Sunday, April 12, 2009

On Fear

Ok, I will admit it. I got The Fear when Dixie bolted around with me Wednesday. Kids and young adults, who bounce better than us old farts, probably don't "get" this, but those of you who are 30+ know what I'm talking about. That visceral terror that makes your muscles lock up. The kind of stupid adrenaline-fear that brings tears to your eyes, even if you're not actually scared enough to cry.

I am so mad about it, too. I remember like 4 or 5 months ago when I had last beaten The Fear - I was really hoping it was gone for good, that I'd just be normally cautious about my velocity and trajectory re: the ground. Maybe you never beat it. Maybe it's always lurking and you've just got to perpetually fight it. That's ok, too, I suppose.

My old coping mechanism was to just ride Champ. Scared of Silky? Poppy? Dixie? Any random horse? Ride Champ. Scared of school, life, relationships? Ride Champ. I felt as safe on him as I ever feel, and just rolling down the trail on him got my body comfortable with the motions of a horse again. He was awesome in a way that no other horse I've met is awesome. I hope he wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime horse, but maybe he was. Sigh.

So there's no Champ, just Dixie, who really is a sweet girl most of the time. I have to deal with The Fear all on my own. At least I know I can do it, which is a strength many people don't have - I know so many people who "rode a horse one time but I fell off and I'm never getting back on one." I am actually a passable rider now. I intellectually know the right things to do, and my body even does them most of the time.

Anyway. Friday I stayed home. I don't ride seven days a week; Friday was my day off. Saturday I went out knowing I needed to get back on Dixie. I even took videos for yall!

First I wanted to free lunge her again so she'd do the lovely floaty trot thing. Of course she didn't cooperate, but this is still cute. Just trust me that earlier this week she was even more extended and more snorty and cantered a lot too. (Also no laughing at my axe-cent!)

Free trotting in the arena from Funder on Vimeo.

So I tacked her up, filled up my pockets with treats, and started free-shaping nice mounting behavior. I cunningly decided to use her natural horsey one-sidedness to my advantage. She gets nervous about people on her near side mounting, so I started over on her off side. I stood by her off side stirrup, patiently following her around as she backed up and sidestepped, til she stopped, then c/t. After she figured out that's what I wanted, I went and stood on a mounting block. She very quickly figured out that I was only going to give treats when she stood lined up to the block. I cannot believe how easy it was, I really can't.

I got on and froze. So I treated her, got off, calmed down, and did it again. And again, and again, til I didn't feel so spooked about it. She was really absolutely stellar.

Then I untacked her and let her roam around the arena again. I was sitting on the mounting block, holding the camera, when she decided to flop down and roll about 5' away!

Dixie rolling in the arena from Funder on Vimeo.

Doesn't she look happy? And GROSS - man, that arena sand stinks!

Andrea, don't ever get a grey or a paint. You'd have a heart attack.
You sure the black thing isn't edible?!

Today I went back, mounted/dismounted a couple times, then rode around. Well, it's more like I sat on her back while she walked around. I just held the reins near the buckle and concentrated on how my body felt, how my legs wrap around her and my spine moves with her body.

Tomorrow we'll actually work a little, I think.


  1. From the rolling video, it looks like she would really enjoy under-jaw scritches!

    I'm glad you were able to take the small steps you needed to work through you fear (just the same as DIXIE needs time to work through hers!). I had had that one incident with Maddie a year and a half ago, and am really just getting past it (not to the point of forgetting she's green-green, just to realizing she doesn't mean to hurt--or even scare--me).

    The fear that we over 30's have (and I'm nearly twice that youthful figure) is actually the wisdom of knowing our limits, and those of our slowly deteriorating bodies. ;-D I have responsibilities and commitments to keep, and need to stay in one piece to do so. The thrills of speed and recklessness have never really appealed to me, but even less so, the older I get.

    Enjoy Dixie at the pace that BOTH of you can appreciate!

