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  1. #1
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    Default The fearful young student- having hysterical fits- UPDATE post 163

    OK. I am new to teaching and am not sure how to deal with this. I have a student who is now 10, almost 11. She wants to show my very nice, well trained hunter pony this year. It will be her first time showing. She lives 1.5 hrs away. Her family were boarders before their move and are now personal friends. I am teaching her and letting her use this nice pony as a favor to them.

    Her fear issues started about 2 years ago when a horsefly bit her gelding, who bucked and she fell. She was not injured. She refused to remount, crying and screaming that she could not do it. Then after they moved, same thing happened again. She did not ride again for months. Now she is riding again and wants to show. The show is in less than a month.

    She was down for a lesson on my pony 2 weeks ago. While riding, a jet (barn is very close to a navy landing field) flew over the ring, very low and very loud (he was out of his flight path, they are not supposed to do that). Normally very quiet pony spooked at the incredibly loud roar by skittering sideways at the canter and a buck. She fell, very well, and landed on the feet before falling all the way down. Not hurt. Jumped right up and walked toward me and her mom. She didn't start the waterworks until we had the (very contrite looking) pony and were waiting to remount. She wouldn't. I gave her a look and told her it was not optional. So she got on and sat for 4 seconds before jumping back off, screaming and crying that she wasn't ready. Ride over. Walked pony out on foot.

    Another lesson today. Flatwork is great. I set up a course and just as she is doing her opening circle the jets start. The horses hear them every day, and they do not bother them. Student pulls up pony screaming that she can not ride while the jets are flying. When asked why, because the were "too close". They were about 3/4 of a mile away. Pony is practically asleep. She got more and more worked up until she was incoherent. I reminded her that if she were in a show, she would be excused for her behavior. No response. She ended up getting off.

    IMHO, this is totally insane behavior. Pull your big girl panties up and ride the pony!!!! I remind myself that she is 10 and is truly afraid, but it still irritated me beyond words that she does not seem to try to work past it. If she did, she would realize that it is NBD.

    What am I going to do when she pulls this crap at a show because there are flies, or planes, or too many horses, or the wind blew funny, etc...???

    Am I not being understanding enough, or not tough enough??

    ETA:: Please note that I have never expressed this frustration to or in front of the student!!
    Last edited by mpsbarnmanager; Feb. 21, 2013 at 12:54 PM.



  2. #2
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    I think that this girl needs a different trainer. You are entirely not appropriate. In any way.


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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by mpsbarnmanager View Post
    OK. I am new to teaching and am not sure how to deal with this. I have a student who is now 10, almost 11. She wants to show my very nice, well trained hunter pony this year. It will be her first time showing. She lives 1.5 hrs away. Her family were boarders before their move and are now personal friends. I am teaching her and letting her use this nice pony as a favor to them.

    Her fear issues started about 2 years ago when a horsefly bit her gelding, who bucked and she fell. She was not injured. She refused to remount, crying and screaming that she could not do it. Then after they moved, same thing happened again. She did not ride again for months. Now she is riding again and wants to show. The show is in less than a month.

    She was down for a lesson on my pony 2 weeks ago. While riding, a jet (barn is very close to a navy landing field) flew over the ring, very low and very loud (he was out of his flight path, they are not supposed to do that). Normally very quiet pony spooked at the incredibly loud roar by skittering sideways at the canter and a buck. She fell, very well, and landed on the feet before falling all the way down. Not hurt. Jumped right up and walked toward me and her mom. She didn't start the waterworks until we had the (very contrite looking) pony and were waiting to remount. She wouldn't. I gave her a look and told her it was not optional. So she got on and sat for 4 seconds before jumping back off, screaming and crying that she wasn't ready. Ride over. Walked pony out on foot.

    Another lesson today. Flatwork is great. I set up a course and just as she is doing her opening circle the jets start. The horses hear them every day, and they do not bother them. Student pulls up pony screaming that she can not ride while the jets are flying. When asked why, because the were "too close". They were about 3/4 of a mile away. Pony is practically asleep. She got more and more worked up until she was incoherent. I reminded her that if she were in a show, she would be excused for her behavior. No response. She ended up getting off.

