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Overfaced, or challenged?

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  • Overfaced, or challenged?

    I've been riding about 6 years, owned my horse for 4. My riding education has been slightly irregular; I had occasional good trainers in different disciplines early on, mixed with long stints of crappy trainers. Then I got my horse, who was just saddle-broke, and while it was a green-on-green situation, I at least had a good trainer then to start us both off slowly and confidently.

    So at least with the two of us, I've always gone pretty slow, because I am usually just a step or two ahead of him on the learning curve. I take weekly lessons at a good hunter barn with a great trainer, riding lesson horses. I'm working on my jumping, which needs a lot of work, and I recognize that. I don't think I'm terrible, but I have a hard time relaxing enough to not stiffen up and to really feel a nice approach rather than panicking and flinging myself forward or falling back. When I do relax and get my brain back, I can have nice rounds and I do work hard to think through things and really ride, but it's more a mental block sometimes. I'm thirty, I've learned that the ground hurts, and I've been on enough horses that stop that no matter how much I try to block it, there's always a little panic switch in my brain as I'm approaching a jump that makes me tense up.

    With my horse, we've done crossrails and low verticals, and he's done okay. He gets lazy over low jumps and gets unbalanced, and that throws me off a bit. In addition, he can be spooky, so if I get nervous he is sensitive enough to feel the eensiest teensiest nanosecond of hesitation in me and will slam on the brakes, which adds to my stiffness and nervousness. Despite that, we've worked together slowly to be better partners. He is braver and more together with a better rider than I am, and I am less nervous on a school horse, but generally he and I really are pretty used to each other and get along well, so I do like to try to struggle on together even if it takes longer. When we are really working together, it's so much fun that it's worth the struggle to get there--I would rather ride him than the fanciest horse out there, because he really is a blast.

    We've recently started taking lessons together (in addition to my lesson-horse-lessons) with a new trainer. He's really an excellent trainer; I'm a high school teacher myself, so I can clearly see what his overall objectives are in a lesson, and I really respect him for the things he will point out and emphasize. When we get to jumping, he's been setting relatively big jumps, for me--usually he'll start at 2' and then raise them to 2'3" and sometimes 2'6". It's just me and a teenager who can ride circles around me in the lesson, so she has no problem with it. I know that 2'6" is nothing in the h/j world, but compared to a wee crossrail, it is goddamn puissance.

    My horse jumps better over the bigger jumps. He has picked a certain distance with them that he really likes, he makes it happen, he jumps big and round and he clears them beautifully. I, on the other hand, am nervous the second I see them, down deep inside. And so my horse rushes and gets tense and freaked out and puts his head down and gallops, at least at first. And I survive, and slowly my confidence comes back, and by the end I get a fairly decent ride with at least 94% brain again. We usually repeat the same kind of exercise over and over again, which helps, because by the twelfth round through a figure eight I'm too tired to be scared and all of a sudden I have a horse that responds and I can feel confident and happy about the jumps and it's actually fun. But the first eleven times through may be an "omg I'm going to die" rush every time.

    So... should I ask trainer to scale things back at the beginning of the lesson, like crossrails and baby jumps, so I can feel less nervous, and then bump them up? Or should I respect the fact that my horse does well with the larger fences, and clearly the trainer feels that I am not as likely to die as I think I am, and suck it up as a way to get over my fear? I want to do something more than crossrails with him in shows this summer, so I know I need to get to a point where I can look at a strange and scary-looking jump in an unfamiliar ring, point him at it, and be confident enough to get him over. I just don't know if I'm rushing things by pushing myself to that now, or if I'm pushing myself to get out of my comfort zone and be a better rider.

    Thoughts? Sorry so lengthy; I am an English teacher. (:
    "Remain relentlessly cheerful."

    Graphite/Pastel Portraits

  • #2
    First of all, I'm an English teacher too!

    Secondly, I switched to dressage because I got so overfaced with jumping that I literally have zero interest now because it scares me so much. I did at the end finally come clean with my trainer and say hey we need to bump these back down. I wish I had done it sooner. I think it would have really helped!