  2. Oh you are so valid there dearie! I think that going at a normal pace for you both is taking it slow and not worrin' about it! Have some fun and allow time to pass without being pressed for it to accomplish all goals . I am learning this as well...The day holds it's own worries for us to add them into it as well!
    She had me laughin it up with her sitting to ride part!!!

  3. I know that fear all too well, unfortunately. You are doing it exactly right, and that is the only way I have overcome it. Well, am overcoming it. We walk, a lot of walking. I haven't even trotted at home yet, though I will trot on a lesson horse. I haven't cantered since, hmmmm, well really since I was a kid. Except for the occasional 3 or 4 strides that I could convince Turbo into giving me before he went back to his default gorgious jog that you could sit for miles.

    Once upon a time, I got that heart beating, s haking, sweating just taking a horse out of the paddock, without even getting on. So that's all I did. Took them out, hand-grazed, and put them away. We both lived, so we did it again. now we are walking around with both sides of the roundpen wide open to the scary old world.

    We'll all get there, it just takes time and wet saddle blankets.

  4. In the past 10 yrs, I've gone through some fear issues -- both reasonable & unreasonable. Someday I'll blog about them all. Most of the time now, my fears are reasonable, but I feel like I am on the edge & something could happen to bring the unwelcome fear back.

    I'm experiencing that a little bit with my mare -- my dream horse -- the one I blog about, my "soul horse". I had her to the trainer for 30 days spring tune-up and this time she has returned with attitude. Nothing against the trainer - I just think the bar was maybe raised & my mare didn't like it. And I'm finding myself hesitant to push her through some of the attitude she is showing because of her reaction. I feel like I lost my best friend. I'll blog about it soon, but your blog just made me want to say "I feel pain."

    Secondly, I know - enough lecture about the helmet, but that soft arena dirt isn't going to help you without the helmet. My worst head dive off a horse was in an arena and I truly believe my helmet saved it for me! It happened in September and I still feel a small bump in my leg where it hit & it hit second. My head hit first.

    Finally, Dixie has some big shoes to fill -- sounds like Champ was an awesome horse. It's great you have her to focus on right now. But give yourself time, too. :)

  5. LOVED that rolling video!! What a ham!
    Everybody gets The Fear, my reckless abandon self included. Sometimes I find myself avoiding doing things that I know have set her off in the past... notice how we haven't revisited the lunging issue since the really bad incident some months ago. I haven't even put her on a lunge line at all. When I had my first horse Quincy who fell with me A LOT (note: A LOT) when we jumped (and as a side note, as a dumb kid it never occured to me that when the vet cleared a post-EPM horse to jump again I should have gone running for a new vet), I didn't realize how terrified of jumping I had become until I started to jump other horses. I literally became petrified. It took a lot of Metro (my second horse) time for me to get over that, and a lot of Gogo time to get over the absolutely frightening jumping we did in a few of my college eventing classes. It's just a bad idea to take REALLY hot horses and gallop them out of control at 4' fences with such violent impossible cranker turns that at least two people crash and burn every lesson, without fail, and it's never a good sign when all the instructor can say to you is "Go with God but go!" when you start your course, or "BYEBYE!" when your horse bolts out of control away with you. Yeah... that took some time getting over. I still freeze up on a really jittery hot horse over fences.

    I think as we age, we realize our own fragility, and become aware of responsibilities we have - for example, if someone had kids and was a single mom they COULDN'T afford to be risky on horseback. That same person might have been a crazy gung-ho type when they were younger, but that changes as we grow up.

    Every horse is a once-in-a-lifetime horse to somebody

    (And yes, when I breed Gogo and end up with the dreaded gray horse I am going to shoot myself in the head, or go bankrupt buying Quic Silver, I just know it)

  6. Hey, us youngins can have it too. ;) Especially when you're stuck on a horse that was pulled out of a race and off of the track a few days ago and he decides he doesn't want to stop--despite the jumps/poles/standards in an arena. lol!

