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 ). 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!