Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fear in the Saddle

(see below to figure out why in the heck we need a little Copperhead Road in this post!)

Oregonsunshine wrote:

"I'm stuck at step 3. Can't seem to move forward from there. But, I think I'm my own worst enemy. I'm fine on the ground, not so fine on a horse's back. Do you mind addressing that a bit more, please?"

I will sure try!

I think that what you might need to focus on a little bit of Step 3- Define your fear and a little bit of Step 6- Set yourself up for success!

I suggest that because if you understand where you fear lies you can try to find a solution or a tool to help you face it. What specifically are you scared of? Are you scared that your horse is going to buck? rear? bolt? Are you scared that you are going to fall off? Break down your fear and understand specifically what it is you think is going to go wrong and then try to find a tool that can help you face it with greater confidence.

Tools don't always have to be straight forward like carrots sticks or a specific clinician's method....

Think outside the box!

If I were say...scared of getting bucked off, I'd ask myself, "How can I arm myself to deal with that possibility?"

I could go to a martial arts class and take tumbling lessons or take a few lessons with a vaulting club and practise falling off a dummy horse on to safety pads. People fall off of horses all the time without getting hurt! You can actually learn to do it really well! Knowing how to fall, tuck, roll and relax while falling will give you more confidence in the saddle because you will be prepared for the worst case scenario!

Maybe you could check out and see if there are any mechanical bulls in your area or set up a rope dummy practice bull and have someone help you with that. Learn how to ride out a buck. Make or buy a balance tool and practice with it for a half hour while watching TV.

(balance board)

The point is to set yourself up for success! Think outside the box and think of step 8- Time is on your side! Some of these ideas might seem like a stretch but why not take the initiative, get out there and arm yourself with as much ammunition as you can!

Riding horses requires balance, coordination, core strength, and overall physical strength as well. Working on the muscles and balance you need to ride, on the ground before you get in the saddle, will most certainly improve your confidence under saddle because it will make you feel strong!

I actually started doing Yoga (at home DVD) after I started riding again and found it made a big difference in how strong and balanced I felt under saddle.

Nothing will eliminate that fear but you can collect tools to help you feel that you can handle whatever comes your way.

You might also want to haul your butt back to Step 2- (I will not handle insane horses) and only ride horses that don't have a tendency to buck for a while.

When I started the transition from only working on the ground to riding I found that my confidence in the saddle had deteriorated partially from my fears of getting hurt and partially because I had been out of the saddle for so long that I didnt feel like I was going to be able to stay coordinated enough to ride effectively.

All too often we avoid doing what we are scared of for as long as possible and so when we finally face our fears we are ill equipped to deal with them. For me this meant I needed to go out and take lessons on a Steady Eddie schooling horse to regain my strength, coordination, balance, rhythm, feel, hands, set, legs, etc. etc. etc.!!!! I had lost it all! But I found them again on a big slow sorrel quarter horse gelding named Slyder. It took a lot of time on his back, a lot of frustrated tears and sore asses to get back to the point where I felt any confidence it all under saddle. I needed a horse like Slyder because I needed to focus on myself and what I was doing without the distraction of my horses problems. Once I was solid again, I could ride Shaunti and give him my full attention, knowing that my legs, hands and seat would take care of themselves.

I hope that gave you a few ideas. I think a lot of us get hung up on our own expectations of what we should be doing rather than just admitting our own limitations and working through the baby steps. I wanted to be able to just get on Shaunti and lope off and it really, deeply and profoundly bothered me that I didn't have the confidence to do that. I beat myself up for it many times. But I had to deal with what is (was). So I forced myself to set small goals, like just getting on and then getting off as many times as I needed until I felt comfortable with that. The funny thing is that most of the time, if I set my goal low, it didn't take me nearly as long to get through it than if I set big ones.... Like when I first started I'd get really nervous about the idea of getting on...so rather than force myself to get on and ride, I set my sights low and just mounting and dismount in the same motion... it was so simple I get off and think, "Wow, that was easy!" And so the next time I was able to hop on, sit there for a few minutes and get off and think, "Wow, that was easy!" ....but when I would set out to ride with some grandiose plan of how I was going to leave the arena for the first time and ride around the neighborhood, I'd get to the end of the driveway and think, "Holy crap! Holy Crap! I'm going to die! and I'd abandon ship and feel defeated rather than empowered!

That is not to say that you dont have to push! But give yourself a break, for goodness sake! Its just riding! It's suppose to be fun! No one is going to come out and beat you with a stick if you dont lope your horse or ride the neighborhood! Whenever I get stressed about all the things that I think I should be doing...I say to myself a very naughty and very vulgar expression that sets everything back into perspective.

