Confession: Today was interesting. I realized just how far I need to go to work on my confidence.
I think I underestimate myself constantly. I spoke with my husband today and was ridiculously self-righteous talking about how I have been dealing with my stress levels in a positive way.
What a big load of horse manure.
I’ve been fooling myself thinking that my anxiety is well-managed but the brutal honesty is that I hide it well. Really well. By the time anyone else sees it, my nerves are epically out of control. Recently I saw this meme and I wanted to laugh, but it really hit home.
Today was a perfect reminder of this, and I realize just how much I have to work on.
Some of you may know that my back has been killing me. I rode Ferrous the other day, and we had a great time. He was a little fresh due to the break in cold weather, but nothing crazy. A few hours later I had shooting pains down my spine and couldn’t breathe for the pain. I had trouble sleeping and knew that I had to finally get my back looked at by a chiropractor. I thank everyone who responded to my Facebook post requesting suggestions. It really helped to know you all care and the suggestions were amazing.
I found a chiropractor and made an appointment. My first session was today. Not only was the entire right side of my body locked up, but my hip and leg were almost an inch and a half shorter because of it. WHAT!!!!????
As I lay on the table while the chiropractor worked, I realized that maybe I don’t handle my stress all that well after all. I’m trying to build my client roster, sell books, and write several more as well as all the work I do with other publications and events. I love everything I do, but it is a balancing act. Oh, and did I mention that I have three children, homework, house, pets, and a husband that all need me? Sometimes it can be overwhelming. Riding my horse is an outlet for me, but that in itself can be a source of stress too if I have a bad ride, become tense, or even become fearful.
After my session, I felt amazing and left having booked several sessions over the next few weeks to get me back to baseline. With zero restrictions, I headed to the barn excited to go on a trail ride for the first time in months. After the polar vortex last week, we had a few days of 50 degrees F weather, and wanted to enjoy it as much as possible!
Ferrous loves riding on the extensive trails at our barn, and I confess I love it too. His usual pokey attitude in the ring is brightened up and he marches down the path with ears alert. He becomes forward and frankly the happiest pony in the world. He prefers to lead and that doesn’t bother me, although I would prefer he could go in the middle or behind other horses. When I try to encourage a different lineup, he bobs his head aggressively which makes me nervous. Today was no exception.
I was used to him on a hack. That is until we went another trail up to the woods. The footing was not great after weeks of freezing and thawing, so it was slippery, rocky, and uneven. He kept trying to trot and he was difficult to bring back. Not too far in I asked the others if we could turn around and head back to the open field, where he is much calmer. They balked, knowing me well enough to prod me a little forward. If I pushed back, we would turn around. But if I really thought about it and said I could handle it we would move forward. I tend to react first with nerves and then find my courage and inner strength. Today was no exception.
There is a large and winding, steep hill that we often will encourage the horses to open up and canter, sometimes even gallop. I decided to let Ferrous blow off some steam and canter up the hill. This is the first time we did it together and I wasn’t sure what to expect. He loved it but I stressed the whole time. Again, he was only doing what I allowed him to do. He didn’t move until I asked this time and loved the uphill canter. I had two horses behind me and everyone was feeling fresh, except the new pony whose first trail ride it was at our barn. He was unflappable. After the canter, the mare behind me was fired up. Unfortunately she and Ferrous were feeding off each other. Great…
The trip back downhill was nervewracking. Ferrous didn’t do anything bad. He was just excited and moving quickly at the walk. He wasn’t dangerous or out of control, however, it was enough to make me nervous. Honestly, I felt out of control even with something so minor, and it made me internally panic. He marched back to the trail loop ten lengths ahead of the other two horses, the mare behind jigging in place.
We headed back to the barn, through the flowing and icy stream, and finally Ferrous began to relax. We have 500 acres of property in suburban New Jersey. I’m happy exploring the trails as a pleasure rider. Ferrous is a Steady Eddy, hardly balking at anything but there are always exceptions. I realized as I nervously laughed off his behavior and tried to explain it away that I was trying to convince myself we were okay. The thing was, we were always okay. In my mind I created a bigger problem in my head than there actually was in reality.Did I need to hold him back as much as I did? Maybe. I feel he needs more trail time and lessons out there to calm and listen to the pace of the other horses. After all, this wasn’t a race. Perhaps I should lend him out to my friend training for the Gobi Desert Cup this year and she can enter him in some Hunter Paces?
There was no rearing, spooking, bucking or anything like that. My pony just wanted to move. Yet I kept trying to hold him because I was nervous, which then made him frustrated and pull harder. We argued and neither of us was relaxed. That being said, my friend and trainer agreed he might make a good endurance horse after all! He certainly has the drive and passion for it. Me? I have a long way to go.
I’m glad my friends wouldn’t let me back off. I worry about everything, and guess what? I proved to myself that I can face a challenge. I think both Ferrous and I could use a little desensitizing to new situations.
*Note, many of you have questions about why I would ride a horse I couldn’t handle, or why a fearful rider goes on the trails. So, I wrote a second part to this post to give more information in response to your comments on social media. Read It’s Not My Horse, It’s Me.