing.
You’re getting on a 1,000+ pound animal, who is very big and super strong, and most importantly has a brain with a hair trigger intuitive alert signal to tell him or her when there is danger.
Way before you get the memo.
Which leads me to why I get scared.
My horse got the memo much earlier than I did. In fact, I didn’t even see the memo until it was too late. We were on the polo field, had just finished a nice ride and he did a 180 degree turn in 1 second (not kidding) and I simply fell off.
Hard. Broke 6 ribs type of hard.
If you have never broken even one rib, I can tell you that every breath is extremely painful. And the best part is – there is nothing you can do to fix it but wait. Yippee!
This is that “Oh Shit” moment when you realize whenever you hit the ground, it’s gonna hurt!
When I got better, I decided “That is never gonna happen to me again”, so I went out and bought the most expensive vest that covers your body from your neck to your tailbone. It inflates in .01 seconds, basically as soon as you start to fall. I purchased the Point 2 Air Vest, you can check them out here.
The only problem is, my body healed but my mind didn’t.
My mind was still back there, on the ground, gasping for breath.
When you are of a “certain age” (basically 40+), you don’t bounce like you used to.
When I was in my 20’s, if I fell off a horse, I would get right back up.
Not so much after 40.
In fact, you are lucky if you get up at all.
So getting back on the horse, without any support system can be difficult.
I spoke to a Certified Equine Counselor who works with Therapeutic Horses and Veterans and told her my story.
She told me she could help me work through it, but here’s the interesting part. She said “People will tell you to just get back on the horse and move forward. The problem is that it’s not in your head, it’s in your body. Your body has had trauma, so even if your brain tells you its ok, your body remembers where the trauma originated from, where you were when it happened and it REMEMBERS.That’s what causes you to tense up and your body to go right back into the state of nervousness, basically back to the scene of the accident.”
Disclaimer: You may use all three of my steps, but they may not work for you. I am not there with you and I am not a Trainer. All individuals and horses are different and I have no idea what your riding background is or your physical capabilities are. These steps have helped me, however, I cannot guarantee results and you should not expect things to work perfectly for you and your horse. I always advise riders to get a professional Trainer, and in this case perhaps a Therapist as well, if you feel you need more support.
Here are 3 brave ways that have helped me ride more confidently:
1 RELEASE THE TRAUMA
The therapist I met with said the best thing I could do would be to bring her (or another therapist) to the polo field (where the incident happened) and have her help me work through it.
You need someone by your side that will not only give you confidence, but help you move through the old scenario to release it. This is a way for you to retrace your steps, see what happened and allow your body to feel the way it did, then release that feeling so you can move back to the calm, natural state you had before the accident. Basically, you are able to release that junk forever and finally move forward. The key is that you are not doing this alone, but with someone by your side.
2 TAKE ON A PREMIER RIDER’S CHARACTERISTICS
Find a rider who inspires you and pretend to be that rider. I know this may sound hokey, but hear me out. Your thoughts are very powerful, much more powerful than you may even know. If you think you are a terrible rider – you will be. If you think you are a very capable rider – the chances of you being so, rise dramatically.
I choose Linnea Aarflot from The Equestrian.net. She is a very accomplished Dressage rider and I love not only how she looks on a horse, but how capable she is. I channeled my inner Linnea and told myself to calm down, I had done this a thousand times before and I’m capable.
If you are going to use this step, you should also incorporate visualization. Take your time and really think about how that rider looks on their horse and how they get their horse to perform physically. Take at least 3-5 minutes to yourself and visualize their traits of how well they know their horse. Of course, you can go much further and really look into their training aids and what their daily training consists of. A good starting point is to gain their confidence and make it yours.
3 SEE YOUR HORSE AS YOUR TRUE PARTNER
You are not riding your enemy, you are working with your partner. There is a BIG difference in how you feel internally when you say your horse is your PARTNER vs I’m going to ride my horse. It implies that you are in it together, and you are. The bottom line is that the more comfortable and calm you are, the better you will ride because your horse will be calm.
Unless you have a horse that was deliberately trying to hurt you, chances are what happened to you was an accident. It was not a malicious action. You and your horse are a team, the best horse and riders ride as a TEAM, meaning they are counting on each other to come through.
If one of you doesn’t feel confident, neither of you will. An example of this happens when you are riding and your horse stops what they are doing and looks around at a perceived threat. You don’t know what they are looking at, but you do know that their internal alarm systems are much better and faster than ours are. At this point, most of us stop and look around to try and figure out what is going on with our horse. That is a classic and common example of one part of the team breaking away from the other team mate.
You can feel the separation and you can also tell when you are both synced up. Know that your horse is on your side and that to perform well, you need to build and nurture that relationship. Together. You are a team and if you don’t feel like you’re a team, that is something you need to work diligently on building until you ARE a team.
These three steps are just the beginning of a long laundry list of exercises you can do when working on getting more confident in the saddle. Some of them you can do in your own head and some are with your horse. The bottom line is that it takes time to get over an accident. Don’t try to forget it, that won’t work. Don’t blame yourself because accidents do happen, especially with horses. Give yourself as much time as you need and if you can’t figure out how to move forward on your own, get professional help from a Trainer and/or Therapist.