Friday, March 04, 2011

Riding Out Of Your Mind

Thoughts on a Cold Morning

It may warm up enough to ride today. If the ground thaws a bit, I might take Chance out for a trail ride.  I will not ride Tucker as he is not 100% barefoot, although I could try the new boots I bought him.  I guess the day will tell.  I have to go get some feed and a new tire for my wheelbarrow.  I have one of those solid tires that needs no air, but something has broken in the axle and I am not sure it can be repaired.  The easier, though more expensive alternative is a replacement--if I can get one.

But back to the heading.  Some of my fellow bloggers have been writing about fear and riding concerns and it occurred to me that we often underestimate the power of our minds when we ride.  And I'm not talking about the thought process of riding technique, but rather our emotions. In particular, our fears or doubts play a strong role in our riding/training success.  If we do not believe we can do it, neither do our horses.

I once evented, and competed in hunter/jumper.  My horse was phenomenal.  I'd trained him myself under the guidance of an exceptional riding instructor who focused on a good solid foundation of basic gymnastic work.  I have bags of championship ribbons up in my attic to attest to our success.  I showed amateur owner hunter and eventing up to training level--where the jumps were 3'6"-3'9" at the time. My horse was a point and jump boy who'd tackle anything I'd set my mind to.

And that's the rub.  I remember two specific cases where things went wrong.

The first was a jumper competition. I was in the green division, but since the classes were small, they combined us with the open competitors. My fences were smaller but we kept jumping off against each other.  Finally, the class was down to two riders--one open jumper and my horse and I.  At that point, they started dropping fences out of the course, and raising the heights for the jumpoffs, no longer giving me the green horse height advantage.  It was quickly becoming a puissance.  Finally, the course ended up with only two fences--one good sized oxer and the wall, a monster that was probably over five feet, considering that the guys who put up the blocks had to lift them over their heads to set them in place.

I was ready to concede the class, but my friends kept telling me to go for it.  To this day, I have absolutely no doubt whatsover that my Russell could have cleared that wall, as I'd seen him jump things that big before, and in a lesson, with a set up fence, I'd even jumped that high.  But as I entered the arena, my heart was in my throat, and I was just plain scared.  We approached the oxer perfectly, and took off.  At the last second, Russell's hind hoof hit the rail and knocked it down.  I pulled up....class over, as far as I was concerned.  The crowd groaned.  Russell was a beautifully, relaxed, controlled jumper who made it all look pretty and easy. I have a feeling a lot of people were rooting for me and wanted to see us tackle that wall. My heart wasn't in it. And Russell--who hated to hit fences and normally would do everything in his power to jump clean knew it.  My competitor, aboard a wild, rip around the course, head in the air mount, soared over the oxer and then crashed the wall, winning the class with one more clear fence than I'd had.  If I'd gotten over that wall, we would have tied.

Later my friends accused me of deliberately knocking down the oxer. I didn't. At least my conscious mind didn't.  But I've always had the suspicion that Russell knew I didn't want to make it to that wall, so he made the choice to save me from my fear.

My second vivid memory is of my last training level event.  I took a fall early on over a drop fence, but was fine.  (They used to let you continue the course after a fall--no more.)  A few jumps later, there was a trakehner--a telephone pole over a ditch.  This was a bit of a nasty obstacle as far as I was concerned because there was no visible ground line so it was hard to tell where to take off.  Again, going nicely forward cross country, it shouldn't matter too much, but as we approached, I questioned what to do.  Russell checked his pace, asking for guidance. I didn't have any.  He slowed to a trot, then a walk, and finally stepped down into the ditch and bumped his chin on the telephone pole.  I backed him out, tried again and nearly had the same result.  At that point, I told the fence judge I was done with that fence and she let me go around to finish the course. (Another thing they no longer allow in eventing.)  There were some other quite challenging fences which included a wicked coffin combination which we took with absolutely stunning perfection, but that one jump had taught me a serious lesson.  As good as I knew Russell was, if my heart wasn't in it and my mind wasn't ready to get us over a fence, we would be in trouble.  I'd either have to throw all my trust into him, or we weren't going to make it safely around.

Russell never stopped go forward at that fence. Even when he clonked his chin, he was ready to try again.  I just didn't know how to tell him to gallop up and over that darn thing.  That was my last event at that level.  I competed once more at a lower level just to finish my eventing career on a successful run, but then I moved on to dressage, knowing full well I didn't have the courage to go cross country any more.

Neither incident had anything to do with physical ability.  Both Russell and I were perfectly capable of getting over both those jumps.  It was my doubts, my fears, and my indecision riding those days.


  1. I pretty sure you have to be out of your mind to ride, anyway! *G*

    Fear is a powerful thing. I've found the best way to combat it is with experience and knowledge. I also don't jump anything higher than a crossrail!

  2. i don't jump ... and that's why, jean...

    plus, i hate when a horse pulls you into them... thought I'd sorted it with queenie, ha some excellent lessons, but it all went pear shaped the first baby competition we were going to try as i was terrified and she was excited and pulling(she had been placed affiliated at novice...)

  3. Our Dear Pat Parelli says that you cannot expect your horse to be braver than you are ^-^

    It is what so many people have problem with, they want their horse to take responsibility for them.
    But they won't.

    I have a couple of strategies for controlling my fear, it is mainly approach and retreat, to take control over my horse and therefore over my fear.

  4. I give you and Russell a lot of credit for even competing in eventing.Truthfully, it always scared me a little bit. I stuck to equitation and hunters mostly. It's amazing that our horses and your Russell in particular could tell when your heart wasn't in it and acted accordingly to help you through it. What an amazing horse he must have been, you must miss him terribly. I wonder if you'd be interested in doing something with your ribbons, I saw a few sites where people sew them into a quilt or a wall hanging. Bet you could cover a huge bed!

    In my opinion only I think that most horses are up to the challenge with the proper basic training. I do think that it's easy to defeat ourselves with our own mindset about what could go wrong or the fear of a fall etc.and we transmit this to our horses.

    By the way I think that one competition you were in until the end doesn't sound the least bit fair to you or your horse.