The first time I went down a bank it was on my first horse, Sheena. I had trailered in to a friend’s barn to go trail riding. Instead, being young and stupid, we went to play on their XC course without permission. (I know. I know.) They had a bank complex and Sheena, who was not willing over anything higher than 2’6, dropped down a huge training bank with no questions.

The second time I rode a bank it was with Dandy. It was his first XC school and I wasn’t just asking him to go down his first bank, I asked him to go don’t his first bank into water (granted, a small bank). Dandy was a very brave horse but he went cautiously down the bank his first time. Dipping his foot in cautiously which led to one of my favorite pictures.

So when I started working with Gus, I didn’t give a second thought to going down banks. I had had two horses who didn’t think twice about it, why would Gus? Oh but Gus did think twice and thrice and even a fourth time about going down banks.

We would school it one weekend and be fine but the next time we saw a down bank it would be like he had never seen it before, even if it was the exact same bank. So I think it’s a little understandable that I started developing a complex about them. I just didn’t know what I was going to get at any one time.

Then at our XC schooling before Full Gallop we came across a small bank complex. While getting Gus to move out of the way I asked him to step down the most baby of baby banks there ever was. It was basically a pole with an extra two inches on one side. He balked. And continued to do so until we got a lead over with another horse.

What. The. Hell.

So we schooled it. Over and over again. Moving up to the next size as Gus got more confident and was willing to go down at a trot and then at a canter. And I got schooled too for not leaning far enough back and not keeping my legs on. All very fair criticisms but I was just more frustrated at Gus more than anything. Why do we constantly have to redo this? We have no problems going up banks. (Or, at least, Gus has no problems, I’m a mess and can’t coordinate myself, but he takes care of me.) But with down banks I feel like we start over at stage one every single time. It’s frustrating and it certainly puts a dent in my confidence.

At least when Gus does get to the going down part he at least jumps down nicely instead of launching himself. Small victories?

Eventually we were going down the Novice size bank and LT moved everyone over to do a Novice size Training Question: downhill to a brush fence and then three strides to a down bank. She told me I didn’t have to do it unless I wanted to and I did not want to, did I? I mean it looked kind of fun but it was a down bank after a downhill jump. Oh, what the heck, I told myself. Worst case scenario is that he stops again.

But he didn’t! Because I actually rode the fences Gus quietly hopped over and then down for me.

I was pretty pleased with myself. We can ride banks! At least for now.


A few days ago, some old jumping videos and pictures popped up on my Facebook memories. They were from 2010. I wasn’t in a program, but I was riding almost every day that summer with a friend who managed a small stable and had some amazing horses. One in particular was a Morgan Friesian cross named Mixer. I loved Mixer. He was one of the most honest jumpers I’ve ever met. And he actually truly loved jumping and would go out of his way to jump stuff in his field. I used to jump Mixer and take him to little hunter schooling shows. I was a poor graduate student so I didn’t have a lot of money. We always cleaned up.

Anyway, the videos and pictures that popped up were from me schooling for one of these shows and I was dumbfounded watching these videos. I jumped a couch. I jumped 3’6. What happened to me?

Before I started riding Mixer, he was mainly a dressage horse. Maybe he had been put over little X rails or ground poles but no one had jumped him until me. And I wasn’t scared of him. I wasn’t scared to take him to those jumping shows or pop him over a 3’6 oxer just because I thought he could do it.

So why am I afraid now? Why do I not want to pop over anything higher than 2′?

Fear is a funny thing. Like jumping Mixer, I knew Dandy would go over anything you pointed him at. I shouldn’t have been afraid of jumping him either but I was. The disconnect between Dandy and I on the flat became so over powering that I believe it even warped my courage to jump. And so far that’s been a lot harder to get back.

It will just take a lot more time, I’m sure. That, and some lessons with a pro again. While seeing the video surprised me, it also made me more determined because now I remember that I did this. That I did jump higher. And since I know I could do it, I know I still can.

Another Dandy Update

Dandy is doing so well down in California! And yes, he is still in California and will be for another almost two weeks. This means that we had to scratch from the Aspen derby this weekend but they were really understanding and refunded my entry fee.  Now JLE and the crew will be going to Twin Rivers next weekend though Dandy will not be competing since we didn’t know this was going to happen until after closing date.

But he could have! JLE thinks he’s ready to enter his first event. So, depending on how things go at Twin and the Spring Fling Derby at Aspen Farms on the 19th, he may be entering the inaugural event at the WA Horse Park. That would be fun!

Dandy enjoying the atmosphere at Galway
Dandy captured a heart at Galway.

JLE flew back up here this morning and I was able to talk with her a bit on my lunch break. She’s so pleased with how Dandy is doing and I’m so ready to get back on and work through this. The best news is that JLE thinks that, while he’s always going to be difficult, it’s now worth it for me to see if I can work through the fear. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to but I want to try!


Planning for Fear

Regardless of what ends up happening with Dandy (won’t be making a decision until we see through our original plan for this spring/summer unless something disastrous happens), something I’m not going to have to overcome is the fear that has been ingrained in me. To that end, because I can’t actually afford to work with a sports psychologist, here are the ten things I’m going to be working on to help with fear.

1. Don’t beat myself up. Bad rides are going to happen. I’m going to make bad decisions and get off feeling like I’m a rank beginner but it is not okay to beat myself up over them. Instead, figure out what I will do next time I am in that same situation.

2. Sing. This is an old favorite that every rider has done at least once in their lives. It used to work great for me so it’s time I bring it back out. I have an awful voice but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that singing gets my body relaxed and it gets me breathing. It’s easy to tense up when you’re not breathing.

3. Knowing when to stop. There will be days when all I will be able to do is ride indoors. There will be days when I want to ride in the outdoor but all I can do is walk around the perimeter twice and be done. I need to be okay with stopping things when they’re good and over praise for the right behavior.

4. Visualize my rides. If I want to go on a trail ride, I need to figure out what factors might lead to Dandy’s spooking or what might make me freeze and panic. I need to see all that in my mind, feel the panic that I would feel on his back and then figure out what things I’m going to do to lessen it. I need to visualize my success.

5.  Follow JLE’s plan. This is why I have a trainer: to help me when things are beyond my ability to handle. If JLE wants me to do ground work and hack in the indoor, that is what I do.

6. Ground work. I need to do this before EVERY ride. If I don’t have time to do ground work before I ride than I don’t have time to ride.

7. Smile. There’s a saying that you should fake it until you make it and it definitely has its merits. I sometimes have to do receptionist type duties for my job and physically smiling, even when I’m talking to a jerk, helps keep me calm and keep my voice pleasant. Hopefully this will transfer to riding as well.

8. Plan ahead. The whole point of this one is to not put myself in a bad spot. If I had planned to go for a trail ride but get out to the barn and Dandy is being a jerk in the cross ties and stupid in the indoor it’s probably not a good idea to try to go out on a trail. Instead I need to work with the horse I’ve got that day.

9. Focus on the good. While it’s important to visualize what I’ll do in a bad situation, it’s not good to dwell on what did go wrong. Instead I need to focus on what went right in a situation. Maybe it was that Dandy didn’t rear when he was being bad, instead he spooked and bolted. That’s improvement. Maybe it was that despite my fears I got back on and kept riding, even if it was just a few minutes.

10. Give it time. These fear problems are not going to be solved overnight and even if I do sell Dandy and get something new they’re not just going to magically go away. I need to allow that to be okay and to not expect perfection. Baby steps are my friend.