This is a longer, more chatty post. Story telling with a point to it if that makes sense.
The other day I jumped my green 5 year old over his first proper filler, in the rain, on the first ride since he’s been clipped and after a few days off. The filler was our bale covers that have a wall pattern on one side and hearts / diamonds on the other. They cover bales of straw or hay and are very effective. It’s got me thinking how much I’ve changed as a rider over the last 2/3 years.
Just over 2 years ago, I did my first show with Freddie. All it was was a quiet local show, and one ridden class. I was so nervous, I went in the ring (almost didn’t), walked once round and tried to come back out again. I didn’t, we did our first show together and got a 3rd place rosette for it. Afterwards I was elated. The previous year, I had gone to a large summer show with my loan pony at the time, and he was playing up. I was petrified, and despite it only being a walk and trot (nervous and novice riders!) class, I went in lead by my Mum and came out after walking a lap, a quivering wreck.
I was terrified of riding, I completely admit. On more than one occasion, I was told to give up and thought to myself it isn’t worth all this anguish. How could I have gone from the 10 year old who wanted to be the next Ellen Whittaker (my idol at the time) to someone who jumped off in floods of tears at every little spook? The first time I remember feeling fear like never before was once about 7 years ago.
I was riding my pony, Shandi, out on the gallop track at the yard we were on. She was an absolute one in a million, my best friend. I was convinced we were going to be champion show jumpers, she’d go over anything and everything from any stride, constantly looking after me as I scrambled on backwards or put her at a jump virtually sideways in a jump off at our local club. Anyway, we were trotting round the far end of the track when out of nowhere, a massive field sprayers (like the ones bigger than average tractors with big fold out arms) came up in the field next door. Despite being an incredibly honest pony, Shandi couldn’t help being terrified in that moment. She span on the spot and took off up the field, and I didn’t let go of the reins as I came off. I was dragged a short distance and off she went. She ended up diving into the arena on the Yard, scared half to death. I tried to go after her, but ended up on the floor unable to see through the tears. I apparently rang my mum who misunderstood me and thought I said “there’s blood everywhere” (Sorry about that) and they came to find me in a sorry heap on the rubber floor. That’s the first time I came off and didn’t want to get back on. I did, through force, but that’s the last time I rode her. The next day, she was crippled with stress-induced laminitis. It could’ve been the anxiety from missing her field friends, but I think somewhere in my head I blamed myself for riding out on the track that day and her being scared half to death. We ended up having to end her suffering some 3 months later. I got over it; kind of, getting back into riding again, but honestly my confidence never really came back.
Shandi not long after we got her, to jumping at our local club. Kids, don’t sit backwards to hack out your pony.
I had my moments, and for a while my confidence came back but it took a sharp decline after a couple of falls once again. Then, I lost my beautiful Bella, the heart horse that deserved the absolute world. We’d only had her about two years, but she touched my life like no horse ever had before. She died and I felt my world fall apart. She was too young, only 12, too kind and loving. All that cruelly stolen away because someone had been too greedy and taken advantage of her kind, willing nature and show jumped her too high far too young, and had destroyed her legs.
Aptly named Arc Angel, this mare lived up to her name and then some.
Freddie and me fell out, he frightened me for a good few months. He has his moments now, but we’ve long since ‘clicked’ and I understand him completely. I’ve had a fair few falls since Shandi, and even more near misses. Part of my confidence comes from the fact I know now that I can handle mischievous behaviour off our equestrian friends. It may scare me at times, but I believe in my capabilities more now than ever. At the college I did my equine course at, we rode the riding school ponies twice or three times a week. Despite what they might tell you, unless you let them follow each other round in big circles at a slow pace, riding school ponies are not easy. They know their jobs and don’t really want to do anything but that. (For the most part, and this is talking about my personal experiences at one riding school.) I had more than one near miss, as did everyone on my course! If those ponies taught us one thing, it’s how to ride something naughty. In one case, I was bolted with down a hard, fairly narrow track out on a hack with my instructor and friend. Being bolted with is my worst fear, simply because it’s so damn dangerous and you can’t do anything to stop a horse that wants to go. I didn’t fall off in that instance, and I did manage to stop the pony. Though at the time, I got off onto shaking legs and pounding heart, I got back on the pony and rode through open fields on the way home. A win for me and my personal battle with nerves.
My point to all this, is that not too long ago any one of those factors from my first few lines (rain, fresh clip, few days off, pony in a spooky mood) would have meant I got off after five minutes, shaking like a leaf and on the verge of tears. Now it doesn’t, and that’s a win. I still get nervous. At times, my heart pounds and my stomach churns. I get clammy hands and dry mouth and all the doubts in the world come into my head. The difference is, is that I’m done letting it beat me. I sit deeper, straighten my back and kick on. The rush after I’ve beat my nerves, whether it’s jumping a new fence, cantering through an open field or some days just simply getting on board makes it worth every second.
My message is that if I can do it, anyone can because I swear on my beautiful horses life, I was a wreck that didn’t see a way to be confident ever again. If you want it enough, don’t let anything stop you. I didn’t, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Even if some days all you can do is sit and walk, do it. Every tiny step counts, more than you’ll ever know.
This is dedicated to the memory of Shandi and Bella, the two chestnut mares that never lived up to their stereotype!