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Pre-ride nervousness

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  • Pre-ride nervousness

    I'm not even talking about at shows, but at home. Before practice rides.

    I can't quite put my finger on it and I have gotten better. Gone from knees knocking AT HOME before I even went to the barn and finding excuses to avoid riding to being a little nervous because I'm riding this afternoon.

    He's never done anything dangerous...well, once and I did fall off but wasn't seriously injured. And he's never scared me when I was on him, not even after I fell off and got right back on...before stiffening up and needing a walker.

    And I always love him to pieces after our ride because he's so sweet. He tries his heart out despite my abominable balance issues, inadvertent cues and constant changes of direction and gaits. I am working on all those things and I am getting better. My instructor daughter says I'm 95% "there".

    I've noticed that the longer I go without riding, due to weather or commitments, etc. the worse it is. I'm making it a deal to ride every other day and JUST DO IT! But even with that, I still get the butterflies. Any other ideas on how to shake these jitters?
    Ride like you mean it.

  • #2
    First of all, sit down on a dark and stormy night when no one's around, kill the TV and turn off the phone, and ask yourself completely honestly if there is an issue with the safety or suitability of your horse or his surroundings that you've been in denial about.

    If not, ask yourself honestly if there is any change in you yourself, physically, mentally, age-related, hormone-related, or some medication that could alter your moods and feelings of competence.

    Now, ask yourself if riding is something you still do because you truly want to and need to, or if it's just because you always did and don't know how to stop.

    I believe you will find the answer to your question in one or more of the above.

    What to do about it?

    There is no harm, absolutely none, in owning a horse as a pet and companion animal, dare I say "friend," without feeling obligated to ride him. I know many, many people like this; a lot are over 50, plenty of them are my boarders. I have learned they are happy as things are and I no longer pressure them to ride.

    If riding itself is still important to you, and there are no truly valid fears based on the above, try the exercise of "square breathing" when the nerves hit you: Take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of 4; hold it full for a count of 4; exhale slowly for a count of 4; hold empty for a count of 4. This knocks down the sympathetic nervous system response that makes those jittery feelings. I have had to use it a thousand times, and it works. It's why those Special Forces guys can suck it up and shoot straight.

    Best of luck!


    • #3
      Does it help if you do some groundwork prior to riding? I have a difficult horse and sometimes feel less than confident with him. I find that it helps if we go for a walk first or if I longe him. Not even necessarily to get him warmed up and listening, but to see that things can and do go well. It's a mental boost for me. Good luck


      • Original Poster

        Lady E, there's definitely something there going on. It's like a love/scared relationship. I love my boys...2 are mine, 1 I ride and my other one eats hay and 1 belongs to my daughter (3 all together)...and I love taking care of them. Although sometimes when I'm cleaning (on weekdays) I can't help think this is about the stupidest thing people could do with their time. Yet, I don't want to do anything else. It's not a case of sacrificing one thing for another.

        After I get on, right away, I'm so glad I did. I'm happy, relaxed, smiling, laughing...even at my mistakes. Lots of pats for him for being so kind and patient with me. You'd never guess that this person ever had a thought about NOT riding. I know, in my heart ahead of time, that I will love it and be glad I did.

        I wonder if what I think is a bad nervousness is really excited nervous...I get to go ride my pony. Do we, as adults, allow for that emotion...just happy excitement like a kid before Christmas? Or do we limit our emotions to bland and fearful?

        The only thing I do because I HAVE TO (and I don't really have to) is show. I'm not sure I like that but I'm working thru THOSE fears to get to neutral before I decide. I feel a certain amount of guilt for having bought an EXTREMELY expensive silver saddle, bridle, etc and then not using it. I also get conflicted with the amount of time and money it takes to show...just go round and round, reverse and go the other way. That seems to be a goofy way to spend time. But then so does golf and lots of people can't live without that.

        I am a conflicted person on SO MANY levels! My poor family...hubby and daughter support me 100% no matter what I do or decide...not having a problem with them or anything they say or body language or anything. In fact, Mr. Ez helps me everyday with barn work and watches while I ride. Or sometimes reads in the shade. VERY supportive of the expense too.