    On the plus side, I LOFF dressage and my horse so excels at it!
    No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle. ~Winston Churchill
    For Hope, For Strength, For Life-Delta Gamma
    www.etsy.com/shop/joiedevivrecrafts Custom Wreaths and Other Decorations


    • #3
      Hmm, you are not alone
      First, you are certainly not putting out your trainer to ask them to start with smaller fences! As a re-rider, I did the dance of joy when I first started doing cross rails and small verticals that weren't 2 feet. My first year of showing, I called one of the 2'6 fences the 'scary single Puissance oxer' because it was!
      It sounds like you have a good trainer who listens... Tell them what I told my trainer tonight:
      "I have a crazy lady babbling in my head who I'm trying to ignore. Bear with me until I can squash the witch'. Your trainer will understand.
      Your horse can do it, you have done. I tend to be way too harsh on myself and wouldn't jump for a long time since I might make a mistake. Well, I've made plenty of mistakes and I'm still here
      Plus, you may not believe this now, but after a bit of time at 2' or 2'6 then you may want to jump higher. And from my humble point of view, it's easier for me to not run interference with the horse at 3' than 2'6. I trust my horse's decisions-not mine. I'm going to guess that you may do the same thing when the fences are set a bit higher
      Yes, I eventually squashed the crazy babbling witch, retained what my trainer was saying and had a good ride. Perfect? Nope, probably never will be. But me and the boy are better then we were last week, learned a new way of doing things, and we're better then we were two years ago.
      Something tells me that you're improving and just not giving yourself credit.


      • #4
        If you really like and trust your trainer, just tell him what you told us. You're nervous and you feel it is impacting your ride and making things more difficult. A good trainer can help you learn to deal with it, whether it's by starting with a few lower warm up fences or some other method.

        Having lived through this, I can say that just telling my trainer that I was anxious was the best thing I ever did. For one, it made my nervousness our problem instead of just my problem - which made me feel a lot better right away. Two, it let her know that there was another aspect of riding that I needed some help with - something she couldn't necessarily see just by watching me go. (I'm pretty good at covering up the nerves by this point!)

        Since I finally came clean about my nervousness, we've dealt with it just like we would any other 'bad habit'. Progress has been made: I used to have a glass ceiling of 2'6" and we've been happily schooling 3' - 3'3" this winter. I needed to work on confidence the way some people need to work on keeping their heels down - once I talked to my trainer about it, we figured out ways to work on it.

        Good luck!


        • #5
          IMO...if you are "that" scared you are overfaced. I don't think you are "learning" anything if it takes that many rounds to relax!! Riding/learning should be a pleasure...not a matter of survival. Firstly, I think a good trainer should be "seeing" what you are experiencing. Back your jumping down as far as it takes to feel good and confident. When YOU get bored and want to move the challenge up a bit, do. If it doesn't "feel good" go back lower again. A trainer is paid by you to help YOU. He/she does not get paid on a commission basis of how high he/she can MAKE you survive. I start every session with some low jumps then move on up...if I feel like it...but I'm old!!! Enjoy yourself...back up a bit!!
          Breeders of Painted Thoroughbreds and Uniquely Painted Irish Sport Horses in Northeast Oklahoma


          • #6
            I agree that it's something you should bring up to your trainer. If he's good, he should be able to work with nerves and anxiety. It's possible that you could keep things slow in your lessons on your horse and use the school horse lessons as your challenging sessions.

            Take a little time to think over how you react to fear and nerves in other situations. Are you someone who needs to gradually build up to something or do you just need a well-timed push?

            I was having similar problems jumping. I wanted to do more, but at the same time I would start shutting down mid-course out of nerves. I switched barns and started making progress. Some things I think helped:
            -a discussion about my strengths/weaknesses, my goals, and my fears
            -a horse that I knew was going to jump the jump (with or without me )
            -joining a more advanced lesson group which let me learn by watching other people, and tapped into a little competitive streak I didn't know I had
            -deciding in most cases to break it down to smaller pieces AFTER I tried it once
            -an encouraging trainer, who was accommodating but also knew when to say "just jump the damn line" (see above)
            -harder, jumper/eq style courses that forced me to make decisions, so I couldn't just space out between jumps
            "Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out." ~John Wooden

            Phoenix Animal Rescue


            • #7
              Well I do hope that it all works out for you. If the other suggestions don't get you where you want to be, you might also try working with a psychologist or sports psychologist to learn some specific strategies you can use to feel more relaxed and confident. Best of luck to you!!! I think you will be successful!


