Normally, I’m a confident rider. Maybe a bit timid at first, but confident. I have been thrown in a field by my Off-The-Track Thoroughbred, I have fallen with a horse on trail, I’ve fallen off during a jump, and I’m no stranger to the mighty green horse. I do have one fear though – rearing. Read more about my first time crying on horseback and how I’m overcoming my confidence being shaken.
The first time I came off a horse was the first time I rode Luzia, my OTTB, in an open field. She cantered and I just shrugged it off. She has a nice canter, so I’ll just let her have this moment of freedom. She tripped, did a little buck, and I went flying. My first thought was “please, do not step on me” and “thank goodness I’m wearing a helmet”. Luzia ran off without me and I met her back at her pen. I climbed back on, we did some trotting and cantering in her pen (even a small jump), and I got off. A few hours later, I found out that I tore a muscle in my shoulder. While it was painful and a little scary, I was OK. I was able to get back on her a few days later and continue our training. My confidence was fully intact.
The next time I came off a horse was on trail. While going around a turn, I leaned with the horse. That combined with a slick surface was enough for the horse to slip and for us both to slide across the ground. The knees on my breeches were torn off and the horse had a scrape on her shoulder (oh man, I felt horrible about that). It was a 5-mile ride back to the trailer and the horse was otherwise fine…so I climbed on and we rode back to the trailer. I couldn’t ride for a couple weeks after that one. My knees were so bruised that I couldn’t even wear pants because the pressure was too painful. When I could finally wear pants, I was back on a horse. I just couldn’t stay away from being on the back of such an amazing creature.
(above, some of the initial swelling on one of my knees after getting cleaned up…way before the bruising showed up)
A few weeks ago, I encountered something that finally shook my confidence and made me doubt my abilities as a ride. I didn’t even get hurt.
After about a two month hiatus from riding my horses (due to moving and work), I decided to work with Preacher, my Arabian (shown above). I was not in the right frame of mind. On trail, Preacher has done a couple small rears. I hate rears. My number one fear is riding a horse that rears and goes backwards. That morning, I found myself praying “Please, do not rear today. I just can’t handle it…I just want a nice little ride.” I got on Preacher and he just stood there. Whew. He was calm. We walked forward a little bit. Stopped. Asked for a turn on the forehand. BAM! He reared up. He reared and it felt like we were there forever. It was the biggest rear I had ever been on. Time seemed to slow as I tried to think about whether or not I should jump off. I started to wiggle my feet in preparation to get off, but then opted not to. He came back down and just stood there. I felt tears start to stream down my face. I was shaking. I saw John walk outside and I called out to him through my sobs.
John came over and as soon as he saw that I was sobbing and hunched over, unable to move, he came closer and asked if I needed him to hold the reins while I dismounted. I shook my head and said no…if I got off now, rearing would become an even bigger habit. John nodded, stepped back, and I made Preacher walk forward. Through my tears, I made Preacher walk around the arena. I straightened my back and every time he stopped, I urged him forward. I cringed each time it felt like he was going to rear. For about 10 minutes, we rode around. I dismounted, untacked Preacher, and we worked on lunging. Then I let him go and I went inside…feeling sorry for myself and thoroughly afraid.
The next day, I had Preacher checked for any soreness and he was fine. So, I knew that he wasn’t reacting out of pain. And then…I avoided him. I went outside, fed him, gave him a pet, and then worked with Luzia. While Luzia is still a bit crazy, I knew her quirks. I knew that she would instantly try to walk off when I got on or that she would attempt to canter away for the first five minute. I also knew how to correct it and I knew that after the first 20 minutes of mess, we would have a great ride. When it came to Preacher, I didn’t know what to do. I had never dealt with so much rearing and I was seriously afraid. I would lunge him still, but just the idea of getting on made me cower.
So, I called up my good friend and horse trainer, Hope at Urban Acres. I told her what happened and she arranged to come over and help me. Our first lesson revolved around figuring the problem out. Hope was quickly able to identify that Preacher simply didn’t want to work. He had been on vacation for two months and wanted that to continue. He was disrespectful, pushy, and uncooperative. She showed me some new things to add to our lunging routine and after the first hour, she decided it was time to saddle. I was so relieved when SHE got on him.
Preacher tried to throw a fit and tried to rear, but Hope simply yelled “NO” and Preached backed down. They walked and trotted around the arena several time, then Hope asked me a question….”Do you want to get on?”…I wanted to say no so badly. I wanted to just go back inside, sit on the couch, and wonder what was on Nextflix. Instead, I said “sure”. I grinned awkwardly, got onto my mounting bucket, put my foot in the stirrup and then I heard Hope say “you might want to grab your reins”. I laughed quietly, grabbed my reins, and climbed on. I was stiff in the saddle. During the ride, Hope had to keep reminding me to relax my legs, don’t lean forward, grab mane if I needed, and to just keep going forward. When she finally said I could get off, I was relieved. My mouth was dry and I still felt that scared feeling. I waved at Hope as she drove away and I knew that I needed to get that confidence back. I scheduled another lesson with Hope for the next week and part of me dreaded it.
Over the next few days, we did a LOT of groundwork. I knew I needed to restart our relationship and get back some of that respect. I started getting some confidence back…when I finally thought I would get on him, I couldn’t. Not as much because of fear, but because I had caught a cold. My stomach ached and I was having the worst migraines ever. Physical pain prevented riding and so that fear couldn’t be overcome.
Today was our riding lesson with Hope. He did superb on the lungeline, so we were able to get him saddle and ready to go quickly. I felt fear again. What if he reared? What if I fell off? What if something goes wrong? I worried about all these things before even giving Preacher a chance to do well.
I got on. I GOT ON….and we walked. We had a few minor arguments (Preacher wanted to go by the gate and I wanted to go the opposite direction) and at first, I was scared (again). I kept pulling his nose the other way and he started to throw his head. I could hear Hope urging me to stick with it and make him go where I wanted. And then something beautiful happened. He walked away from the gate and we did what I wanted.
Next came trotting. Last time I trotted with Preacher, I kept one hand on his mane. I was so terrified and off balance that I couldn’t stop hanging on. Today, I could finally start feeling my confidence rise up. At one point, Preacher threw a little fit during our trot, I grabbed mane, and kept urging him forward. No rear. No buck. We just trotted forward. I found it easier to keep up our trotting, I was able to sit up, I didn’t feel the need to hang onto his mane, and for once in the last two months, I was having a fun time riding my horse.
I feel like Preacher and I finally bonded today. We were a team working together instead of a bickering couple headed towards a break up. I am still nervous about riding him, but I’m also regaining the confidence that I had lost so quickly. I feel good about myself and my horse again. I can actually see a future for us like I had before “the incident”. While I am somewhat ashamed that I cried on horseback, I’m also happy that I was able to overcome my greatest horseback riding fear. Horseback riding started as a journey in overcoming some of my fears and it continues to make me into a stronger and more courageous person. Horseback riding has made me a different person and I am so thankful for it. Crying on horseback may have been the best thing in making me a better rider.