Thursday, March 13, 2014

Losing your nerve

You know that sick feeling in your stomach, the adrenaline rush where you feel a little spacey, and your fingers and toes start to tingle? That was me the weekend of the Pine Hill show - I was strangely plagued by a really bad case of show nerves. I had a jumping lesson on Saturday before the show Sunday,  and I was totally second-guessing myself and Paddy. I  was SO NERVOUS in the lesson - I rode like crap, he stopped 3 or 4 times, and halfway through our ride I was to the point of withdrawing from the show. This was a new experience for me, and I didn’t quite know what to do.

In the distant past when I was competing Cash, I only showed when I knew we could go out and OWN the division. That sounds cocky, but I was always so confident in Cash, and what we could do, that I was never worried about stops on XC or rails in stadium (in fact our whole jumping career, he only stopped once). By the time we were showing seriously, we’d been a team for four years, and we had such an amazingly solid partnership that I knew exactly how pretty much every fence was going to go down. Don’t get me wrong, Cash was a tough ride – very sensitive, very fast, and you couldn’t touch his face – but we understood each other and we made it work. Sure, I’d get nervous in the start box, but the adrenaline rush is part of the fun, right?

This used to be no big thang. That's a maxed-out Training level fence - 3'3, with a 6 foot spread.

But my show nerves for Pine Hill were totally different – they were based on doubt. Could I ride Paddy well enough to get him over the jumps, or was I going to freeze up, get loose in the tack, and throw him at jumps? Was I fit enough to ride strongly for the entire course? Was he going to stop and stare at every single jump? My list of worst-case scenarios kept getting longer in my head and I got more and more worried.

Today, this is terrifying. It's 2'3.

What's even more strange is that I rode Red in his first event on this exact same course almost a year ago, and I was totally cool about it. But I've ridden Red for 10 years, and I knew he'd jump it all. Besides, I took him eventing on a total whim - we had nothing to prove to anyone and we were only there for fun.

This looks like fun, right?

Luckily, I have some good friends and a good trainer who put things into perspective for me and Paddy. I was NOT going out to win – I was going out to school my very green horse, who I’ve had for FOUR MONTHS, around his first event. My only goal was to make it a positive experience for him, and to set the stage for the future. I needed to ride the best I could and be positive so that HE would be positive and confident. Somehow, thinking about it that way took the pressure off enough for me to get us around the course without me throwing up. My stadium round was less than stellar (I threw him at the fences and crawled up his neck) and of course we had the stop XC.  But we lived, I didn't ride THAT badly, and there were a lot of really good things about each phase of the event. I came away feeling like I'd done a relatively good job, all things considered.

Alas, we weren't as together as we usually are.

But still. Where do I go from here? I have a green horse, and I'm not gonna lie, the Starter Novice jumps look plenty challenging. Paddy's got so many holes in his training - no fault of his, of course, but he got a late start in life and doesn't have the skills that Cash did at a similar point in his career (for comparison, Cash was started as a 2 yo in reining). I can (hopefully) work myself and Paddy through this and we'll be a stronger team, but to what end? I've done the eventing thing before - I know how much is involved and I'm not sure I want to do it again. I just don't want it bad enough right now.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to have lost my nerve. What's your experience, and what was finally the tipping point where you were able to move forward again? If you're still struggling, what are you doing to work on it?


  1. I lost my nerve with Shy a long time ago and we are just getting back into riding. I have no plans of over having all four feet off the ground, but I am learning to trust her (and vise versa) and starting small. Seems like you are doing all the right things with Paddy, it just may take longer to get where you want. Keep doing the small stuff until you are totally comfortable, then move up. Maybe just relax and have fun with him with no end goal (like moving up levels) in mind? Joust :)

  2. Don't have much to add other than what we've talked about, but riding should be fun. If it is more nerve wracking than fun... I'd change something until it's fun again!

  3. Still struggling. Struggling with fear and pain and the memory of pain and the fear of the memory of pain. Struggling with an older body and twenty years off of riding. Struggling with getting my horse sound and trusting that he's going to stay sound. Struggling with relaxing and riding rather than bracing and tension. Struggling with the do I don't I prospect of living in a show barn and taking lessons from a dressage trainer that really encourages her students to show. I'm STILL afraid to canter. Not because I am afraid he is going to fall, but because the canter now scares the crap out of me. Wanting my younger body combined with my older mind. Wanting the carefree and careless attitude of my youth. Wanting the hip-shot arrogance of knowing I could sit anything, could ride anything, never trotting, always cantering.

    I know. I understand.

    Maybe you should take a deep breath and stop pushing to be what you and Cash were. Slow down and smell the Fabio-Paddington. Take a little time to have fun with him and bond. If there is anything I have learned after coming back to horses it's that things take a lot longer than they did when I was a kid. (Of course I am also doing stuff I never considered doing when I was a kid). Two years to get to the point where you are ready to show is nothing. Have goals, not expectations.

    I think you and Paddy are special. The connection shines through your riding already. Work on that and let the other stuff wait until you both are more confident. (Maybe you should try being a War pony with Red for awhile. Although my idea of a War Pony involves feathers and war paint, but . . . .)

  4. Not related to your post (although I do completely understand!), but I just found your blog through She Moved to Texas and I must say I am so IN LOVE with your pony! I grew up on Haffies and did foxhunting, eventing, and dressage with them! Let's just say, you guys have a new groupie :D

  5. Working on a post about this topic as we speak. Unfortunately - I came back to riding with my confidence issues unresolved.

    We're definitely a work in progress. If I put pressure on myself and Val with (unrealistic) expectations, we tend jump right on the struggle bus.

    It's that be-here-now, ride the horse you have today thing. A lesson that's taking me a lifetime to learn.

    And Lauren is so right - riding should be fun!