              • #8
                From a training perspective it is very, very helpful to have a clear understanding of what the rider is feeling as it relates to the program you define for them. It follows that you should be as clear as possible regarding how that same program makes you feel.

                I would bet dollars to doughnuts that your trainer is aware of your anxiety over bigger fences, but may not be truly aware of how significant it is for you. Expressing it is certainly going to provide insight that may well help him develop exercises that help you past some of that anxiety, or make it easier for you to handle.

                Again, from a training perspective, you have your answer, though it may be a lot easier to recognize it than it is to execute sometimes. When you get tired everything comes together because fatigue forces you to just let it happen, which is, in itself, the answer.

                2'6" is pretty much the equivalent of you or I stepping up on the curb, no big deal for a horse, it may help to understand that. It may also help to use what you know about yourself to get past the anxiety of larger fences. It may sound silly but perhaps pretend your tired when the fences are raised, and mimic being too tired to do anything about your anxiety, and just let it happen.

                Most of the difficulty horse/rider experience is the result of trying to do too much; "trying to ride". This is why little kids adapt so well, they do not know any better, and consequently they just sit in the middle and let it happen. Adults tend to intellectualize the process, when really there is not much to think about except to sit in the middle, let it happen, and enjoy the ride, at least at 3'6" and under.

                It may also help you to know that schooling less than the height you plan on competing at is pretty common. I do not school my big fence horses 5' plus at home. we do not even school them 3' plus. We may work on types of fences, striding, impulsion etc., but rarely do they school competition height. So schooling 1' at home and then competing at 2'6" at a show is perfectly acceptable.


                • #9
                  I feel for you I do. As a teacher you know that some students ''rise'' to a 'challenge'' others do not others have to work at their own pace yes? But eventually they get to where they need to be. in this case does the student( you ) have to jump? Or can as someone else sugested get as much happiness out of their riding from dressage...

                  If riding becomming so terrifying for you that you'd rather not have the lesson this week/day or would you rather do a flat lesson over a jumping one... That is a question only you can answer...

                  Or perhaps would a good (pick time frame that suits you) Xtime doing nothing but dressage with your horse perhaps allow you to open line of communication with your horse to where should you decideto try jumping again you have more tools in your bag o tricks that you dont freeze when the size gets to 2'6" that the inside leg outside rein or half halt or what ever is second nature to you and it is nothing for you to apply it and horsie listens comes back and just easily pops over and takes care of mom instead of takes advantage of mom...
                  Remember Dressage is good for all disiplines for both horse and rider...
                  Take a break from jumping..
                  this from one who is a titch older than you are, who when younger did not think of jumping what ever was in front of me.. Who now breaks taking a walk across my family room floor .
                  Friend of bar .ka


                  • Original Poster

                    Thanks, y'all... I will try to make myself talk to the trainer about it. My lesson barn trainer already knows about my confidence issues, though I must say that doing 2'3" or 2'6" with my horse has completely eradicated any fears I used to have facing down 18" and 2' jumps at the lesson barn. (: I intended to ask him to lower the jumps at first in this last lesson, but wimped out at the last minute, and since he started at 2' it didn't look that scary until we approached it anyway. So I agree that I just need to be honest with him and I'm sure he'll help me work on it. Unfortunately, I think I actually ride better with the bigger fences once I relax than I do with crossrails and such, because I don't try to interfere and think too much, so I don't have as much of a problem with jumping ahead or trying to invent a distance. So I think generally the height is good for me, but only if I can find a way to work into it without the fear issues.

                    I like dressage and can see myself going that way in the future, but right now I do also like jumping a lot when I can get over the fear--it is still fun, and my horse seems to like it when he relaxes as well. Also, the hunter barn where I ride is a blast, and I don't want to leave them. (:
                    "Remain relentlessly cheerful."

                    Graphite/Pastel Portraits


                    • #11
                      IMHO, it sounds like you have a thinking problem, not a riding problem. Don't forget that for other horses and riders not as good as you and your horse, 2'6" is a speed bump. So if jumping higher is your goal, maybe you need to work on your package of anxiety/confidence/inner dialogue management more than your riding. Calling a 2'6" jump a "puissance" to yourself without calling yourself on that will affect your performance. How could it not?

