An Addict Gets Her Fix

Last week I sat in the saddle for the first time in over a month. As I drove home afterwards, I realized that a huge weight had been lifted on my chest. The juxtaposition of my sudden post-ride elation with the feelings I’d had during my non-riding month was enlightening: I’d been experiencing withdrawal.

I’ve long known that time away from riding is detrimental to my mental health, discovered in the non-horsey period of my life between selling Ivan and buying Foster. My emotions went haywire, and there was little the husband or anyone else could do to pick up the pieces. What I didn’t realize this time is that these symptoms would kick in after a minor two weeks. For the first couple weeks post-surgery I handled it; I had the worries of bandaging and talking to vets and insurance and the start of a huge new house project to keep me busy. But from there on out, the grumpiness built and I felt downright surly in general.

After begging asking others at the barn if needed any rides on their horses, I was able to get on Bob, an older Selle Francais gelding that is reinventing himself as a dressage superstar.

Antonia and Bob

Bob is quite a different ride that Foster, and not without his own quirks, and his owner A has been more than gracious in feeding my addiction allowing me some time on him. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Bob much better and started to figure out a couple of his buttons in our last ride, and while I’m still a bit loose in the saddle (those core muscles disappeared quickly!) with each ride I feel my sea legs returning. Though Foster is incredibly jealous of my time with Bob, and constantly nickers and calls to me as I tack up and groom the other gelding, I hope my time riding will allow for an easier transition once Foster himself is ready to get back to work.

Until then, I’ll be climbing aboard Bob and any other horse I’m allowed- my brain and my poor husband appreciate it.

Faith or Fear

Not too long ago, I was at a wedding and got into a conversation with a fellow guest. At first the conversation was general, but eventually it moved towards more spiritual topics, and he made the comment, “We [humans] have two choices- to live in faith or to live in fear. While one exists the other must naturally subside.”

That theme, faith or fear, has been resonating with me ever since.

See, I am not a naturally brave person. I’m a somewhat anxious person, who generally gets annoyed by said anxiousness and decides to overcome it. Like by being afraid of public speaking, I decided to try out (and sing) the National Anthem for a local baseball team. Or by being naturally shy, get a job that literally demanded I walk up to random strangers. Or you know, ride cross country.

I guess it’s worth noting my longtime/alltime favorite Bible verse also deals with this theme, Joshua 1:9.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.

Besides dealing with the common (or not) fears of real life, I think about this verse a lot when dealing with horses. As any horseperson knows, getting hurt around horses is not a matter of if, but when. Coming back from those trials of physical or mental injury can be more than tough, and this is where the idea of choosing faith or fear comes into play.

When I was 5 years old, I was leading my fluffy shetland pony Gomez back to his field, with my dad walking alongside. Apparently I hadn’t been walking as quickly as Gomez preferred, so (and the details are fuzzy) he kicked me in the stomach and ran off to his pasture.

For years after that, while I still loved horses, I was a very unconfident rider who was always afraid that the horse would take matters into his own hands. It wasn’t until much, much later that I learned to trust a horse and really let go, have fun. Now looking back on all those years of being scared, I’m sad for the moments and the training that I missed out on for having been too timid.

This in itself is what led me to eventing. The pursuit of a sport so dangerous, but so rewarding for its connection to the horse and being so closely tied to such physical prowess was the absolute opposite of anything I would have done before, but I had to give it a try. And each time I would enter that start box on cross country, I’d get scared. I’d pray. I would literally hope to God that we came through the finish flags unscathed. And then I’d start galloping, feeling the thrill of running across the country and the abilities of my horse leaping over the obstacles, and let the happiness take over.

Choosing faith over fear has meant to me, now that it’s been over 10 years since I started eventing, that my training should reflect that. I try and set myself up for being over prepared before entering a competition, so that the choice of faith comes a little more naturally since it has been a part of the process all along. It’s not a perfect process, and I have made mistakes along the way, or regressed and chosen fear, but then it’s all part of the journey.

And as long as I can, despite each inevitable trial, every setback, every down moment, I hope I will not lose site of choosing faith instead of fear.


