Nervous rider help

So, even when I started riding, I was always cautious. That is just my temperament (took forever for me to let my dad take the training wheels off my bike :wink: ). Unfortunately I broke my arm one of the first times I ever jumped, converting my caution to nervousness.

I absolutely love this sport, and I’m sure a huge reason I’ve stuck with it for so long is that it is SO rewarding to overcome fears in every lesson. Because trust me, I have to, in EVERY lesson.

I did the junior hunters in high school on a super safe horse with no incident. When I went to college, I sold all of my horses and rode mainly school/lease horses for a few years. Because of limited availability in horses, I rarely jumped higher than 2’3" or 2’6", this led me to have concerns about fences of any height. A trainer can tell me to canter a small gait and I immediately get sick with worry. Of course, once I do it, I feel amazing and want to do more! It just is tough when I first get going.

I finally purchased another horse towards the end of college. She’s a red mare… and she is seriously the most bomb proof hunter 99.9% of the time. In many ways I feel more comfortable on her than I have on any other horse. She will never stop at a fence and she never blinks at a chip or deep distance.

However, being a mare, it probably isn’t surprising to most of you that the .1% of the time that she isn’t a saint, she is pretty nasty. She has a wicked buck in her and there are days where you can just tell she is in a mood. Unfortunately with my already timid personality, if I think she’s the least bit off, I get reallllly nervous, which doesn’t help her at all. Her favorite ride is the get off my back and leave me alone type. So when I get nervous and start slamming my seat down, holding her face, or locking my leg forward in anticipation, even if she isn’t having a bad day, she gets ticked off (can’t blame her!).

The point of this really long post is, very early in our relationship, I had a really nasty fall, she tore off so randomly that I landed straight on my chest, knocking the wind out of me and bruising all of my ribs, dislocating my jaw, and breaking my arm. It took me a long time to trust her again. But finally after a year and a half of nearly flawless behavior (only some very rare predictable small bucks that are easy to stick), I have really built a trust with her. She has packed me over some terrifying jumps and around brand new arenas. She even won me reserve champion at my first show back in years. She has built a reputation as the doll of the barn.

Well, a couple of days ago, I went to hack her and I could sense the not so nice side of her showing up. She was finding reasons to spook, not focusing on the ride, and running through all of her gaits (normally she’s a super steady ride). So, the next day when I went in for my jumping lesson, I was already on guard. I was certainly not as relaxed as I should be. We did a few trot fences and after my instructor insisting I relax, I finally told my inner anxiety to shut up and really tried to loosen up. We went to trot another small 2’ fence, we had a perfect distance, landed in a soft canter, and right as I took a sigh of relief, my mare put her head between her legs and tore off bucking. I almost managed to stay on until we met the rail and she went right and I went left. Luckily no injuries this time, and I am 99% sure a big part of her behavior was spring arriving and me getting the Regumate to her too late (thought I had a few weeks before it was necessary!).

My question is, could this be prevented or at least reduced in severity in the future if I were to work on my own anxiety with medication such as Xanax, or possibly therapy with a sports psychologist? I know many of you will have suggestions for how to fix my horse, but believe me, despite the two nasty incidences mentioned above, my trainers really have her program down. So, I just want to see what I can do on my end, because after all the ground we have covered, I am back to being super nervous for my next lesson (not a fun feeling) :(.

Thanks everyone! Sorry for the novel!

One session with a sports psychologist did wonders for me. seriously. Email (not PM) me if you want her name.

before I found her, though, there’s this:

http://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/showthread.php?406716-I-put-muzzle-on-the-Fear-Bird!-Using-guided-imagery-to-improve-my-riding

I wouldn’t use Xanax. Not the safest thing to do on a horse.

Good luck!