        It just me being so weird.

        glitterless, I can't imagine going thru life without glitter. You poor thing. He isn't a difficult horse by any means. When I was training my dressage horse, I wasn't physically capable of riding him enough to actually work him so I would work on the lunge with him or ground drive him and then hop on to school a bit and cool out. I liked that system for me, mentally. I will lunge my boy today, just to get myself in the right frame of mind and thinking horse. Thanks.
        Ride like you mean it.


        • #5
          My mom used to be like that when she took lessons. She'd literally be stressed out all week long before she had her lesson. Her strategy to avoid that was to quit lessons and just ride at home with me.

          That doesn't help you much though as I'm sure you don't want to quit riding all together!
          http://www.youtube.com/user/NBChoice http://nbchoice.blogspot.com/
          The New Banner's Choice- 1994 ASB Mare
          Dennis The Menace Too- 1999 ASB Gelding
          Dreamacres Sublime- 2008 ASB Gelding


          • #6
            I had severe confidence issues to the point where I would sit on my horse and cry. I happened to meet Jane Savoie and she said that two of her books should help me, "It's not Just about the Ribbons" and "That Winning Feeling"

            Using what I read every time my mind would replay the incident that caused the problem I would rip the mental tape out of my minds DVD player and stomp it on the ground. I had to do this A LOT! I replaced it with a mental tape of me riding well (for me LOL)
            I devised a mantra

            I am a strong and confident rider.

            I am always relaxed and centered.

            My ears shoulders hips and heels are always aligned

            Sophie is always relaxed, attentive and willingly accepts the bit

            which I repeated to myself as often as needed. You need to write your own of course but it has to be something that you see in the present, "I am" not "I will" and it CAN NOT be negative NOT "I will not all off, Sophie will not get distracted and toss her head"

            It took a while but it worked.

            Jane has a newsletter. You can sign up at Janesavoie.com. I love her "Motivation from Moshie" she also has a group on facebook about conquering fear but I'm drawing a blank as to it's name
            I wasn't always a Smurf
            Penmerryl Sophie RIDSH
            "I ain't as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was"
            The ignore list is my friend. It takes 2 to argue.


            • #7
              I have this issue also. I was once a very competent, very confident rider. I am no longer either of those, the circumstances are not important.

              I tried getting rid of the horses. That didn't work. It's in me somewhere and it's stuck there - I *have* to ride.

              I will say that it is getting better.

              Part of the issue for me is that I am now consciously incompetent. When a kid starts riding, they bounce all over the place and aren't really aware of how precarious a position they are in or how much they are ticking off the horse. Being aware of both of those things is painful for me, and scary, because I know the bad things that can happen.

              Part of the issue is that I no longer trust my body or my own judgement. That's frustrating, and makes me fearful.

              The good news is that with a very trustworthy horse, I am getting better and better. I can now get on with only a moment's hesitation on a "bad" day. I took some really good advice that said, rate everything you want to do with your horse on a 10 point scale - #1 being I totally feel confident about this and #10 being "this is really scary". After you have done that find something that is in the 3-4 range that you want to focus on improving, by two points. So if walking in the ring is a 3, focus on that. By focusing on that and turning that into a 1, the 10 may become a 9. I may not be explaining this well.

              Also, changing things up helps. My big fears relate right now to riding in the great outdoors. Well, if I feel more confident in the ring, why am I trying to skip right to riding the trail? Lots of things I can work on in the ring (or not mounted, what have you). It took about two weeks and the day before yesterday I took my horse on a little trail jaunt - successfully.

              Good luck. You're not alone!


              • #8
                I went through a period where half way up my horse my brain would go, "what the heck are you doing? You know how dangerous this is?" I think as you age you realize how breakable you are. Also as you get weaker your body is telling you things about what you can handle. And then I had a pretty good fall last year that I thought I was over until I freaked out on my horse yesterday when he crow hopped at the canter depart. Things that help:

                1. Tell the truth. Honesty about your fear will help you deal with them.

                2. Have eyes on the ground. It felt like a buck to me and I flashed right back to when Fella bucked me off while galloping up a hill. My trainer assured me it as just a hop not a buck. And I caused it by goosing him when I leaned forward (bad form) and asked for a canter.

