I have been riding for 20+ years and currently have 3 horses. Years ago I was comfortable competing at 3’ and really enjoyed riding. Was also comfortable getting young TB’s off the track and retraining them for other ventures. A few years back had a bad fall while jumping at a show that resulted in some broken bones. I never went back to competing at 3’ after that. I competed at 2’6" for a while but then had to retire my saintly school master. Fast forward to now: I have 2 nice warmbloods but occasionally they are naughty which terrifies me. Both have bucked me off. The last time it took me 3 weeks before I could ride again. I continue to ride them but have days where I only walk because I am afraid. It is very discouraging because I love them and want to go back to showing and enjoying riding but my anxiety is preventing that. I work with a trainer and take a weekly lesson on each horse (and they are good 95% of the time). Both are rated quality show hunters. I just dont know if I should throw in the towel and sell them and just take lessons on schoolies until I get comfortable riding again. Dont know if speaking to a sports psychologist would help? One of them has been getting pro rides twice a week but he still will occasionally out of no where squeal and leap in the air with me. I usually kick him forward and go on but it is terrifying and every time it happens I feel like I lose a little more confidence. Suggestions???
Are both horses boarded with your trainer? What does he/she say about their behavior with you? I would not necessarily be surprised that a horse that gets two pro rides a week also has an occasional spook/squeal moment. They’re not machines, after all - is it related to cold/wind? A bit of freshness after a day off? Etc? Would a 5-minute lunge before you ride help, during this time you’re working through anxiety? It’s hard to tell from your post whether these are good horses who have an occasional fresh day versus truly unpredictable behavior. Most “perfect horses” have a day every now and again. If they are good eggs, and you desire to keep riding, then I think you’ll be best served by addressing your anxiety separately from selling any horses at the moment. If you can afford a sports psychologist, go for it! There are also several workbooks written by well known equestrian-focused sports psychologists that you may find helpful.
Also consider whether your trainer is fitting your needs. I have ridden with (and eventually moved on from) very accomplished trainers who I didn’t click with specifically because my nerves were worse while riding with them.
ETA: I totally read past the part where they have both bucked you off. To clarify, it is totally fine if you decide to sell these guys and try again with steadier Eddies. Or if finances allow, lease them out to other riders looking for rated show mounts and get yourself a horse that you can rebuild confidence with.
All horses have bad days, but saintly horses are worth their weight in gold for a reason. I’ve known plenty of saints that never tossed a rider, never bucked, never did more than a head toss when annoyed, even coming out after not being touched for months. They may not be A-show quality, but they are safe safe safe.
IMO, this sport is too expensive and life is too short to keep forcing yourself to ride a bad match, no matter how much you love the horse. It sounds like you’d be best to sell these fancy guys and either ride/lease schoolies and packers to build your confidence, or go buy yourself a true packer. Pushing through a buck or forcing yourself to ride a horse your scared of might work great for some people to build their confidence, but it definitely does not work for everyone.
You are only one good horse away from getting your confidence back.
There seems to be a shift in a lot of people’s brains as they get older, some call it wisdom perhaps. But they are not as comfortable with risk taking as they once were, just doesn’t seem worth it.
I see so many adult returning riders who are in over their heads and losing confidence though more at the lower end of the spectrum.
In this case you are a good enough rider who has had accidents and lost nerve.
If you are repeatedly coming off these horses and being hurt, losing confidence will actually make you more defensive and less balanced.
Adults can’t afford to come off and get hurt.
There are obvious management things with hot horses. Give them free longe time to bomb around, lots of day time turnout, and longe before you ride. This can add up to an hour to your ride time. Longe and ride every day. Work them at a lot of big trot. But all this might not be enough. You have 3 horses. That’s a lot to work with every day.
You need to do some soul searching about your future direction. You have 2 presumably expensive quality horses. You have effectively made a decision to stop going up the levels in your discipline. Your horses are not going to gain value in your current situation where they are aging, not working, and developing bad habits.
I would say you have two choices. One is to sell the horses, perhaps during or after a 30 day tuneup from a hunter trainer.
The other is to send your horses to a more problem solving trainer for 30 days or so with the idea of getting them some manners and you some confidence. But what will you do then? If you no longer want to jump 3 feet, maybe you can rethink your discipline commitment? There’s a reason so many dressage riders are middle aged!!
If you have reached the end of the road with jumping I would sell these horses to homes that will value them. Hack around on your saintly school master and take some time to think about other directions.