    I always felt that, even if you're capable of handling the incident, if you're not around it often, it's ALWAYS a Big, Scary, Terrifying moment. When I went to school and had to deal with crazy runaways and horses trying to kick me and horses ramming themselves into concrete walls to get you off--and having to perform for a grade anyway--I felt that after awhile, it wasn't Big and Scary anymore. I'd been exposed to it so often that when Odie rears or kicks on the ground or bolts because he's scared, I just think, 'oh get over it'. Not 'HOMG, IF I WAS A FOOT TO THE LEFT THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN MY HEAD.' It's kind of like a baby with clippers--if you show it to him once a month it's always Pretty Freakin Scary. But if you show it to him every day... it's alright. XD

    I think that's why good trainers always look 'fearless'--they've done it so many times that what would scare me or you is just everyday crap to them.

    If I can handle something that scares me, I try to do it as often as possible!

    I have no doubt you'll figure Miss Dixie out!

  7. Double-double-ditto-ditto to everyone who has said that fear is a useful thing, and that your fear can be a guide to keep you safe. Of course a HELMET will help too (I never have mastered the art of tact, sorry).

    Also (here's something I learned the hard way): giving yourself permission to go sloooooowwwwly may actually set you and Dixie free.

    Today you worked on her mounting issue and your fear issue. What a wonderful thing! Give yourself a click/treat for that!

    You did something needful and you DIDN'T push it to the point where you scared yourselves again.

    I would say that pushing yourself SLIGHTLY each day, without feeling the need to "work a little" might be a good plan. You want to enjoy your time with her, so start building up stuff you can do together that is enjoyable (and not scary).

    When my old endurance horse died, it was hard for me to adjust to the demands of the immature mare I had left. But because she was obviously not able to carry me at a trot for 50 miles, I was forced to back waaaaay up and figure out what she and I could do to enjoy ourselves while she matured. It was hard, at first--I wanted to get out and GO. Fiddle taught me the art of Hangin' Out.

    It's not as easy as it sounds. Give it a try!

    We'll all be rootin' for ya.

  8. She's looking so good! I like your approach: analytical and taking it apart into manageable pieces. And keeping the joy!

  9. First off...I apologize for being out of touch and unaware of what happened with Champ. Your post broke my heart. I can't imagine going through that on top of all the change you have experienced the last couple of months.
    I hope your transition to Ohio otherwise been smooth. Feel free to contact me via my email if you need some "Ohio advice". (
    By the way, I think you are brave and least that is what your posts convey. I have found that facing the fear is the best way to deal with it. Most of my riding fear is completely irrational and self-imposed. I always think about my horse tripping and falling on me...never has happened but I am petrified it will.
    Your fear is completely well-founded as you went through a situation that you didn't see coming. The unpredictability of horses is a fact of life...even though you know this, your subconscious says "get me out of here".

  10. EvenSong - She is very regal and thinks she's wild and doesn't actually enjoy any scritches. Except sometimes when I take the bridle off she wants me to scratch the corners of her lips. :)

    I've only met one horse that honestly wanted to hurt humans, and he definitely hurt me. Learned my lesson there - I'll take sweet greenies with bad habits over a "broke" evil horse any day.

    Kacy - LOL, yeah, when she sat up like an enormous dog I almost laughed!

    Michelle - Dixie and I are still walking. We may walk for another week or another year, who knows!

    Andrea - hahahaha, girl, you're insane. ;) It really has a lot to do with age; I did reckless things without even considering the consequences when I was young. Now I usually consider the consequences and do stupid things anyway... which I suppose is improvement!

    DiJ - you are crazy too. Yall are career crazies. I am inspired!

    I dunno, I'd rather deal with an occasional bolter than a rearer (again) or a bucker. If I had to fall, I'd rather fall from 16.1 than 16.1 + 3' of height!

    Flying Lily - thank you. I am absurdly analytical, but sometimes it pays off.

    Spellbound - Yeah, it was kind of an awful welcome to Ohio. But OSU is really fantastic; I doubt I would've been able to get him diagnosed at all in MS. Are you ever going to write about the Equine Affaire?!


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