First off, I’m sorry you took a spill, but I’m glad you’re okay this time! I also have some anxiety issues when I’m jumping and it takes me a long time to regain my confidence after a fall. One thing that helped was my doctor prescribed me a beta blocker which simply lowers your blood pressure so that you don’t get nervous. I have only taken these a couple of times, once for the lesson following a fall (as I knew I’d be anxious about jumping), and at shows when I’m bound to be a nervous wreck. These work wonders, but if you find you’re needing them more than just on rare occasions, I’d recommend finding a good sports psychologist instead. However, they did make me realize how much better my horse goes when I’m not nervous, which in turn has helped me control my emotions better when I do get anxious about something. Good luck!

Disagree. At this point in my life, I have Xanax in my bloodstream at all times. I am in no way impaired by it.

However, if you are not feeling anxiety in other areas of your life, medication is likely not the answer.

Also, I know you aren’t looking for suggestions on your horse, but have you ever considered Regumate?

You know, one thing I have learned is that there is absolutely no harm in saying “nope, not today” when my mare is having one of those days, and just groom or hand graze or something. No riding.
I am a mare person and sometimes, there’s just no point in pushing it.
It doesn’t mean you are a chicken, it doesn’t mean you are scared, it means you are protecting yourself and your relationship with your excellent mare. We all have bad days where we would rather sit on the couch and pig out on ice cream…mares have these days too.

[QUOTE=Donkerbruin;7448997]Disagree. At this point in my life, I have Xanax in my bloodstream at all times. I am in no way impaired by it.

However, if you are not feeling anxiety in other areas of your life, medication is likely not the answer.

Also, I know you aren’t looking for suggestions on your horse, but have you ever considered Regumate?[/QUOTE]

She said she does use Regumate but didn’t think her mare needed it yet since it isn’t Spring. I feel for you OP. I had a mare who was quiet and forgiving most of the time - except when she wasn’t. Then she was Satan with a saddle on and I hated her guts. :smiley:

A good sports psychologist might be very helpful to you; they can give you tools to address the nerves that you are feeling and regain the emotional control that you need to ride well.

That said, if there are just certain trigger situations that you and your trainer believe you COULD ride through if only you could deal with your nerves in that moment, then medication may help. I know many, many riders who have used that approach as a short term fix to get past a certain issue or obstacle. Essentially you are rewiring your brain to learn that “x” situation is one you can handle successfully, and it stops being so anxiety provoking.

FYI, Xanax in the proper dosage doesn’t make you feel drugged and isn’t unsafe to use while riding. It simply helps with anxiety, which tends to create MORE safety around a horse than being all amped up and overly reactive.

I second the regumate (year round) and also get off and longe the mare if she feels “up” that day. A good spin on the longe line can help get any “sillies” out BEFORE you get on. Then you can be more confident knowing she has settled down before you get on!

Sport psychologist certainly wouldn’t hurt.

I ended up injured (ER visit and seriously messed up back) in November for the first time ever and it has been a process to get my confidence back. My trainer has been very understanding and we do what I feel comfortable with.

Can you afford a pro ride once or twice a week for your mare? That can also really help.

Thank you everyone for your great and supportive answers!

As PaintPony pointed out, my mare does get regumate (huge part of our success since my big fall), but as mares do not cycle in the winter, I normally start her back up on it in late February/Early March. She was being so saintly these days that I took my time bringing it up to the barn (ironically brought it with me the day she dumped me). I am counting on the fact that once regumate is back in her system she will get her halo back, but I know that because of the recent fall I will be more tense for the next few rides, which as I mentioned above, does not do me any favors.

Even though she has been perfect for the last year+, I still get crazy butterflies and a pounding heart every time my instructor tells me to go to my first jump, or what course to do. When she’s being good, it’s more me being nervous about not finding the right distance and making my sweet horse take the hit, or getting a big gap which makes me feel off balance and is my mare’s pet peeve (stifles on the weaker side so long distances make her work HARD). If I do a great course, my nerves heighten that now my mare trusts me to do it right and I can’t mess up. If I do multiple crappy fences, I think of the extra work I’m making my mare do and picture her lovely attitude deteriorating. Throw in some concern about our right to left change and my less accurate eye on the right lead approaches and I’m practically a wreck when picturing the whole course. My trainer always tells me to picture how beautiful the course could be rather than how much I could mess it up, which helps, but is very hard for me. Needless to say, all of these thoughts do not help my riding or my horse. So, when she does come out in a rarely bitchy mood, I think it really amps up the situation. I feel her not acting like herself so I get even MORE nervous, and she feels the nervous nelly she always has to deal with being even worse and pushing her buttons.