Absolutely. I switched to dressage after my confidence OF just completely plummeted after riding lots of greenies for years. Then I got to help an acquaintance sell an absolute saint of a 1.20m packer and after a few short weeks 3’6” was looking quite small.
Now back at dressage and having not jumped in a year or two, 2’ looks big again
Young riders have the confidence but often lack the money for a really good horse: older riders have the money for a really good horse but, with age and wisdom, have shed their confidence. So turns the world.
What part of riding do you actively enjoy? What other disciplines have you tried? There are entire worlds of horsemanship that never require you to jump over anything. Is it the social life? Is there a way to keep the lifestyle without the stressy parts? Maybe consider becoming the Fairy Godmother for a confident young rider? They do the showing for you, you get the satisfaction of watching and mentoring. Is it the specific horses you now fear or all horses? How about selling your fancy show hunters, which are nolonger enjoyable, and branch out into something more exotic such as a Morgan or a Welsh Cob?
We all fall into our familiar rut and sometimes it takes a radical event - such as a fall - or the realisation that the fun has vanished in order to reassess what we are doing. We only die once but live life everyday.
As a teenager, my ideal horse was a 16.3 TB. As an increasingly grumpy and crooked adult my ideal horse is a 14.2 Highland Pony. I have fun. I still love horses.
As others have said learn to lunge properly and do this daily. Do not just run around at the end of a rope or in a round yard. If you do not have the time to do that then sell the horses and buy a packer.
Also look into their feed. Overfed horses squeal and buck. Out of work horses squeal and buck. Correctly fed and ridden horses do not normally squeal and buck.
This is brilliant, thank you Willesdon.
Horses are an expensive hobby. If you still love it sell the fancy ones and find one that is perfect (they do exist, may still have a bad day but that doesn’t involve a buck or any seriously bad behavior). Maybe you will want to jump 3’ again, maybe not. I have two right now. One is fancy and frankly too much horse for me, a lady now of a certain age, not a bad horse, just too much horse. One is less fancy and perfect. I dread riding the fancy one and post COVID and the current disruption I need to sell him. It’s hard and disruptive and I’ve been putting it off. I hope you find a perfect one and your passion back.
I agree with everyone that riding should be fun. Also, give yourself tremendous credit for still riding after a severe injury, and being able to heal this much, and still being in the saddle.
I’m wondering if you feel a bit of guilt because you are capable of riding the stronger horses you have, but don’t feel like dealing with the baggage every single ride of “is the spooky patch of sun that looks funny going to sent him off” today, or if a horse suddenly feels like throwing a buck for no good reason. Being tense, as others have said, won’t make you a more effective rider in the long run, and even if the horses aren’t “bad” horses, there is no shame in finding new owners for them who do enjoy riding them, and finding a horse you enjoy riding instead. In fact, because they are still decent horses, you can sell them with a clear conscience.
Dressage worked wonders for my confidence and security in the saddle, and some dressage lessons certainly wouldn’t hurt you or the horses to try, either! But finding an older, less reactive horse doesn’t make you less of a rider or mean you will stop learning (and teaching your horse).
Relate to this post so much. I think MANY adults who’ve been riding a long time probably do. We’re all one bad spook away from all kinds of bad things… and all those leaps, squeals and spooks add up. If you have been riding your entire life and haven’t had a serious fall at some point, please count your lucky stars!
Another conundrum: a horse who is too fresh to ride is also likely to be rather fresh on the lunge. A big fresh horse on the lunge is its own kind of trouble. Personally, I can’t risk another shoulder injury so I can’t risk lunging a big fresh horse anymore. Sometimes there are no good answers. Unfortunately switching to dressage does not make my horse any less spooky on the flat
I feel you. If I were you, I would sell your two and buy or better yet, lease a solid citizen. I have a fancy complicated warmblood. Beautiful creature, but quirky and a pain to deal with. I’ve had two bad falls. Spooks at the air. Is incredibly slow, but hot. Lately I’ve been riding the barn kids’ autopilot children’s hunters. They count around the course, auto swap and take jokes all day long. One of them, if he sees you are getting deep, shifts a little right or left to fit it in better. If you are missing, he ignores you. These rides have boosted my confidence ten-fold. I wish you the best, I know you’ll get your confidence back!
^ This! Sell them. I see so many older adults over horsed, and so many coaches that over horse their clients.
