Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fear Strategies

Recently I have read a great deal of interesting things about fear in relation to riding horses. Over at NuzzlingMuzzles' blog (see links to the left) you may find a great series of posts about experiencing and responding to a riding injury, and what it leaves behind. This blog's author invited folks to share their strategies for dealing with fear, and I have a few that work for me. Maybe they will help someone else too.

My off-track thoroughbred and I scared each other to death for 2 solid years, mostly because of my incompetence and his inexperience in normal riding situations. But even though after 7 years I now know him very well and am a better rider, he remains a reactive horse. As he advances in dressage and becomes very supple and fit, this makes him pretty to watch because it gives him that spark. But it triggers in me memories of falls and failures that set us up for more of the same.

In the above photo you see him in his favorite setting, galloping around a course of jumps. You also see how strong he is and full of himself. I psyche myself with the following tricks:

1. "Horse, we are in this together." Every time I get on his back, I say this to myself; it continues: "Wherever you goest, I am goesting right along with you and I am NOT getting off before I am ready." I had noticed I had a certain defeatist attitude when he spooked or offered to gallop; I would curl forward and start to separate from him. So this little self-hypnosis plugs me in and tells me I am on for the duration.

2. Bucking straps are a grand invention. I have some sort of grab strap on every saddle and during our walkaround warmup I remind myself where it is without looking, just to get the body memory of reaching for it back activated. I also grab it and pull a few times, so he doesn't associate that movement with an 'episode'.

3. "We are not done yet." To keep on working even when I've had an unsettling episode was hard for me to learn, but so good for him. Right through a spook, right past the looky spot, right back to trot after an uninvited gallop-offer, keeping on with the work as smoothly as possible helped him calm himself.

He may never be a steady-Eddy but I am so much more steady myself that it matters less. What helped me the most was good riding lessons with a competent instructor who put me and SpeedyBoy on the longe line for what felt like forever. She took away my stirrups, she took away my reins, it made me sore as all getout. It has paid off so well, I recommend it for anybody who ever felt unsteady on a reactive horse.


Callie said...

Very nice post. It's one thing hearing about disasters and reading them, but quite another to read real solutions and methods. Thank-you!

Eamon said...

I ride a lot.

I think that it is crucial to be relaxed when riding a horse. But at same time always to be on your guard (accidents can happen in foolish circumstances). But never to let the horse feel the anxiety. And the most important part of one's body is the inside of one's legs. Just grip tight there (but at same time going with flow of horse).

sue said...

Oh I "hate" those longe lessons!!! but you are right, they are so helpful with balance and confidence!!!!!

3pennyjane said...

Henry Taylor's poem "Riding Lessons" comes to mind:
"...she came down hard, humped
her back, swallowed her neck,
and threw her rider as you'd
throw a rock. He rose, brushed
his pants and caught his breath,
and said, 'See that's the way
to do it. When you see
they're gonna throw you, get off.'"

I like the determination in thinking that you and the horse are in it together. It suggests an absence of fear or anticipation, just an intention to make it through. Useful in more than just riding!