[QUOTE=AddieMarie;7449032]You know, one thing I have learned is that there is absolutely no harm in saying “nope, not today” when my mare is having one of those days, and just groom or hand graze or something. No riding.
I am a mare person and sometimes, there’s just no point in pushing it.
It doesn’t mean you are a chicken, it doesn’t mean you are scared, it means you are protecting yourself and your relationship with your excellent mare. We all have bad days where we would rather sit on the couch and pig out on ice cream…mares have these days too.[/QUOTE]

I agree. I can tell instantly, when I get on, that my horse is a little too fresh or has a hump in his back. I will get off and lunge him until he is tired and then get back on, or I will have my trainer ride him. Riding should be fun and if you are relaxed you will ride better. All I know is that the more a trainer pushes me and tells me to relax the more nervous I become. I know my limits and trust that voice in my head.

[QUOTE=inca;7449104]I second the regumate (year round) and also get off and longe the mare if she feels “up” that day. A good spin on the longe line can help get any “sillies” out BEFORE you get on. Then you can be more confident knowing she has settled down before you get on!

Sport psychologist certainly wouldn’t hurt.

I ended up injured (ER visit and seriously messed up back) in November for the first time ever and it has been a process to get my confidence back. My trainer has been very understanding and we do what I feel comfortable with.

Can you afford a pro ride once or twice a week for your mare? That can also really help.[/QUOTE]

Great suggestions! She is in full training so normally I ride her 4x a week and my trainers ride her 2x a week. Definitely helps! Unfortunately this week, she was perfect with the trainers on Wednesday and Thursday. Amazing for my first jumping lesson on Friday. On Saturday, I felt her tension when I hacked her around. And on Sunday she put me in the dirt. So her attitude changed really quickly.

[QUOTE=AddieMarie;7449032]We all have bad days where we would rather sit on the couch and pig out on ice cream…mares have these days too.[/QUOTE] I love this! So true! I will keep this in mind :slight_smile:

[QUOTE=txhjgirl;7449122]Thank you everyone for your great and supportive answers!

As PaintPony pointed out, my mare does get regumate (huge part of our success since my big fall), but as mares do not cycle in the winter, I normally start her back up on it in late February/Early March. She was being so saintly these days that I took my time bringing it up to the barn (ironically brought it with me the day she dumped me). I am counting on the fact that once regumate is back in her system she will get her halo back, but I know that because of the recent fall I will be more tense for the next few rides, which as I mentioned above, does not do me any favors.

Even though she has been perfect for the last year+, I still get crazy butterflies and a pounding heart every time my instructor tells me to go to my first jump, or what course to do. When she’s being good, it’s more me being nervous about not finding the right distance and making my sweet horse take the hit, or getting a big gap which makes me feel off balance and is my mare’s pet peeve (stifles on the weaker side so long distances make her work HARD). If I do a great course, my nerves heighten that now my mare trusts me to do it right and I can’t mess up. If I do multiple crappy fences, I think of the extra work I’m making my mare do and picture her lovely attitude deteriorating. Throw in some concern about our right to left change and my less accurate eye on the right lead approaches and I’m practically a wreck when picturing the whole course. My trainer always tells me to picture how beautiful the course could be rather than how much I could mess it up, which helps, but is very hard for me. Needless to say, all of these thoughts do not help my riding or my horse. So, when she does come out in a rarely bitchy mood, I think it really amps up the situation. I feel her not acting like herself so I get even MORE nervous, and she feels the nervous nelly she always has to deal with being even worse and pushing her buttons.[/QUOTE]

I had a mare that cycled year round especially in California where it has been so warm and dry this year. I vote for giving her a quick lunge each time before you ride. You will see what kind of horse you have that day before you get on.