Your horses may not be mean, but it doesn’t sound like they are suited for you if sometimes you only get on and walk. Life is short, get something you feel overly comfortable on… there is definitely something out there.
This topic particularly resonates with me since my six year old horse has now become much less predictable in the cold and has spooked badly twice and performed an arena-crossing series of crowhops. I’m really missing the schoolmaster I leased that had to be retired. She never set a foot wrong, ever. I’m too old and now getting scared. I had a serious accident two and a half years ago and like all riders, but especially “vintage” riders, I never want to have another!
Agree with selling both of yours and getting something truly quiet and dependable. It certainly isn’t impossible to find a nice looking, show-quality horse that won’t buck or nasty-spook on a bad day. It may not be a super athletic, big-moving warmblood that can jump 3’6", but you can find a nice hunter-y mover with a comfy jump for 2’6" or even 3’ that will babysit. I know, because I have one. Sadly he’s retired, but he’s still worth his weight in gold to me. If money was no object, I would 100% clone him.
I agree with everyone who has recommended a new horse.
A number of years ago, I reached the age and stage of life where I said, “If I have one more fall, I’m done. That will be the end of horses for me.” I had two horses. I gave one away, sold the other, and bought a horse from a kid who was ready to move up to a fancier horse. He was the classic perfect kid’s first horse: no spook, no buck, no bolt, would jump even if I let him die and buried him at the base of the fence. I am not exaggerating when I say it was life changing for me.
I agree that we bounce less as we age, and we’re smart to acknowledge that. Also, that riding is a hobby for most of us, so should be mostly fun - if you’re dreading going for a ride, that’s a problem.
However, it might not hurt for you to talk to a sports psychologist. May change nothing, but it might help you come to terms with what you’re feeling and how to deal with it. When I was going through a particularly fearful phase, the recommendation was to think of the worst behavior (at the time, I think it was getting run away with) and mentally practice how I would get control of the situation. And then, how I could avoid the trigger. And so on.
This mental practice helped me enormously, though never really got me to where I wanted to go with that horse. My next one (after that horse suddenly died) was a packer, which was amazing for restoring confidence.
It all depends on how you feel about taking on a challenge. Especially now, it might be one more stressor that you just don’t need, and there’s no shame in that. If they’re nice horses in work, I’m sure you can find them a good show home and find something for you that is fun to ride. And hey, if you’re not showing as much, think of all the money you’ll be saving!
Couldn’t agree more.
Right now, OP is literally deciding between keeping these horses and quitting riding. I think there’s a better option right in the middle: sell these two and buy a Steady Eddie. As an owner of a Steady Eddie, I cannot even put into words the joy of never being afraid.
I will offer a slightly different approach with a personal story
I have ridden from a young age, some decent horses, some rank bastards, my first horse dumped me weekly, but I was a brave-ish kid. When I was a mid-teen, I came off one and broke some bones. I had doctor-ordered time off to heal because apparently vertebrae are important? Anyway, had some confidence issues getting back on plus a belittling nasty confidence-destroying parent.
Had another nasty wreck and some time off, same thing.
Fast forward mmm 15 years or so, and some forced time off while I built my farm and didn’t have a place to ride nor time to haul out. When I went to get on my big Irish boy, I was terrified!!! Wtaf? He has a bit of a lookie personality but he had never done a single “mean” naughty thing other than when he dumped me my first time on him in the arena when he was 3ish, and he went to a pro for 60 days and has been great since. I mean, he is a total puppy! All I could do was picture all the things he might spook at. Look at that, what if he sees that?? If he spooks here, I’ll hit that fence post. Oh god why are the dogs laying right there??? It was constant and unending and I hated it and I hated myself. I even got a medium pony with a dgaf attitude, thought I’d sell my big guy, maybe I’ll just stick with burritos (if you know, you know ), just really bumming myself out…
… then suddenly I discovered xanax. Apparently I have a teeny bit of an anxiety issue, so if it’s a breezy day or it’s been cool or some one might be coming out (audience yanno) I take a half of a milligram and viola. All those crazy what-ifs fade away and holy shit this is still fun. I’m not young or a dare devil, I’ve always been risk-averse, so it isn’t magic, I’m not suddenly a cross-country extraordinaire, but I had already arranged for my big guy to go on a super fun (!) educational (!) and exciting (!!) lease opportunity right before I realized the joys of duct-taping my doubts and fears, and almost selfishly reneged. I didn’t, instead I bought a puppy horse to play with
So anyway, there are options other than sell. YMMV.