  6. I think you and Paddy will make a formidable team sooner hen you think.

  7. I'd give it time--my first xc experience(s) on Cuna were terrifying and he didn't even do anything wrong. I had to get over the mental hump of thinking I was going to die and then I was able to have fun. It took lots of time. Time over fences, but also just time in the saddle together learning to trust each other. Hundreds of hours of hacking in the hills and a few hours playing dressage. ;-)

    And be flexible. :-) If it's not fun for you anymore, find something that is. You've got Paddybear now, so the world is your oyster.

  8. Oh lady, you are speaking right to me.
    My mare has no qualms bucking when she is uncomfortable - a stoic she is not. We had bad saddle fit for a year and spent a lot of time bucking around an arena. Fast forward through several years with a great fitting saddle, lots of wet blankets, and we're having fun. This past winter though she didn't get out like she should have and I hopped on, did a quick warm up, asked for canter, and was nearly launched into orbit.

    Even though I managed to get her sorted out eventually, I'm so tired of getting thrown that the thought of cantering again has my stomach turning. I don't want to break another foot, feel sore for a week (vs. a day when I was younger), or get the wind knocked out of me. Even though realistically, that won't happen! I've worked her more regularly and combined with getting out a little bit each day (which is NOT enough), she's gets her kinks out and is fine! I want desperately to event - it looks like so much fun, but my nerves kick in and I see "accidents!" in my mind's eye. I'm going to fight for it though, unless she tells me "No way, nope, done, not my thing!"

  9. BUT! You say you don't want it bad enough right now. That's fine! You don't have to - you guys seem to be excelling in dressage and loving it, you've got that! Like SprinklerBandit said, the world is your oyster - there are no expectations - you are doing this for you!

  10. I do not event, but I do know that showing of any kind is a huge investment on many levels. Maybe eventing is not the most enjoyable way to spend your time, money, and nerve at this time. Keeping it fun is definitely paramount.

    I tend to lose my nerve when it comes to my horse risking injury. That is part of the reason that I do not jump anything substantial. Good thing I love dressage!

  11. What do you want to do?

    I mean, you're pretty goal-oriented, like me. Maybe you're firing off at the wrong goal, and you'd rather jump in the arena for fun and work on dressage for a year. Or maybe you'd rather skip the boring stuff and go foxhunt on your little teddy bear. What sounds like fun right now?

  12. My rule of thumb is when things get scary(even if you feel they shouldn't be scary.), overwhelming or too stressful. Take a step back. With Steady I have had to do this a LOT. You are not ready until you're ready. To me it just sounds like you aren't ready and that's OK. You may be ready in a month or it may be a year. That is not really relavent. My steps back have been to really delve into the deeper biomechanics of dressage. With my daughters haflinger it has been back into natural horsemanship. If you find an interest in another discipline especially one that will be condusive to the training process and progress in any other sport you choose you aren't really loosing any forward momentum. You are filling the holes. Not made by you but even with the best of intentions and knowledge hole are still often made unintentionally by all of us. It is not the holes we need to focus on. It is being as good of a horseman to recognize when something is missing and taking the steps, in which ever direction nessecary to get back on track. I have been told this more than once and will probably have to hear it many more times. "Training a horse is not a linear process". As far as haffies I really do think they mature very slowly and its not fair to compare a quarter horse/ paint to a haflinger. They are completely different beasts.

  13. I hear you. I'm having confidence issues, I thought I was over the hump, made a bad decision in a lesson and now I'm back to second guessing myself. I came to the conclusion that horseback riding is too expensive of a hobby to spend the time leading up to my lessons dry heaving in the parking lot from nerves (yes, seriously).

    So, I tried out a new barn this past week. It's an eventing barn and I was so impressed! A world of difference from my current hunter barn. I like my current barn's program but I love the new place's vibe. Much more laid back, more varied with opportunities to go outside. All things that help me to stop obsessing about the what ifs.

    I guess what I am saying is, do whatever it is that makes you happy. Life's too short and Paddy's too cute not to enjoy your time in the saddle.

  14. I'm in a similar position. I had an ex-steeplechaser. She was a little - ok, sometimes a lot - nuts, but she jumped everything. Every time. No questions asked. Point, shoot, hold on. After she passed, I realized I don't know how to jump AT ALL without her to take care of me. Combine that with leasing the wrong horse for far too long (he was a dirty stopper - seriously, he would stop at crossrails he could STEP over) and now I'm terrified to jump. I'm forcing myself to take lessons again at a new farm and I'm hoping to regain some confidence on a nice school horse. First lesson is today - ack!!!

  15. As Funder said, I think you should try and feel into what you WANT to do--right now. Not what you used to want to do, or what you think you ought to want to do. What draws you? What is it that you don't feel any resistance to?

    I competed for twenty years and did many things that scared me, and at the time it was totally worth it to me. The last five years the stress began to outweigh the fun. I was scared my horse would get hurt, scared I'd get hurt, tired of being so damn busy, indifferent to who won. I wanted a more peaceful life. But it took me years, literally, and the excuse of having a baby, to acknowledge that what I wanted to do right now was NOT compete. And you know, I felt guilty about that for a long time.

    Now that I'm older, my peaceful non-stressful (and also not exciting or anything to brag about) horse life suits me just fine. This doesn't mean that you would make the same choice. But I would suggest making a lot of space to feel into what you truly want. Try different things--if something just doesn't feel good, try something else. If you don't enjoy that adrenaline rush of half-fear, half-excitment any more, you know, that's OK. You've been there, done that. And if you find that you miss it when you don't do it, then maybe it's time to try it again.

    Just my thoughts. And I am SO happy that you have a fun horse that you are enjoying. That is the main thing, as was said earlier. Focus on the joy and the fun. In whatever form fits you right now.