Before I start, the February issue of Dressage Today has the most brilliant article (pg. 44) that has inspired a lot of what I want to talk about. If you can get a copy, you really should check it out.
I want to tackle the fear concept first. I have ridden all my life and have never felt the kind of fear that I am dealing with right now. And when I say that I've ridden, I mean full-on gallops through fields, rain, knee deep rivers, desert sand, the Pacific Ocean's beaches, mountains, and so on. As a kid, the only rule relating to the horses was to be home by dark.
I had several very sturdy little mares that I rode bareback everywhere. I remember galloping along the shoulder of the two lane road that runs out of town. I was riding bareback, and the shoulder was lightly graveled and then dropped away into grass and weeds. A car pulled up next to us, and the driver leaned out of his window and yelled, 35 miles an hour! He gave a huge smile as I finally pulled up as he continued on the road toward the next town. Holy hell. No helmet, no saddle, and I was probably wearing either shorts, or rubber boots.
My teenage years were filled with wild shenanigans with the horses. My adult years have been no mellower. Montoya was hell on wheels. Most people simply wouldn't ride with me, and those who did felt sorry for me. She was that horrible. For the first several years that I owned her, getting on her was a feat in and of itself. I had to run and leap into the saddle because she couldn't stand still. Ever. For anything. With her, there was lots of fear, but it was fear of the trail. We rode ridiculously steep and treacherous trail that was sometimes mere inches in width. We rode in weather that most people wouldn't drive in. We forded swift and deep rivers. We rode for 24 hours at a time through pitch black forested trail that had drop offs. We encountered bears, rattlesnakes (which induced one of my rare falls from her back), yellow jacket swarms, and many other horse-eating obstacles.
My other endurance horses each had their own crazy buttons as well. And all of them have sent me to the ER for one reason or another. Montoya had a brain fart of some freakishly weird origin and kicked me from inside the trailer. She got me in the heart, arm, and eye. An EKG was necessary to ensure that my heart was functioning correctly. From the odd angle of my arm, the doctor was certain it was broken, but fortunately it was just swelling. My eye required tons of antibiotics as the cornea had been cut and there was some concern about vision loss. Mickey threw me just once (as I was breaking him), but it was bad enough that I sprained my pelvic bone. Who knew you could that? And of course Speedy G bashed in my head and separated my shoulder. He also kicked me so hard in the butt that it left a 6 inch circle that took several months to heal.
I know fear.
But, the fear I felt on the endurance trail was a completely different beast than what I am feeling now in the dressage arena, and I am not 100 percent sure why. I think it has something to do with the feeling of a lack of control. On the trail, which would seem like a situation where the rider has even less control, I felt that as long as I kept my horse pointed forward, I would be okay. I had a goal and was very clear in my mind what needed to get done. When Sydney bolts or rears, he really has no place to go. We're in an enclosed area. The ground is rock free. So what's the big deal? I really don't know.
Could it be that my goal is not as clearly defined as it was on the endurance trail? When you're doing 50 miles, the end goal is very clearly defined. Schooling in the arena is much more of a cerebral goal. I always stat with a plan, but it's certainly not as tangible as a finish line. Could it be his size? He's larger than any other horse I've owned. Could it be that I am just unsure of his breed? I know Arabians and how they think. The Thoroughbred personality is just different. Could it be that I am simply older and more fearful of hitting the ground?
All I can say is that I am NOT letting the fear get the better of me. And it's not because I like this horse so much that I can't stand to part with him. If he must go, then he goes. It has nothing to do with any sense of attachment. Instead, I know that if you let fear win, you're done. Just yesterday, Sydney gave a squeal, a head toss, and an I'm just getting warmed-up small rear. I quickly pulled his head to the side and worked him through the tantrum. Every nerve ending in my body was screaming GET OFF THIS HORSE! I almost did. But then I didn't. If nothing else, Sydney will help me become a much better rider.
There's more tomorrow ...