The next time you sense that your mare isn’t quite right when you go to tack up, my suggestion is to have your trainer get on for the first 5 or 10 minutes - while you watch and see what they do to deal with getting the mare back on track.

Have the trainer talk to you about what they are doing to get the mare focused on work, and then see if you can get on and recreate it. The more times you are able to work through that (with the mental picture of your trainer to copy helping you execute the plan) the calmer and more self assured you will be about the process. And of course the calmer you are, the more quickly your mare will come around.

Yup. If it was “one of those days” I knew I just had to accept that not much would be accomplished. Longeing usually made her worse so I’d get in 2-point, bridge my reins, and let her crazy hormonal ass her canter it out. :wink:

If it worked, that was great. But if I started to get tired before she did I felt no shame in chalking it up as a loss for the day. Better than getting hurt! :yes:

P.S. - I lost my mare in a pasture accident at Xmas this year. I’d gladly deal with several of those “nutty” days if I could just have her back. :frowning:

I have to chime in here as I agree with everything that has been said. I have a very challenging TB Gelding who in the beginning had many more bad days than good. He now (after two years of full time training) has more good days than bad.

However when it is a bad day its still not fun and I am at the age that I just don’t want to deal with it anymore so I get off. I give him to my trainer to ride or I just don’t ride that day.

The second thing I did was put him on Smart Calm which has helped a ton for him…

Honestly there is no shame in just throwing in the towel for that day…

good luck with your girl…

I agree that if you know it’s one of those days maybe have the trainer ride instead or just get on for 10 min and see how it goes. You can also just skip that day. Also if you feel her tense on the flat then I wouldn’t jump her that day. If she will flat ok for you there is no shame in working that for a day and skipping the jump lessons. I will admit I went from hunter, jumpers, lower level eventing to just dressage now because of my anxiety about jumping as I’ve gotten older. I loved to jump but for me the anxiety just wasn’t worth it and I really enjoy dressage so that’s what I do now and trail ride as well. I don’t mind popping over a cross rail or two for fun and to change it up but that’s all I want to do now at this point. Listen to yourself. If your not in it maybe think of doing something else and pop over a cross rail or two when you feel brave for fun.

I think you have some good advice here, but I want to add that there is also no shame in deciding that this horse is not the horse for you.

My mom had a little mare that was the same way. Saint 99% of the time and a devil the other 1%. That inconsistency, as small as it was, absolutely wrecked her confidence 100% of the time. I loved riding that mare and didn’t mind her wicked side, so in no way am I saying that the mare should be given up on or given away, just that you might be happier with a 100% solid citizen…or at least a horse whose good and bad sides are pretty close to the same. My mom’s little mare put her in the dirt periodically (there would sometimes be 6+ months between incidents), and in hindsight I wish I had forced her to sell the mare a lot earlier than I did. Sadly, by the time I convinced her to sell, she had already decided that riding was taking too much of a toll on her old body, not to mention her nerves, and she now spends her days golfing with my dad rather than riding with me <pout>. The horse she had before the mare was a rock solid gelding that was the same day in and day out. Her confidence level was high the whole time she had him, and I’m certain that if she’d been sitting on a horse like him in the last few years she would have kept on with the horses.

Now that’s making some assumptions - mainly that what you’ve described is how things are, and not something where you’re inadvertently creating the wicked side of her (I don’t think you are from what you’ve said, but it’s always a possibility). But at the end of the day the lesson I learned from my mom is that if you’ve tried every reasonable approach and you’re still dealing with a horse that’s scaring you somewhat regularly, it’s completely fair to decide that you need a more consistent horse.

Good luck to you and I hope that you’re able to find a simple answer!

I heart the sports psychologist that I use (and that many other COTHers have used).

Sometimes you have to have that external force that helps you wrangle your internal turmoil. She brings you back to what is important, why you ride, and keeps you present.

PM for the name :slight_smile:

When I was on Percocet for a knee injury, I was the most effective, chill rider I’d been my whole life. I’m not necessarily a nervy rider to begin with, but the difference was amazing. Wish I could take the stuff every day.