                      Not that jumping higher has to be your goal, but I think so many women (and men, I suppose, I've just met more women riders) end up rationalizing easier performance goals because they don't want to deal with the mental side. Would you let one of your students get away with that?

                      For me, the challenge is usually to make sure that I am analyzing/being thoughtful without slipping into rationalizing/over-thinking. It's a good bet that if I can talk for 5 minutes about jumping 2'6" verticals, I am over-thinking. The in-between, maybe, but not the jumps. Sometimes I have to think more like a kid. Confidence, less thinking. But if that doesn't work for you, maybe consider a few sessions with a sports psychologist who can help you either fill your head with more productive thought patterns or empty it out, if need be. Your current pattern doesn't sound like it's getting you to the performance you want.


                      • #12
                        Try going to a show or watching a more advanced lesson. If all you ever see is 2' to 2'6", it does look big because you have nothing to compare it with.

                        I used to watch the Jr Jumpers zing over my head then my 3' stuff looked like speedbumps.
                        When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                        The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                        • #13
                          There are different types of fear - mental fear (of making a mistake, looking foolish, etc) and physical fear (of falling off, getting hurt, etc.) When addressing riding fear, it helps to know which one you are dealing with.

                          A lot of adult riders, particularly those who are accomplished in their non-riding pursuits, struggle with the prospect of making mistakes. We over-think something that is actually fairly simple from an objective standpoint. Sometimes just recognizing that mistakes are OK will help a lot. Even the top pros miss from time to time.

                          I agree that letting your trainer know what you are dealing with should help a lot. Good luck!
                          We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


                          • #14
                            That's totally fair to start over a low jump(s) in your lessons. No reason why not, and their eventual lack of challenge might make you hunger for the higher jumps. It's only fair to your trainer that you communicate with her, b/c she only wants you to do well.

                            The other thing that might help is to remove 'the jump' from your thinking and put your mind on and make your job ensuring the qualities that make for good jumping -- good rythmn, impulsion/balance -- and just use your technique to get those things happening all throughout the course. The jumps then take care of themselves.

                            I find in my riding that it helps to --don't take this wrong! -- make the horse secondary, to 'forget about the horse,' and instead make my sole focus the techniques that will make for a good ride and training session.

                            Also, maybe you could lesson several days in a row, and you might find yourself acclimated to jumping higher to the point of starting higher and with much less apprehension.


                            • #15
                              Go watch the medium to bigger classes at some shows to reset your eye for height, and practice, practice, practice over the smaller stuff at home. Keep in mind though that there is no reason you can't jump at a height that is fun for you. Your confidence is very important.


                              • #16
                                After the lesson are you glad you jumped the bigger jumps and happy with your success or are you relieved that it's over? A good challenge makes you realize "hey that wasn't so bad" (which doesn't necessarily mean no mistakes- just that even the mistakes are survivable); bring overfaced leaves you thinking "thank god I survived that".


                                • #17
                                  Setting up a larger fence (2'9-3ft) in a gymnastic makes it much less scary to me because 99% of any fear (for me) comes from a fear of getting a bad distance over something large (and for me, 2'6 looks comfortably big, 3 ft looks massive). In a gymnastic that starts out small and is gradually raised, I know 100% the distance is going to be there. I still like doing a full course, but gymnastics under the supervision of a good trainer boosted my confidence in one lesson
                                  "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse..." ~Revelation 19:11


                                  • #18
                                    Some very good ideas here, and I think it's definitely worth a conversation with your trainer.

                                    Some other random thoughts:

                                    I agree with watching others jump bigger jumps. You might also ask your trainer to set the fences at 3'6" when you walk into the ring. Watching him lower the fences to 2' or 2'3" can help make the fences look smaller. I let a scared-type kid borrow one of my big jumpers at a show many years ago. She did the 3'6" jumpers with him. At that show they ran the open/level jumpers first, then started the ammy classes. So the open half of the day started at level 4 (3'9") and then ended at level 8 (4'9"). The next class was the Ch/AA jumpers at 3'6". I have never seen that kid so confident about doing 3'6" because it looked so tiny in comparison. I use the same tactic for myself on occasion. If I'm worried about a 5' oxer? I set a 5'6" oxer nearby and suddenly the fence I was worried about looks little.