Abstaining from Riding

Last week, I was obviously having a bit of a rough time of it all. The stress leading up to traveling with Foster to the vet on Thursday, and not knowing if I would make it there without breaking down (the car, not me), was especially a bit much to handle.

So as I drove out to the barn last Wednesday, frazzled and bitching on the phone to my oh-so-patient hubs, I knew I could not ride that day.

One of my biggest light bulb moments since I really took over the reins training my own horses is this: not every day is going to be a good day to ride. Not because of the horses, or the weather, or other excuses, but sometimes just because I’m mentally not able to. Recognizing those times and foregoing saddle time can be tricky and tough, but its important nonetheless.

Good boy

The reason for this, is that in my mind, if I’m not in the mindset to communicate effectively, then it is unfair to the horse to ask him to respond to muddled requests, and could lead to confusion in his training as a result. Even more so, if I bring my emotional baggage to the saddle, it is absolutely and unequivocally not okay to expect the horse to fix my problems, or in the worse case scenario, to take those emotional frustrations out on the horse.

Happy days, CHP, May 2014

Happy days, CHP, May 2014

In the past with Ivan, there were certain issues that we had that would make me just plain mad. Much of the time it had to do with him bulldozing through my aids at the canter, or using his incredible strength to drag me around the arena at the trot and refuse to transition. I’ll admit it, I cursed, a lot some days, but if ever I got to the point where I thought I wanted to beat the senseless creature silly, I would just get off. Get off, hand walk around the arena, and if I could collect my thoughts and find some zen, get back on. If zen could only be found in a good night’s sleep and a glass of Cabernet, that would have to be okay too. It doesn’t mean failure if we have to try again another day, it just means that day was not our day.

Ivan dressage

Thankfully Foster is much, much easier on my patience, even though we have had our fair share of rough patches. There’s been a couple rides over the years where work was either too frustrating, and it felt like a square peg in a round hole, and I’ve just given up and let Foster play couch while watching others go around, and resolved to try again tomorrow. I try to respect that he has bad days as well, because really, horses are not machines, and well, bad days happen. Having that level of respect for his training is to me, part of being a horsewoman.

Foster kisses

It doesn’t happen very often, but making those tough decisions comes with the territory of being an adult amateur. Balancing work life, life-life and horses comes with costs. And if you’re lucky, all it takes is waiting until the right time and getting that magic ride that will last you through the week.

Confident Riding

When I was 6 years old, I was kicked in the stomach by a rather naughty pony named Gomez who obviously thought I was holding him up on the way to his dinner. For a long time after, though I still loved horses, I became very anxious around them, particularly riding. It wasn’t until middle school that my family acquired a bombproof Haflinger that I gained confidence on, before moving on to the slightly more forward thinking Tanner, and finally, graduating to a ‘real’ horse and taking on eventing with Merry.

Merry going Novice @ The Fork

Merry going Novice @ The Fork

Even though my confidence in the saddle has come in leaps and bounds since the days of W-T-C, sometimes I find myself needing a good pep talk. Self doubt loves to creep in, especially when on on my own in the arena. All those what-if’s buzzing around can be distracting and worse case scenarios can easily start to haunt every other thought. As part of training my own horse, I am required to be a leader as well as a partner to him, and keeping confidence is something I am aware of all the time.

So this article on 5 Things Confident Riders Avoid was particularly interesting to me.

The areas I can improve directly relate to problems #1 and #5 in the article. I try hard to break the cycle of negative thinking, but it’s my greatest issue. This directly relates to my avoiding certain spooky situations. For instance, Foster likes to spook at horses or humans walking up the path to the outdoor arena. I’ve been guilty of allowing him to stop and watch them come up- instead, I should press on with our work. While I know as I’m doing it that it’s wrong, I haven’t made myself correct the behavior entirely.

Water jump 1


We talked recently about the rider’s mental game and how it leads to successful showing experiences. But being confident and focused on the positive can certainly apply to everyday riding too, especially when it comes to stepping out of your comfort zone.

What do you do to feel confident in the saddle? What are your fears and anxieties that you are currently trying to master?