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Help!! I think I've lost my nerve!

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  • Help!! I think I've lost my nerve!

    About a month ago, my horse stopped at a fence, I fell off, and I separated my shoulder. This is the first serious injury I've had as an adult. My last serious injury happened about 16 years ago when I was in sixth grade (I've been pretty lucky, I know - knock on wood!). The stop was completely my fault. I recently got a new horse, and I keep seeing the long distances my old horse loved. Turns out, new horse prefers shorter distances. Usually a fall doesn't phase me...I get right back on and try not to think about it. In this case, although my shoulder was killing me, I did get back on to finish the course.

    Of course, once I went to the doctor, I was told to wear a sling for two weeks and to avoid riding while wearing said sling. I followed the doctor's orders, and now I'm almost completely healed. The trouble is that I seem to have lost my nerve. Before my injury, I was competing at training level and schooling prelim. Now, even 2'9" looks huge to me. Yesterday, we had a lesson and jumped our first 3' course since my injury. It went well, but I could tell that I wasn't pushing like I used to. Instead of riding up to a forward distance, I would suck back and ask the horse to go deep. My trainer even told me that I'm too good to be riding like I rode yesterday.

    It kills me to say this, but I'm kind of scared. I'm scared of getting hurt again, and I'm scared of asking this horse for anything remotely long for fear that she'll stop, and I'll come tumbling down only to injure myself much worse than before.

    These feelings are completely foreign to me - I've never known fear in connection with horses, and to be honest, it's pretty crippling. I'm hoping to compete at training level at the end of August, but now I'm worried I won't be there mentally. What have you done to boost your confidence after an injury? Any advice on what I should be doing?

  • #2
    It can be frustrating, but you need to take it slow. I had some negative experiences that shattered my confidence before I took a break from riding for 2.5 years. I have competed at training level and I just got excited that I made it over a cross rail the other day :laugh: I'll keep doing cross rails and tiny fences until I am bored and have mastered those, and then I'll gradually move up.

    I've stopped beating myself up about not being as good as I once was because I just need to rebuild my confidence and enjoy the ride. I've been making small steps and that's better than no steps!

    A good trainer will understand where you're coming from. Maybe lower the fences or just canter a jump course of ground poles so you can get back into feeling the strides between the fences. That way, if you bite it it's just a pole or a small fence and not something larger. I know you want to be a training level at the end of August and that's a great goal but if your heart isn't in it and you really are scared, pushing yourself too hard just isn't worth it.

    Think positive. Everyday that you're out there riding is a step forward. Go back to basics if you have to. Do smaller fences, or gymnastics where you can just let the horse do their job and you can feel the rhythms, distances and take-offs again.


    • #3
      Originally posted by ThoroughbredFancy View Post
      A good trainer will understand where you're coming from.
      I want to reiterate this point. You should be frank with your trainer about how you are feeling. If s/he is not willing to work with you to restore your confidence, the s/he is not a very good trainer.


      • #4
        There is nothing wrong with deep, as long as you do not lean (leaning produces what Denny Emerson calls a "heliocopter jump") before your horse leaves the ground.

        I have fallen off a couple of times by leaning, when I think that my horse is supposed to or going to jump. She jumps. I fly up into the air and land in a heap on her neck.

        You have to learn to stretch up taller when a horse is coming in too deep. A deep spot is often much safer, than a long distance, especially on spread fences.

        I had a cross country jumping lesson with Cathy Wieschhoff recently. My mare was leaving from a longer distance, which is something that she rarely does for me. I was thrilled, until Cathy told me to let my horse go to the deeper distance. What? I finally got my horse to stand off a bit and I need to go back to the way we jumped before? Yep.
        If Cathy says it is better to do this, who am I to argue with her? So, we are back to me stretching up and Tess seeing the deeper distance. It works just fine.

        You might ask your instructor why she prefers you to jump from a longer distance?

        As far as building back your confidence, I used a book by Dr. Janet Edgette called "Heads Up". She gives you several ways to learn to live with your fears. Fear is real. You cannot just tell yourself to stop being afraid. You need ideas to help you deal with your fear. This book helped me. Good luck!
        When in Doubt, let your horse do the Thinking!


        • #5
          The biggest thing is to just wait this out. You are still pretty fresh off your injury (and those HURT. I've unfortunately done it many times). You need to get away from the pain and forget what it felt like. You may be singing a different tune in a few more weeks.

