Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dealing with fear

Last week, I started off typing a post about how if I'm being honest with myself, arena work scares me on Fetti.  I used to jump things with at least a reasonable amount of confidence.  Walk trot canter in the arena?  No problem.  Now, I avoid even wandering aimlessly around the arena if I'm riding her, though I'll do it fearlessly on other horses.

About a month after I started leasing her, we were turning away from the water pump when it went on.  She flew around the rest of the turn, likely threw in a buck, and bolted for the other end of the arena.  I didn't stick the rest of the turn.  It was mortifying - here I was, new to the barn, and my horse just ran loose in the crowded arena!  I picked myself up, retrieved the horse, and got back on.  We did a bit of walk/trot work before I hopped off, sore, bruised, and a bit scraped up.  We quit working in that end of the arena.

She gets rushy and feels bolt-like after jumps, too, even when she's just going briskly.  I quit jumping her much, or at least not very high and not very often.  (Cross-country jumps, by the way? Totally fine.  It's close enough to being on a trail that I know where she's going next.)

Honestly, a big part of the reason we ended up doing endurance is that she doesn't scare me the same way on the trail.  Actually, if I'm being honest with myself, a second reason: I don't feel like I'm terrible at it and getting nowhere.  It's easy to allow lower standards for myself because Fetti's an older horse (well, sort of!), an off-breed, and we're both new to it.  Basically, it's okay if we fail at endurance, but if we fail at hunters or English stuff, that feels very not okay, so it's easier to just not try it at all.  [Thought process not actually recommended, by the way.]

I'm not going to judge anyone else for what they choose to do or not do with their horse, for whatever reasons.  I will judge me, though, and I can say this: it feels ridiculous to have a well-trained English horse who can jump and enjoys jumping.. and be too afraid to ride her in the arena despite being a former hunter rider.  Reading through Cob Jockey's archives reminded me that I really do miss some of that.

I went to the barn Thursday with the intention of a 4-6 mile trail ride, a break for lunch or errands, and an arena work with some riding over poles.  The plan was to call a local trainer for help with our canter - both transitioning into the canter and my atrocious seat at the canter.  It turned out that I saw her at the barn, mentioned lesson scheduling, and committed to a lesson two hours later.

The anxiety kicked in almost immediately.  What the hell did I think I was doing, scheduling an arena lesson to work on our canter departs?  Our canter is awful, I'm a terrible rider, y'all know the drill.  Off we went on a trail ride to work out the kinks (did I mention she hadn't been worked since Sunday?), back to the arena to hang out and calm nerves.

No real effort required!
Trainer W started by longing Fetti over some barrels to check in with where her brain was.  She would have had me jump them, but that sounded utterly terrifying and I opted out.  Confetti thought the jumps were kinda boring, but politely trot/cantered it a few times anyway.

Once I was on, the entire lesson was in a four-leaf clover type pattern.  Trot the straight line (pole on one side, trot straight, pole on the other), right-hand quarter turn around the circle, trot the straight line perpendicular to the first one, right-hand quarter turn around the circle, trot the straight line.. etc.  Always turn the same direction in a quarter-turn and then ride a straight line, repeat.  The idea was to ask for engagement in the hind end and get her stepping under herself.

Reasonable trot.

Within fifteen minutes, we were getting solid canter departs and even keeping the canter.  Other direction, same thing.  With perhaps ten minutes left in the lesson, I commented that we might as well try jumping too. Trainer offered to set one up along a separate line.  I clarified: no, on the pattern, just replace one of the poles with a low jump.  Why not address all my anxieties in the same lesson?

So we did!
A real jumping effort!

We took a long spot once; I felt her reaching and slipped her the reins to figure it out, brought her back, cantered around the corner.  No bolt.  No fear.  Huh, this jumping thing is kind of fun again.

My position at the canter is still pretty awful.  We didn't address that.  She's not a dressage trainer or a jump trainer, and I'm okay with that!  Confetti and I both know *how* to jump, and I just needed someone to give us a positive, confidence-building lesson.  We can deal with my form in a few weeks, or I can call my usual trainer for a canter lesson, or I can keep working on that on the trail.. or maybe even in the arena.

Possibly the first non-ride photo ever where I see myself as an endurance rider.

Looking at - no, past! - the jump.

Position needs work, but horse is honest and it wasn't scary!

Stretchy walk, tired pony.

Speaking of CobJockey, she's running a contest that y'all should check out - gift certificates are always good!


  1. Bravo! Confronting fears like that in a closed in space is TOUGH. Q can get the SAME way in an arena. I think I feed on it by being nervous, too. I don't know what it is about closed spaces and fearful points within them, but it just seems worse. Perhaps because neither of us think we can truly "escape" the scary thing?

    Fetti looks amazing, and you look great, too! Don't be so hard on yourself! Getting out there and confronting that fear is huge. =)

  2. I'm so impressed that you are that honest with yourself. It is never easy but it sounds like you are taking steps to do what you want and that is amazing. Posting this takes guts, thank you so much for sharing :)