Pressure and Confidence
I want to talk about a surprisingly personal topic for me - confidence, and what it means for your horsemanship. This is really long but I'd recommend reading to the end because there's something for everyone in here. I've talked about it briefly on here a few times, but about 8 months ago Sid launched me. He had never (and has not since) bucked that hard in my 9 years of owning him. I *knew* this horse, yet that day we walked out, he saw the spooky bench, and threw a bunch of the hardest bucks I've ever tried to ride. I went flying, and landed hard on my head and my hip. When I tried to get up to "just get back on and ride" (more on that philosophy on Saturday), my right leg literally buckled out from beneath me. My little sister had to catch Sid and untack him, then half carry me to the car. I couldn't walk comfortably for almost two weeks, and stiffness/pain when I rode persisted for two months.
I kept training, though. A week later I re-bruised my "clamp" bruise on my thigh from trying to stay on Sid riding another bucking horse. I rode Cleo through rearing problems and Mocha through little colt fits. I put a first ride on baby Magnum. But I could not confidently sit on my own horse. Every time I would so much as lead him to the ring I was a nervous mess. Let alone getting up on the mounting block, where I would bust into tears and stand there shaking before gingerly sliding on and walking a lap before hopping off. He still was "lookey", likely due to his diet problems and my anxiety, but he never did anything wrong during these rides. Heck, a friend came out and rode him during all of this, and he took care of her. My mom at one point literally had to give me a pony ride on my own horse. A horse I had owned for 8 years, because I was utterly terrified.
At this point, I began to doubt myself. How can I be helping other people with their horses if I can't even get on my own? How can I help lift them over their mountains if I'm still scrabbling at the base of mine? Objectively, I knew I could ride him. I knew he would be fine. But it took me almost 6 months to feel comfortable being on him again. Little baby rides. Rewarding myself for getting in the saddle. I felt ridiculous, and like a fool, until I really sat back and thought about it.
Fear and confidence are not necessarily blanket feelings. I was perfectly confident getting on other horses. But my body associated sitting on Sid with injury, stress, and sadness. Why on EARTH would my brain see him after that and think "yes! We should hop right on and gallop into the sunset!"? Fear is a process. It's a natural reaction and it is NOTHING to be ashamed of or for others to put you down for. If you are only comfortable walking for short distances, you become the best damn short-distance-walker there ever was. Break it down into parts. Reach out for help.
The second I started to just improve what I was confident doing, the rest of my riding confidence began to return. I would think "wow, that circle was really lovely and supple, maybe we can trot one?" Then two, then three, then loping, etc. Fear is a natural response and a tool to sharpen our senses. Use it to improve yourself, and be confident where you are in each situation. Do not let other people's ideas of what "real equestrians" are intimidate you. A real equestrian is someone who loves horses, and who tries their best around them. I'm back to running around like a dingbat tackless on Sid. You can do it too.