Ahh spring, how I loathe thee and love thee in equal measure. On the upside, you bring lighter nights and the ability to ride after work, but you also make my horses turn into bouncing, snorting idiots who I struggle to stay on top of. Where it began Six years ago, when I went to try, Pat, I was a total wreck and stood in the arena sweating as the vendor showed him off. As I mounted this young, mostly Thoroughbred horse I felt like having a little cry, but 10 minutes in and I was trotting around the arena giggling. I didn’t try any more horses, paid the money and hacked him home. Six weeks later, I realised that a young, spooky, horse might not have been the best choice for my fragile confidence. Then the day came when I got bucked off for the first time. It was a turning point and not in a good way – I was utterly terrified of my horse.
I’ve battled long and hard to overcome the excuses, the palm sweating and the fear. Now I can get on and do most things, including jumping without removing his back teeth, but the fear’s never gone. Recently, at a local showjumping competition, after walking Pat over to the warm up, he suddenly changed. Someone got a bit close to us and he bucked like never before. I clung to my neckstrap and sat quietly, waiting for it to be over. I felt that sheer terror from six years ago all over again. Regardless of working Pat through it, doing our two rounds and getting placed, the only thing I took from the day was how scared I felt.
You can do it
We need to realise that our horses aren’t mindless robots. They feel fear and excitement, and react accordingly, just like us. Yes, I may well be better off with a horse who isn’t quite so sharp or unpredictable, but changing horses every time something doesn’t go well isn’t going to improve my mental wellbeing either. The feeling of biting off more than you can chew can be overcome. Be brave, know that you have the tools to ride through the bad times and you’ll suddenly find yourself having fewer of them. I dare say I’ll always carry those demons of fear when it comes to riding at a competition, but I won’t let it beat me. I want to make a point of sticking two fingers up to fear – I feel it, but I’ll never let it stop me enjoying my ride.
I set goals at the start of this year that were a little optimistic and I may have bitten off more than I can chew. They are goals, though, and if we don’t push our boundaries then we’ll never progress or grow in any direction. Bender’s first Horse of the Year Show qualifier is looming and he’s a whole different ball game to Pat – keep him calm and on side and you’d think he was a Skegness beach donkey, but let him boil over and you may as well be riding a space shuttle! My eventing season is about to kick off with Pat, too, and we’ll be taking a little step back to build our confidence. Then we’ll plough on, trying to reach our goal of a regional final ticket and perhaps another shot at BE100.
Biting off more than you can chew isn’t always a bad thing. Keep focused on the positives and, if you haven’t already, make a goal for the end of this year. Remember to enjoy the little things – those small steps forward aren’t always obvious at first, but if you look for them they’re always there.
Love as always,
Vic and Pat