    IMHO, this is totally insane behavior. Pull your big girl panties up and ride the pony!!!! I remind myself that she is 10 and is truly afraid, but it still irritated me beyond words that she does not seem to try to work past it. If she did, she would realize that it is NBD.

    What am I going to do when she pulls this crap at a show because there are flies, or planes, or too many horses, or the wind blew funny, etc...???

    Am I not being understanding enough, or not tough enough??
    You are angry at her because she is afraid ... after multiple falls?

    She is not "pulling any crap," she is SCARED.

    And she is not going to overcome that without some help, and probably taking a fair number of steps back to things she does feel comfortable with, before she is able to move forward again.

    By the way this probably means she won't be showing - over fences at least - in a month.

    Being irritated is neither appropriate nor helpful, I'm afraid. The job of the teacher is to figure out where the rider is on any given day, and create a lesson plan that helps that rider to progress. With a fearful rider, that could easily translate to just getting on and walking in a certain pattern on a particularly fearful day.

    Would you bully a scared young horse into jumping around when you *knew* the horse was genuinely afraid after three bad experiences? A scared rider is no different, and deserves more compassionate and effective instruction.

    Try acknowledging the fear and then calmly and unemotionally pointing out that the pony is not afraid. If you express some sympathy for the girl's fears and allow her to perhaps stand next to you while the jets fly overhead, you may be able to demonstrate to her that there is nothing to fear, allowing her to start working past her anxiety.
    **********
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  4. #4
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    I don't think I'm qualified answer your question, but I sure as heck wouldn't take her to a show. I'm sure some instructors will come on here and help you find the answer.

    If I had behaved that way at 10 I wouldn't have been allowed to show until that behavior was a thing of the past. Then again , things were different back then..


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  5. #5
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    Does she have anxiety issues anywhere else (if you know)? Does the child really want to continue riding...maybe it's time for "the discussion."

    Other than that, if she really wants to and her anxiety is getting in the way, maybe it's time for some professional counseling.

    EDA: I'm not sure that you, OP would be the best one to ask if she wants to continue to ride. Sometimes that happens. The daughter of a very good friend (and trainer) quit riding for several years after she fell off. My friend was fine with it...she's back riding again. It's a hobby and it's supposed to be fun, don't forget that.
    "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals." ~Immanuel Kant


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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by skydy View Post
    I don't think I'm qualified answer your question, but I sure as heck wouldn't take her to a show. I'm sure some instructors will come on here and help you find the answer.

    If I had behaved that way at 10 I wouldn't have been allowed to show until that behavior was a thing of the past. Then again , things were different back then..
    I agree with this. Although am not an instructor nor a parent. Something is wrong here and the child is not ready to show. She may not be ready to ride, either. Maybe she really doesn't in fact like it, or she likes it but is too scared to keep it together, I don't know.
    What's wrong with you?? Your cheese done slid off its cracker?!?!


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  7. #7
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    I would not let her go to the show. It would be a waste of entry money for her parents to take her. It is no use pushing the child and telling her to put her big girl panties on - it would seem that you are trivializing her fears. By falling off and not getting on, the survivalist part of her brain has already started the process of being afraid. That's why it is so important to get back on. Even when I broke my ankle - close to 15 years after I started riding, I still had fear issues when I got back on again, about 8 weeks later.

    Instead, to find a way for her to work through it, you need to break it down into steps with a reward for each step, along with a big goal. Such as, have ice cream/feed the horses (whatever she likes doing) once she walks once around the arena with the jets flying. Next time make it two times, then three, etc.

    The big goal is being able to go to the show, once she can demonstrate she isn't going to have a melt down. It is important that she understand that the fear is ok, but she just needs to learn to work through it. with the goal/reward scenario, you are letting her make the decision for herself, instead of bossing her into it and trying to make her do something she does not feel she is ready for.

    Getting angry and losing your temper will not have any positive effects.


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  8. #8
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    ah, the lovely helpful people....


    Ok, I have no particular idea on how to break through that fit.

    when you see her start off try to redirect her attention.

    tell her a silly joke....

    I'd wonder if she realy wants to ride, or if the parents make her....
    Quote Originally Posted by Mozart View Post
    Personally, I think the moderate use of shock collars in training humans should be allowed.