F' the F'ing F'ers! F'it!
Sorry, Mom.....really....sorry.... but it's true! And it helps. I am a lady... most of the time.

Don't you think that we take ourselves just a wee bit to seriously sometimes!? Have fun and do what makes you happy! The rest will come in time.

(Little Goodbyes Shedaisy)

Oh...one more thing! Another trick I had that really, really helped me get in the right head set before stepping foot in the barn..... music! Find a CD that makes you feel really jacked up and ballsy! Something with an edge! Pushing through your fears is not place for Sarah McClochlan people! I nearly wore out my Steve Earl Copperhead Road CD for all the times I played it while sitting in my truck outside the barn. Kanye's "Gold Digger" too!


  1. You addressed her questions very well - and its ok to swear every once in a while.

  2. Good answer and suggestions. I keep thinking about doing yoga for balance. I think I don't have very good balance. Riding without stirups has actually helped, but obviously if bucking and bolting is an issue, that might not be the greatest idea for setting yourself up for success.

    And I think you are so right about music setting your mood. Nothing like some GnR and Metallica on the way out to the barn for an enthusiastic day of work :)

  3. Thanks Chelsi! While I know this, it's good to hear it from someone else. I don't worry about Casey bolting, because that would be too much work for his lazy self. He's recently had a bit of spring fever and has been crow hopping, but that's partially why he's with the trainer.

    I picked a trainer that reminds me of my sister. She's positive and encouraging. When I ride (depending on how my joints are doing), I ride one of her lesson horses. So far, we've only had one riding lesson but Casey and I have had a couple halter lessons on days when I'm too sore to ride.

    One good head injury from a car accident has left me rather a wreck, hasn't it?

    I just bought a stability ball, I love playing the balance games on wii fit, am just getting back into yoga (downward facing dog is great for building upper body strength!) and will hopefully be starting pilates (at home) soon.

    Thinks I'm specifically afraid of under saddle:
    -that my fibro will get the best of me and I'll get "stuck" and not be able to dismount. On the other hand, I'm also worried I'll have a muscle spasm and cue him to take off when that's not what I'm wanting. (Silly, because that would be too much like work for him- lazy boy!)
    -another head injury. I wear a helmet, which bugs the crap out of me and I don't want to wear it, but I do. I have to be a good example for my kids and I don't need another doozy of a concussion again, ever. Nor any other mild brain damage.

    I think you're right. I need to work on me a little more before I ride again.

  4. Wow. You have really thought this through. You have done your evaluation and then created a logical progression. This is interesting stuff.

  5. Oh my goodness I love Copperhead Road!! One of my favorites.

    And I just about have the same problem. And I think you adressed it well. I can ride my colt, but just in small circles, and then I get braver and make my circle bigger and bigger. Until I feel comfortable, I am riding my 7 year old's horse. Noghting better than on old Steady Eddie.

    My husband actually rode my colt yesterday after about a four month break, and my horse was an angel. But if I had gotten on.....haa....I could only imagie what would have happened.

  6. So, I was thinking about this some more and talked to my best friend of many years, also a horse girl. We broke it down like this:

    Am I afraid of a buck? With Casey, no. He might spook and crow hop, but he hasn't bucked. While not out of the realm of possibility, it's pretty unlikely.

    Am I afraid of a rear? No, not with Casey.

    A bolt? Um... that's too much like work according to Casey.

    Truthfully, I am not afraid of Casey. Not at all. But the Steady Eddie lesson horses? Maybe some. More, I'm really afraid of another head injury. I wear my helmet, but it annoys me. I don't like my helmet. So maybe the answer is a new helmet?

  7. Excellent post, as always. Some nice visuals and images thrown in, along with some music, too.
    Great answers and advice also.

    I'm going to afraid of my horse doing another sideways teleportation/jiggy motion. I want to be able to ride it out and stay seated.

    I would think the balance board would be helpful as well as maybe riding one of those electric bucking bull/bronco rides. And of course working on my core and legs to build up strength again like you mentioned.

    I've got to go back now to read your previous post to get caught up.

    Oh...and Happy Love Day, too.


  8. Hmmm. I have no idea why that post of mine above showed up as an Anonymous post. Weird!!

    But hey...that's from me, ok. :)


  9. This is a phase of fear with horses that I have learned to do, but was never quite sure how to explain it to other people. Awesome job! I used to call it The Worst Case Scenario Game. I don't want to ride my horse, why? Because I'm scared she'll bolt. Well, so what if she does? What's the worst case scenario? She bolts, and I either fall off or she eventually has to stop...that doesn't sound so bad. Okay, let's go! And then, of course, once you've ridden out one of your worst fears, you gain a little more confidence, assuming you lived to tell about it!