                3. Get strong. You may just be getting weak. This has nothing to do with size or anything like that, it's just time passing. So go back to the gym or whathaveyou. This will also boost your confidence.

                4. Know your triggers. If long lay offs make it worse, ride more often. To me that can be as straightforward as getting on him bareback for a few minutes and getting off.

                5. When I get stuck I have to find a work around. Like if I'm stuck mounting (I call it equivocating on the block) I have to do what Yoda says; do or do not there is no try.

                6. And keep talking about it. You're not alone.

                He is total garbage! Quick! Hide him on my trailer (Petstorejunkie).


                • Original Poster

                  I keep my riding area pretty 'safe'. I usually put the other horses away since my fall last year was started by a horse in the pasture.

                  I used to have mounting phobia...that not on yet not off interval of danger. I got myself a BIG mounting block so I can be faster. And I practiced the leg swing. Now it's kind of funny...I got so fast and strong that sometimes I almost go right over! Introducing control to speed and strength.

                  I do have to ride more often...even on the days when I don't have time. Even if all I do it get on and walk around a bit. It HAS to become second nature to think about being on a horse. I am never NEVER afraid once I'm on the horse. That's the weird part. I'm not afraid of falling off even tho I know it's a possibility. I rode on Thursday with the other 2 in the pasture, up close. As I rode around I was hoping they wouldn't pop their heads up and take off, flagging tails. But I wasn't afraid...just aware. They didn't.

                  Horses have never scared me. After my big horse dumped me and broke my arm, I did find myself reliving the incident the second time I was on him. I told myself...what is he doing that you don't like. He isn't steering. So..ride in the moment. I concentrated on getting him flexed and on the circle. That worked, replaced the incident memory and we had a great ride. For prudence's sake, I don't ride him anymore...he has a screw loose. But not because I was afraid, because I knew I'd come off him again and maybe get seriously hurt. He wasn't worth the risk so I got a nice SANE little western horse.

                  I'm excited at my new progress...sitting down has opened so many new doors for me and he is so happy that I'm not perched up there like a clothes pin. Love the way he feels. I just hate this rain on my parade. It's so good to be able to talk about it. I drive my family nuts with this. And I feel guilty about that too.
                  Ride like you mean it.


                  • #10
                    Don't feel guilty because it's just not productive. Guilt, IMO, just facilitates your beating yourself up because you "should" be brave because you "used to be" brave. Well that was in the past. Be like our dogs and live in the present. And IMO it's the only way to make progress.

                    He is total garbage! Quick! Hide him on my trailer (Petstorejunkie).


                    • #11
                      That almost sounds a bit like performance anxiety, now that you have expounded a bit. I use to get that before going on stage. I'd be fine as I was about to walk on, but the ride there and the days before that were pretty anxiety ridden.

                      I never did figure that out and I still have it when I do large speaking engagements. There wasn't even anything that I was afraid of - just had this anxious feeling. Now, I just accept it as something I feel. It would go away on the second night of the performance - no nerves driving there at all.

                      Anything resonate there?


                      • Original Poster

                        Oh boy, does it ever. I was a piano performance major. What a shock to find that "performance" meant in front of other people. People thoroughly enjoyed my playing but WOW...totally ruined the musical experience for me. I'm content to play at home, alone. Mr. Ez gets frustrated because as soon as he walks in the door, I quit.

                        I did some volunteer accompanying for solo and ensemble and by the end of the day was totally comfortable with being on stage...in fact a little embarrassed "here I am again, folks" never mind that it's about YOUR kid and not ME! lol

                        So, you may have hit on it. Warm up ring worry is that I won't get the lope transition smoothly, timely. I was never afraid or nervous in my carriage driving days...LOVE LOVE LOVED going in the ring with my great horse...he was ALWAYS ready to drive and be splendid.