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  9. #9
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    I had one very fearful student, but I was not sure what the trigger was. I would tell him at the beginning of a lesson that he HAD TO do three things that I listed. Then I told him he was allowed to tell me NO on one. Then he proceeded to do the two remaining things flawlessly. I am no psychologist here, but giving the student just a little bit of control worked in my situation.


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  10. #10
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    The child is either 1) truly terrified, which means back to very basics on a near dead pony that wouldn't spook if a bomb went off underneath it or 2) not really terrified but doesn't actually want to be riding, in which case there is no fix other than not riding. In either case, I do not think your response is remotely appropriate (even if it is just for us and you are much, much nicer to her - please god let that be the case). If you truly believe she needs to cut the crap, even though you say she is honestly afraid, you are not going to be patient enough to help her. I think there are people who understand fear, and what it takes to work through it and people who don't. Its okay if you are someone who doesn't, but you should not be trying to help a truly fearful child if you really think she can "just pull on her big girl panties and get over it". It would be great if it were that simple, because you KNOW if she just rode she'd be fine, but fearful people (especially children) need a person who "gets it" enough to know how far to push and when to call it a day. I'm not sure you are that person.


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  11. #11
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    Yeah, as a parent I sort of wonder how much the kid wants to ride as well. But as a parent I'm not sure I want the instructor to give the suck it up cupcake speech either.

    Have you talked to the parents and how do they feel about her behavior? I know what I'd tell my child but this is not my child. What do they want? What does the child say she wants? You can't drill sargeant the child into being brave but it does need to be addressed, or the idea of showing needs to go on the very back burner for a while.
    Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
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  12. #12
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    This is a scared 10 year old, not a scared 30 year old. Logic and reason won't work. Telling her she'll be excused at a show won't work.

    You need to head her off before the hysterics. And that means not bullying her into hysterics. Okay, she's riding and planes start upsetting her. Tell her she can stop and you can hold the pony so he can't do anything. She can sit and see for herself that the pony is okay. Or you can let her dismount while YOU ride the pony.

    Don't get annoyed with her for being justifiably afraid.
    Against My Better Judgement: A blog about my new FLF OTTB
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  13. #13
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    I feel you on this, I was ALWAYS game to get on any horse/ pony... to the point of probably being dangerous (where were my parents....?) anyway the kids I teach as so so so not that way.. pony twitches and it's all OMG!!! did it just try to buck me off?!?! and i'm thinking huh? no.. he just twitched... anyway my suggestions are to try and take a step back, go back to doing stretches on a lunge line, patterns (barrel, weaving, etc.) fun stuff, think pony club... can she get a flag out of one bucket and drop it in the next?

    focus on things that she'll enjoy and that will make her more balanced and confident, are trail rides a possibility? with a good horse she can put in lots of saddle time and bond with the pony some, to us it may seem silly but to a new rider especially kids they want to bond with the pony and trust it (I realize this is often a bad idea ex. dobblin would NEVER hurt me!) but if they don't think dobblin will hurt them their less likely to freak and cause the horse to freak and dump them... I have one 9 (maybe 10) yr old that is a good rider but very timid and so things just go slow slow slow, and another that isn't scared but just is not a natural in anyway.... until the little one quits being scared and the big one can trot without bouncing off shows are a no go. I feel like your little girl needs to just have some fun to loosen up. my .02



  14. #14
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    Default I'll chime in... starting with, she's 10...

    and has had some scary falls. Just because you don't get hurt, doesn't mean you don't get scared. She may, and rightly so, be scared of getting hurt or she may be scared of failing, or maybe she is just scared because, at this point, she smartly realizes, that if something goes wrong, she is not in control on any level.

    If a kid can't sit a spook, canter, pony buck, that kid should not be jumping. Really, just because the pony is "mostly" pushbutton, doesn't mean a kid that can't sit a misbehavior should be jumping. Sounds like if things go wrong, she comes off.

    I'm sure the pony is nice. I taught right in the flight path of the Navy Jets in Virginia Beach 20 years ago, hell, nothing ever made those horses spook.

    She's scared. So she doesn't want to ride that day? Big deal, you didn't drive her an hour and a half, her mom did. If they aren't paying you, well, that's your business. If they are, you aren't out anything if she bails in the middle of the lesson, but I would gently explain to her that until she can handle things going wrong, which may include a fall, that showing is not a good idea. Then take her to the show, sans pony, so she can see how others of her age, size and experience level, handle things when they don't go well and ponies are naughty.

