Over the past few months, I’ve started but never completed my post on the fear I was working to overcome in my riding habit. This February I fell off in a competition, and while the actual fall wasn’t super painful, it was the catalyst to months of torment when I faced going back on cross-country. Within a few weeks, I fell off a training horse, was bucked off a young horse that cracked my helmet, (both of which unrelated to cross-coountry) but instilling the dangers of this habit, and then on the news a peer competing at the same level was not so lucky as I was. She didn’t come back from the startbox.
I’ve never been a “fearful” rider. I won’t ride the same horses that I use to, and I definitely deal with anxiety before and during competition, but in no form have I been “scared” of the fences, at least until this Spring. After those scary weeks, I was filled with visions of “rotational falls,” the image of a horse catching it’s leg over a fence, and myself and my horse falling, every time I approached a solid obstacle.
It’s scary, not just to be scared, but to face the reality that I’ve had these dreams for years and years to compete at the top level of the sport, but here I am, scared to do it! It was frustrating, just to mentally feel like I was taking 10 steps back, not because of a lame horse or physical roadblock, but because I had nightmares of not returning when I left the startbox.
After my first fall, I called one of my mentors and coaches to assess what was going on and booked as many lessons as I could with my home coach.(In-between quarantine) I downloaded the book, “Chop Wood, Carry Water,” to try and figure out how to surpass my mental barriers, and I moved my horse back down a level so that I could safely navigate some more courses and hopefully renew my confidence. Quarantine, definitely placed a halt to the competitions but it did give me more time to book as many lessons as I could afford.
I took my horse up to Virginia to work with one of my coaches again, and decided I would strictly jump with my home coach rather than jump school alone. Every time the barn went cross-country or my horse jumped a fence, I had my coach with me and got my horse out to every schooling opportunity. I don’t want to be a rider who relies on her trainer for each move, but I’m a huge fan of surrounding yourself with the most experienced people.
After another run at the level below in Virginia, I ran my horse back up at the intermediate level. When we, (my horse and I, still under my coach’s supervision) schooled the week before, I still had those few nightmarish thoughts, BUT I was given a plan. All the lessons before and consistent insight gave my x,y,z steps on how to position myself and my horse. When I ran out of the start box the next week, those tools which were now just at the top of my box, were right there. Rather than second guessing, I had a plan, and after completing fence after fences out of stride, and well, the fears slipped away, and the fun and enjoyment of the course came back.
A few weeks later, we ran again, this time, from the startbox, the tools were there again and the enjoyment as soon as the volunteer said go. (Still anxious, but not fearful. Still working on that)
It’s such a wave of relief to feel like I’ve stifled those fears again, and am walking courses excited to see big and complex questions. I feel better in my ability and in my horse.
That being said, my wallet is empty. I’m going to venmo my coach next week after our jump lesson tomorrow.
I think, as a rider, especially one paying their own way, it’s so tempting to bypass working on the monotonous exercises and booking those pricey training sessions, because you’re just so eager to show. When you’re scrimping for just one show every few weeks or months that the 45-minute lesson over cavalettis or gymnastics isn’t your highest priority. Unfortunately for me, my luck took a turn for the worst when after strategically spreading out those lessons , I got out on course unprepared. My luck only held out enough, that I was able to walk home with my horse. But, I had to take a few steps backwards.
This sport is dangerous, and your partner can make their own decisions. But, surrounding myself with the very best trainers, consistently training, and gaining all of those tools sets you up for success so you’re not guessing the right distance or balance that massive table that doesn’t fall down.