                        I need to ride more and accept that it will never be a 'whatever' activity for me. I am always in awe that they let us do this with them...tighten the saddle, do our bidding, carry us safely. Every day, every ride...they amaze me!

                        Ride time is 1:30-ish. I'll be fine at 1:31. ;-)
                        Ride like you mean it.


                        • #13
                          Oh, eezee! We could be twins! My issues in this area go way back to Kipper, the older, Steady Eddie I purchased fourteen years ago when I "got back into horses" after a ten year break. And they continued through to at least the first few years that I owned Noodle, too.

                          For me, it isn't so much that I am afraid. Although fear is a part of it. For me there are several issues all wrapped up together. There is the sense that I am a crappy rider, which I find very frustrating. There is the absolute fact that I am about as lazy as a human being can get, and still be ambulatory. I have four hobbies I am obsessive about. There is the horse hobby. There is the dog and dog training hobby. There is my reading compulsion. And my needlework hobby. Guess which ones I don't need to "talk myself" into enjoying? I'll give you a hint: they involve me sitting on my bum in the comfort of my own home.

                          I also come from a long line of adults who are very good at denying themselves any enjoyment in life, which makes it easier to moan and complain about all the things you would rather be doing, but can't because of expense or access or whatever. To openly claim desire to do something and then to actually go ahead and do it is something that just isn't done in my birth family. It feels very unnatural to me. And selfish.

                          Add to all of that the fact that when I returned to horses after that ten year break, I had two children (one of them a newborn), a live-in boyfriend (who I did marry years later), and this whole life that made demands on my time that I just didn't know how to juggle very well.

                          So these are all thoughts that would leap to the forefront when I would even think about heading to the barn. I was rattled before I ever got there! And God forbid if something would come up! I would thankfully grab on to the excuse it offered, and feel relieved that I wouldn't have to ride. I also felt disappointed that I wasn't going to ride. And disgusted with myself for feeling relieved. And very confused.

                          I started to change the way I talked to myself about riding. Like carolprudm was saying, the things we tell ourselves can have an impact on how we see our various activities. Instead of saying, "Gee, I HAVE to go to the barn and it is hot/cold/I would rather be sleeping/reading/stitching" I would instead say, "I am lucky that I have the opportunity to go to the barn".

                          My goals started off small. I board, so I don't have any of the day to day responsibilities to deal with. Rather than telling myself I had to ride five days a week, I set the goal of just going to the barn five days a week and putting my hands on my horse. Even if that only meant giving him a cookie and scratching his withers. I took riding out of the equation at that point. Then I added in putting his halter on and grooming him. Then I sat down and considered what was the one thing about getting ready to ride that drove me crazy. Which was tacking up. Noodle was a beast about it. And it took forever because of it. By the time I actually had him ready to ride? I was too frustrated with both of us, and I was a little afraid, too.

                          So I got better at tacking him. And eventually faster. There were days I went out and did nothing but tack him up. I found an instructor that would come to me and help me feel more confident on the ground. It took me over a year to get my 24-hour pin from the AHA. That is how little I rode during that time period.

                          I love to ride. And like you, I would be totally thrilled whenever I actually got on. And I would ask myself why I didn't do it more, what the big deal was. Blah, blah, blah. I switched those words out and started saying, "Look! We did it! He is tacked and I am in the saddle"!

                          And now look at us! We have made so much progress that I can have the light bulb moment that we have been discussing in the dressage forum. Simply by changing the way I talked to myself about my horse time and riding changed a lot of other things down the road. And I found good instructors. I couldn't always afford lessons, but I did make an effort to get at least one a month whenever I could. Weekly was the goal, but I did what I could. I knew that a lesson would force me to ride.

                          I still need external forces to push me. Having my barn friend who rides religiously has helped me. She'll text me as she is heading to the barn in the morning, and I'll set aside my desire to do nothing much and I'll met her there. I try not to think about it too much. I just do it. And sometimes I say "No". Which is okay, too. But my general rule of thumb is I say "Yes" four times to every time I say "No".

                          So look at the words you use to talk to yourself about your horse life. Start small. And be gentle with yourself. We are on a journey, not in a race. Just like you would with a horse, if you find yourself getting balky and resistant, back up a little in the work to where you feel successful again.