                                    Walk over some of the fences yourself. It helps to remind you how easy they are for the horse when you can walk over them yourself! For that matter, walk your horse over the fences. My mom finally convinced herself that 2'6" wasn't big (for her horse) by walking her mare around over 2'3" and 2'6" verticals every day as part of her warmup.

                                    And recognize that sometimes it takes jumping bigger jumps for what you're doing to feel comfortable (much like you've figured out about 2'). I agree with Hauwse about not needing to school your horse at show height, and it's a very valid point. But I disagree about that working if you're worried about and focused on fence height. Jumping only 1' jumps will make show jumps look huge. But incorporating some bigger jumps (2'6", 2'9") into gymnastics may help you feel a bit more confident while eliminating the need to worry about the approach. But your trainer would be the person to talk to about that.

                                    And finally, good luck to you! I sure wish I could go back to my teenage obliviousness. I miss the ease of jumping any horse over any jump minus the understanding of how hard the ground is
                                    Flying F Sport Horses
                                    Horses in the NW


                                    • #19
                                      So I think generally the height is good for me, but only if I can find a way to work into it without the fear issues.
                                      First and foremost, you are going to have to learn to deal with the fear.

                                      Your trainer in your 'own-horse' lessons is dealing with it by having you repeat something eleven times until you realize it's going to be OK, then your fear retreats and you can 'think' again.

                                      Well, maybe that will work.

                                      I had some performance anxiety problems with playing my flute...like, here's your very exposed solo in front of a full auditorium.

                                      When I did some research, it seemed there were a few options, one of which was a blood-pressure drug that kept you from getting really excited in the first place.
                                      A lot of the advice had to do with getting rid of the nerves completely.
                                      But the advice that I found most helpful was directed toward learning what to do when you get the adrenaline rush and the nerves.

                                      It was sort of like, here, your situation hands you this pile of adrenaline, and what you do is learn how to perform WITH the adrenaline. Learning to get rid of the nerves only helps if the nervousness goes away.
                                      It was also nice to realize that heightened senses could enhance the enjoyment of the music I was playing, and also my fingers could go faster than they could without nerves. I came top the conclusion that I did not want to numb myself, that I would LIKE to experience the solo and the nerves. Of course, that meant enough practice repetitions so that the music didn't leave my head completely in performance. But it also eventually served to keep the nerves to a dull roar rather than a consuming hell.

                                      So, I would suggest that you work on figuring out what to do when you get nervous, and your horse gets hot and scooty. Not, get rid of the nerves and then you will be OK, but rather, specifically WHAT do you do, how do you ride him, when all is not calm and peaceful. When you learn how to get YOURSELF out of the mess, you will be a lot happier.

                                      I, for example, would probably ride through a grid or three, (suggested above) knowing that it calmed me and my horse down. Specifically, I would ride through a grid in which the last fence or two got progressively bigger, so that when I went out to jump a course the jumps would be 6 inches lower. Some other ideas might involve some flatwork/dressage exercises that got the horse forward, quiet and better in tune to my signals.)

                                      To sum up, my answer to you is that you do not need to know how to not be fearful. You need to know how to deal with the fear, while keeping yourself and your horse safe and not overfaced.


                                      • #20
                                        Everyone's had lots of good points here. I'm an older adult rider who only started jumping 4 years ago, and like the OP, 2'6" is pretty big for me.

                                        Personally, I benefit from going over a small jump a couple of times as a warm up, because my stupid adult brain seems to forget how jumping feels from one lesson to the next, and a couple of easy ones gets me back in the groove. So you might benefit from asking your trainer to lower a couple of jumps at the start.

                                        I also find that I think less about the height of the jump if we're doing something that requires a little thought in addition to the jump itself, like a gymnastic, or roll backs, or a twisty course. In my lessons we very rarely do the outside line/diagonal/outside line thing, and I find that when I have to really focus on the next element in my course, I think less about the jump itself.

                                        As fillabeana says, sometimes you just have to learn to ride with the nervousness. If you want to wait until all the fear is gone, you will never get to do the next new thing. So have faith in yourself, believe in yourself and your horse, put your heels down and eyes up, and just tuck the fear in the back pocket for the next ride. Take it along, but don't give it a front row seat.