          You and I are in very similar positions, actually. While I am not frightened, necessarily, I shot my confidence in MYSELF and my skills all to hell a few weeks ago and have a couple of really tough rides. I don't trust my own ability to ride correctly that I feel a little paralyzed. And, to top it off, I put so much pressure on myself to ride as well as my VERY nice horse deserves, that I completely freak myself out.

          I get a little nervous at the short distance, and don't trust myself at them, so I make mistakes. The mistakes have been a little costly recently. So, we've scaled back and are going back to basics. My first jump after my last bad school (where I had shaken my very brave horse's confidence, it was so bad), I just set up some Xs and practiced cantering in a rhythm and just allowing him to take whatever distance presented itself. I also worked on really SQUEEZING at the short ones I don't necessarily love instead of dropping him or trying to heave him off the long one. I will probably do this a lot, because it is an easy exercise over small fences that we can just do.

          Yesterday, we did a very, very simple exercise/gymnastic that again just focused on keeping the rhythm, not interfering, and being happy with the distance that he got to. It was very successful and while we weren't jumping huge fences again (the horse is trying to be a prelim horse, and I've been around prelim), we were both confident again (he more so than I, but lucky horse doesn't have a stupid human brain that over thinks everything).

          I plan on just keeping it simple, lots of gymnastics and work with placing poles for a little while to re-establish that I do know what I'm doing. If I were you, I'd start there, too. Forget about the courses and just work on exercises that will basically set you up for success and help you learn to cope with the distance you aren't comfortable with.

          Especially since you are coming off an injury, though, don't rush. Your body probably still needs a little time and your primal instinct is to protect your body when it isn't 100% whole. Just give it some time and keep it simple until then.


          • Original Poster

            Originally posted by IFG View Post
            I want to reiterate this point. You should be frank with your trainer about how you are feeling. If s/he is not willing to work with you to restore your confidence, the s/he is not a very good trainer.
            I should clarify. She is a very good trainer and definitely willing to work with me to restore my confidence. I didn't mean to imply she wasn't. She asked me whether I wanted to raise the jumps, and I said yes because I wanted to push myself. She's also honest with me, and I know that she told me I wasn't riding up to par because she knows I can do better. I'm the kind of person that needs that kick in the pants sometimes. Though there aren't any ht's in my area until August, she has suggested I trailer to ::gasp:: a hunter show to practice showing in a setting where I get to school the jumps first.


            • #7
              This is known as adult self-preservation, and it's normal! None of us bounce like we once did, and with adulthood comes responsibility and common sense, in most cases.

              So I would advise you to 1. be a great patient and follow doctor's orders to the letter. 2. when you're ready and safe to ride, take it easy. Wait until you WANT to jump, don't push the issue. Start back on teeny jumps while you learn the rhythm for your new horse and your new desire to stay safe.
              3. Don't berate yourself, applaud yourself. Riding is supposed to be fun.


              • #8
                Happened to me too, just not so serious. I sprained my wrist really really badly (i had to rest it and wrap it for 2 months) i took a couple months break from jumping, and im *starting* to get my confidence over fences back.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by PrinceSheik325 View Post
                  I should clarify. She is a very good trainer and definitely willing to work with me to restore my confidence. I didn't mean to imply she wasn't. She asked me whether I wanted to raise the jumps, and I said yes because I wanted to push myself. She's also honest with me, and I know that she told me I wasn't riding up to par because she knows I can do better. I'm the kind of person that needs that kick in the pants sometimes. Though there aren't any ht's in my area until August, she has suggested I trailer to ::gasp:: a hunter show to practice showing in a setting where I get to school the jumps first.
                  Great, it sounded as though she might be belittling your fear. That is not a productive response.


                  • #10
                    I agree 100% with Flagstaff Foxhunter's phrase: "adult self-preservation." You know, and care, more now that you are doing something dangerous. When I was a re-rider, after a 25 year break from horses, it took me a while to adjust to my new body and new brain... and like everyone else, I discovered that I didn't bounce as well in my 40s as I did in my teens!

                    It sounds to me like pushing yourself is exactly what you don't need to do right now. Dial it back... do little jumps, gymnastics, get used to your new horse's way of jumping.

                    You may need to drop down a level or two in HTs until you're more sure of yourself. Going to a hunter show, or a jumpers show, and doing the *low* courses could be helpful too.
                    You have to have experiences to gain experience.

                    1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"