Hello, Interwebz. My name is Lauren and I’m a Timid Rider.
I wasn’t always a timid rider. As a child I used to do all manner of dangerous activities with my horse. Not because I thought I was invincible but because I didn’t thinking getting injured could really be that big of a deal. I remember jumping on my horse bareback at the far end of a ten acre field and racing back to the gate, often stampeding the whole herd. I remember jumping full size picnic tables in a state park and sneaking jumps over XC fences at a farm where a friend boarded. I remember riding in the bed of a pickup that was being driven by a 13 year old full throttle through bumpy pastures trying to throw hay.
I remember being fearless.
Truth be told, the stunts my friends and I used to pull were so dangerous I can’t even believe some of them. They’re also the kind of things you can only come away from unhurt when you don’t know any better. Not that that is any excuse but it’s just something I’ve noticed about horses.
But anyway, I was talking about being fearless.
I’m not really sure what happened to turn that fearlessness into timidness. There was no steady decline where I slowly lowered the height on a fence or decided on a hand gallop instead of gunning for speed. I just simply woke up one day and everything had changed. Suddenly I wasn’t so confident with new fences and going on trails where I might run into bikes or have to cross busy roads did not sound like fun. Even dealing with an antsy horse at shows was not something I wanted to deal with.
My first horse, Sheena, was a saint 90% of the time. I mean, she put up with a LOT of shit from me. The kind of crazy stuff kids do on their ponies. The other 10% of the time, however, she was not so perfect. What it boiled down to was that Sheena was a stopper. A dirty stopper. Or she became one after I bought her and moved around a few barns, I’m not really sure. And of course, I take full responsibility that if she became one afterwards; it was on me and my riding. But that didn’t make it any easier for 15 year old me to deal with. Eventually I stopped jumping at all because it just wasn’t worth it to, once again, fly between my horse’s ears.
That was my first lesson in defensive riding.
Getting Dandy was supposed to change all of that. And for a while it did. I got back into weekly lessons and Dandy really was a saint. I took him to different arenas without issues and we rode up and down the road off the barn. I felt safe and confident up there, 17 hands off the ground. So I signed us up for a local show, just to get him away from the farm and in a ring with fancy jumps. I probably shouldn’t have.
It was bad timing to start with. I was still working for the psychotic boss at this point and only three days before he had sent me to one of our out of state offices because he didn’t think our employees were doing their job. I was supposed to be there for a week, which meant missing the show, but I managed to convince my boss that these people were good people and he let me come home. I got home at 1:00 AM the morning of the show. Thank God for the boy who did his best to round up all my gear and had it laid out for me but I was still pretty out of it the next morning when we rolled out of the barn at 6:00 AM.
You can read more about the show here if you wish, but in a few words it was an utter disaster. In one hour, Dandy had managed to undo all the confidence I had built up. And between having a coach who refused to help me and going on only a few hours of sleep, I pretty much lost my cool.
Throughout the last year, my confidence in being able to handle Dandy in bad situations has been shredded, patched, and shredded again. There have been good shows, and there have been bad shows. Thankfully there have only been great trainers since my first outing with him but they can only help me so much. The decision to ride through the problems, to fix them, has to come from me.
So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately and have been trying to take an honest look at myself. I am not a bad rider. Mentally, I know what I need to do if Dandy is acting up, rearing, or just being silly. I have the tools to work through almost any problem. But I didn’t know if I had the emotional strength to do so.
A few weeks ago, I was riding in the outdoor for the first time since we had our incident. I was a little nervous but determined to have a good ride. It wasn’t Dandy’s first time out there since then, just me. Things started great. I had some real nice forward movement and was getting some nice connection. I changed direction and as I did, Dandy spooked at the end of the arena in the same place that he had used the last time we were out there. This felt like a real spook to me, not a naughty get out of work free spook. But my brain started shutting down. I could feel the terror I used to only feel when he reared creeping in and blocking out anything else.
This was not going to happen.
I refuse to let it happen.
It was just a little spook, a jump at a shadow and I was on my way to having a meltdown unless I put a stop to it. It took every last thread of strength I had to sit deep in that saddle and clamp my legs around Dandy’s barrel asking for forward now. With the wind in my face and the power between my legs, calmness came back to me and I settled. This time when I came back to the spooky corner I heavily over bent Dandy away from the offending side and circled. And circled. And circled. I circled until I couldn’t take it anymore and then circled some more. We finished our ride without incident and I felt satisfied and proud. For one day, I had defeated that monster and I had ridden fierce.
This is not a monster I can vanquish in one day. It will take many days and many rides where I have to overcome that fear and compulsion to melt. There will be days I have set backs and days where I don’t want to even deal with it. But it is beatable. Every day makes it easier.
On our first trail ride in Washington we had to ride parallel to a very busy road. Dandy couldn’t quite see all the cars but boy could he hear them. He felt tense underneath me and was ready to spring into action, even with two perfectly quiet trail buddies. Again I could feel those nerves and for a moment I considered getting off and walking or just heading home entirely. Dandy hadn’t even done anything yet! Instead, I forced a smile and let my body go almost limp in the saddle. It took Dandy another twenty minutes to relax but we rode on. We conquered. We rode fierce.
I might be a timid rider and there are times I might be scared but that doesn’t mean I can’t also be fierce.