    Meltdowns like that are from terror. I had a student whose mother was a whip for a very well known hunt. She refused to admit that her daughter was absolutely terrified of horses, until the day a hundred year old, steady eddie school horse did a little tiny buck, more of a hump, on the lunge line and her daughter screamed so long she turned blue and fainted and fell off.

    I suggested that perhaps her long legged, graceful, wraithlike daughter would be a lovely ballerina (mom was non of those things). Mom finally had to admit that no matter how bad she wanted DD to follow in her hoofprints, it was not going to happen.

    Have the conversation. As soon as someone tells your student if she doesn't want to ride, it's okay, then you can get down to figuring out what is wrong.

    Since you are new to teaching, telling someone to put on their big girl panties is not always the way to go. If you continue on for oh, several decades, you'll find out that teaching beginners especially friends or relative's children is often the most difficult lessons there are.


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  15. #15
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    I wouldn't take her to a show until that fear was resolved (or mostly resolved), but I certainly don't think you're going about it the right way. Yes, kids in general are incredibly resilient physically and mentally in that "get back up and ride" way, but that doesn't apply to all kids across the board. If she's genuinely terrified and unable to focus, what point is there in making her get back on and do what's terrifying her?

    When an adult rider posts here about riding fears posters usually recommend a bunch of books on overcoming fear, taking it slow, even counselling. But you're angry that the kid didn't get over her fear immediately? I agree, you're not the right trainer in this situation - not only because you're not handling the kid properly, but because you're angry at her.


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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by LauraKY View Post
    Does she have anxiety issues anywhere else (if you know)? Does the child really want to continue riding...maybe it's time for "the discussion."
    I am not a mental health professional, but the same thought occurred to me: that this is about more than just falling off a pony.
    Everyone is entitled to my opinion.


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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lucassb View Post
    Try acknowledging the fear and then calmly and unemotionally pointing out that the pony is not afraid. If you express some sympathy for the girl's fears and allow her to perhaps stand next to you while the jets fly overhead, you may be able to demonstrate to her that there is nothing to fear, allowing her to start working past her anxiety.

    I am not angry at her. I am frustrated because I don't know what to do about it. I have done exactly as you posted above. The mom has too. We have both explained to her that we would not put her in a dangerous situation. She was fine up until the jets started. She is quite confident and we were having a great lesson until this point. So she is not afraid all the time. How do I help her realize these falls were flukes?



  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lucassb View Post
    Try acknowledging the fear and then calmly and unemotionally pointing out that the pony is not afraid. If you express some sympathy for the girl's fears and allow her to perhaps stand next to you while the jets fly overhead, you may be able to demonstrate to her that there is nothing to fear, allowing her to start working past her anxiety.

    I am not angry at her. I am frustrated because I don't know what to do about it. I have done exactly as you posted above. The mom has too. We have both explained to her that we would not put her in a dangerous situation. She was fine up until the jets started. She is quite confident and we were having a great lesson until this point. So she is not afraid all the time. How do I help her realize these falls were flukes?



  19. #19
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    Sounds like some form of PTSD. Even though the child was not hurt, she is clearly having emotional flashbacks to her falls. I don't know where this fear comes from, but it may be from the reactions of other people in her life about how unsafe riding is, and this has exaggerated the fear that she has.

    Every kid is different. I would say forget about showing. As others have said, just do things to get her confidence back up. I think that can happen by giving her a large number of positive experiences to reference as opposed to scary ones. I would go so far as to hold her back intentionally, so that she is begging you to allow her to do more. Because only a very strong desire on her part is going to be sufficient to allow her to amass enough good experiences that she will stop dwelling on the negative ones.

    Unfortunately, all of this may mean that she needs to take lessons when there are no jets going by for a while.
    "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller


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  20. #20
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    I should also add that I have never shown her that I am frustrated. I let the mom talk to her until she calm down, then, today for example, I calmly asked her why she was upset. Was it the jumping she was afraid of or the jets or both? She replied both, so her mom and I explained that she was not in danger, the pony is calm, etc... Still crying and screaming. Did not want anyone having the impression that I was mad or yelling at her while this is happening. Not at all. Thanks everyone for the replies.


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