Tuesday, February 28

Anxiety: The Sneaky Monster

I have worked with a lot of students in the past who suffer from anxiety, and I struggle with anxiety myself. It's a tricky thing, because frequently fear and worry are based on completely logical issues. Riding horses is crazy! They are giant scaredy cats! But, for some reason, most of us are determined to overcome our fear and ride. There are several manifestations of anxiety that I see. A specific fear due to prior experience- which I find the hardest, but most straight forward to deal with. A general fear that things will go terribly wrong. And, as in my own case, a general uneasiness not necessarily related to horses, but detrimental to riding nonetheless. I find the more centered and focused I am before I get in the saddle, the better I am able to shut down the anxiety and have a great ride. That means some days I choose not to ride. On days when I don't feel I can do justice to my horse from his back, I like to choose an activity that gets both of us some exercise. It's much easier to settle and focus on a high anxiety day if I am in motion alongside my horse. I like to do showmanship or work on lunging on these days. Ground activities have the added benefit of increasing control on the ground, and they increase my confidence in my horse. A student sent me a great link about anxiety while riding, and I think it's worth sharing.

How do you deal with fear in the saddle? 

Saturday, February 18

Summer Camp Chronicles Part I

Riding at summer camps was a big part of my early riding experience. As early as the age of 7, I was beebopping around on camp horses having the time of my life. While this wasn't a terribly educational portion of my riding carreer, it gave me lots of saddle time, confidence, and an appreciation for these hardworking saints. Someday, I'll write about those wonderful camp experiences, but today, I'm going to write about one of the most miserable weeks of my life.

It all started with a brochure I picked up at a local tack store. The camp was located in Canada, about an hour away from one of our favorite ski resorts. And it was a jumping camp.  Up to this point I had ridden almost exclusively western, but I reeeeeeally wanted to try jumping. I figured this was the easiest way to get some good experience under my belt.While I was a year older than the listed maximum age for the camp, I was allowed to enroll. I worked my butt off in my riding lessons getting in shape to jump, and when summer rolled around, I knew I was ready to jump sweet jumps.

The camp was about a 10 hour drive from home, but it just so happened some friends were taking a long summer vacation at the ski resort nearby. She offered to pick me up from the airport and drop me off at camp. My dad had faxed all the paperwork in advance so there wouldn't be any problems. We thought.
When I arrived, the gal asked for my paperwork. And wanted a parent to sign forms. She almost didn't take me... I was so nervous. Looking back, that may have been a blessing in disguise. Over the course of the week I was accused of sneaking into the 14 year old boy's tent among a litany of other silly charges that I had nothing to do with. But this isn't a blog about crappy camp counselors.. let's get back to the horses. I was assigned a plump little appy mare with no mane or tail to speak of. She was cute and reminded me of a horse at home... we hit it off pretty well. Sadly, the camp owner was not impressed. The very first day, she stuck me in the beginner group, many of these students couldn't even steer. Her reasoning? Because I was "just a western rider". After the first day I was moved into a more advanced group, and we immediately started off jumping 2'3'". This camp did not focus so much on teaching you what you were doing as simply surviving. Luckily, I didn't scare easy. Even after watching lots of refusals and runouts, it was my turn.... the feeling of just riding up to a jump and knowing my horse was going to sail over built my confidence, even though I had no idea what I was doing.

Looking back now, I realize how sad those poor horses must have been. Many had physical issues- I saw stringhalt, eye issues, and enough lameness to make you shake your head. I couldn't pull the noseband tight enough to pass tack check, and I'm quite sure my little close contact saddle with a plain pad didn't do any favors for my saintly appy's back. I did learn a few things about jumping... mostly how to stay out of a good horse's way. At the end of the week show for the parents,  the "just a western rider" won the equitation class. I'll never go back there, but I never want to forget my terrible week at camp.

Friday, February 10

This entry brought to you by Facebook

I've been a little uninspired lately as far as topics for blogs, so I reached out to my wonderful facebook friends for a little inspiration. Here are the things they wanted to hear about!

Grant wanted to know how long it takes for a horse to go from conception to rideable. It's a straightforward question, but the answer isn't quite as simple. The gestation period for a horse is 11 months, nobody argues this one. The time from birth that it is ok to ride them is another story. The average horse person will tell you two and a half to three years is old enough to start their riding career. There are some folks out there who start their horses at 16-18 months so that they are ready to show as a 2 year old. Racehorses all turn a year older on January 1. If they were born late in the year, they may be racing as a 2 year old much MUCH younger. Then there's the folks on the other side of the fence who say a horse shouldn't be ridden until their skeleton is fully mature, around 6 years old. If you are interested in more information on the horse's skeleton, Dr. Deb Bennett has a great article on her website. Now since this is my blog, here's my opinion. I think if you wait until a horse is 6 years old to start them, they have spent too much time not working for a living. I like to do lots of groundwork when they are still small and impressionable, around 2. I want them nice and quiet and to get them going under saddle. Then a break until they are after 3 to start their "real" training. Each horse is an individual and their physical and mental maturity should always be taken into account before doing any type of training.

Jamison wanted to know how many inches are in a hand, which is how we express a horse's height. There are 4 inches in a hand. Hand is abbreviated hh, and the inches over and above a hand are placed after the decimal. So a horse who is 15 hands and 2 inches would be 15.2hh. Many folks misunderstand the use of the decimal and would list this horse as 15.5hh, but that would not be correct.

Kelsey wanted to know if Mr. Ed could really talk. According to Wikipedia they used a thread across his lip to encourage him to "talk", but, being a very smart boy, quickly learned to watch the actor and start talking when his costar had finished a line.

And.. I found this video on youtube. Enjoy. Or marvel. Or wonder. Or.. whatever, I guess. ;)

Tuesday, February 7

Great Expectations

What goes through your mind while you're riding? If you're like many of my students and clients, you are focused on not letting things go wrong. "I hope Spooky McJumpypants doesn't freak out in the corner" "I hope Ol' Twobyfour doesn't brace through this transition" "Hopefully Mexican Jumping Beans isn't going to buck today"  This kind of thinking can be a self defeating prophecy. It's amazing how in tune our horses are to our mental state of being. They're just trotting along or whathaveyou, when they feel your body tense as you think about where they might buck/spook/swerve/brace or otherwise booger around. So your horse is thinking, "Well, shoot! Miss Rider Lady is really nervous about something that's coming up, I should be too!" We unintentionally clutter the horse's mind and make it more difficult for them to focus on the job at hand.

I was watching a boarder at my barn ride her beautiful black mare the other night. As they were going around I heard her say something along the lines of "stop bracing" to her horse... who continued to brace. Even though she was riding the horse in a way to correct the error, the horse continued leaning on the reins. When she changed her tune and asked the horse to be soft, the change was almost instantaneous.

Next time  you ride, try it. Make a note of the negative thoughts that you have, and see what happens if you turn them around into a positive. It's not a magic trick, your horse won't suddenly learn how to do flying changes; and we can't change our horse's natural way of going or temperment. However, it's amazing how well a horse will work when we get out of their way.