                          • #14
                            When I have gone through periods like this at various points in my life, I have dealt with it by making deals with myself about how far I HAVE to go on a given day. For a while, the deal was that I had to at least tack up. Then the deal was that I had to at least take him to the ring. Then it was that I had to at least get on, etc. The truly interesting thing is that I pretty much never stopped at the benchmark I set...almost without exception, I would end up completing full rides, including jumping! Something about taking the pressure off to do all the things I "should" do, allowed me to do those very things.

                            Good luck! I think you will get through it. Sometimes I knew why I was having the fear issues, and sometimes I didn't. I do think I have an anxiety disorder, so that is probably part of it.


                            • #15
                              wowee, is this post timely. i haven't been on my steady eddy since nov. i have been dealing with a frozen shoulder and haven't felt strong or limber enough to attempt even a bareback toodle. to add to the angst, i keep imagining a bronco ride even tho he's not the type. was psyching myself up to a ride this weekend but the cold and rain are making it not happen. maybe i'm doing an 'internal' rain dance.
                              R.I.P. my sweet boy Tristan
                              36 years old, but I was hoping you'd live forever


                              • Original Poster

                                So these are all thoughts that would leap to the forefront when I would even think about heading to the barn. I was rattled before I ever got there! And God forbid if something would come up! I would thankfully grab on to the excuse it offered, and feel relieved that I wouldn't have to ride. I also felt disappointed that I wasn't going to ride. And disgusted with myself for feeling relieved. And very confused.

                                And this

                                When I have gone through periods like this at various points in my life, I have dealt with it by making deals with myself about how far I HAVE to go on a given day. For a while, the deal was that I had to at least tack up. Then the deal was that I had to at least take him to the ring. Then it was that I had to at least get on, etc. The truly interesting thing is that I pretty much never stopped at the benchmark I set...almost without exception, I would end up completing full rides, including jumping! Something about taking the pressure off to do all the things I "should" do, allowed me to do those very things."

                                And the part about tacking up...oh man! Going out to catch him, get out the saddle, bridle, boots, helmet. ugh and ugh. So I've also been working on a routine, a specific order of go for things so it's uncomplicated. And the best part? They usually come when I call them. I mean, it could hardly get easier unless I could call him and tell him to get in and tack up; I'll be right over. lol

                                This is exactly how I started out with him because I would be so afraid, my knees were actually weak. And yet I bought him because he was suitable for an old crippled beginner AND show ring worthy.

                                I told myself all I had to do was go feed cookies and make friend, then brush in the cross ties, etc. Just the same as you guys. Then tack up. Then get on, allowing that I could get right back off. When I went to look at him, I wasn't strong enough to ride him so I bought him on the strength of what I saw. Then I would ride him once around. I was surprised the day when Mr. Ez said..ya know, you've gone around 3 times? YEP, AND LOVIN IT!

                                We are kindred spirits. After talking about it here, I decided it is just anxiety...about nothing iin particular. Performance anxiety, As One Gray Pony said. I decided I live with it, I'm always anxious about failing, getting yelled at (not a happy childhood) and that it isn't real any more.

                                I had a great ride today. The best one ever. And that says a lot because they've actually all been good. I'm going to ride again tomorrow.
                                Ride like you mean it.


                                • #17
                                  I've been through this more than once since I hit 35, and I'm 53 now. Perhaps it is a greater consciousness of one's mortality and responsibilities, possibly a little TMI about "what can happen," but my own pet theory is there may now be (because we're aging somewhat) a bit of a physical disconnect between what we once could do thoughtlessly and easily, and what we can do now. The nervousness is our body's way of bringing our attention to this. It's important NOT to interpret an SYS (sympathetic nervous system response, aka adrenaline release) as FEAR. It is not!
                                  It is actually the body/mind's way of preparing one for a superior, maximum performance. Many actors and sportsmen learn to channel "the jitters" positively.

                                  I can honestly say that for years I erroneously interpreted such feelings as actual cowardice and felt terrible, because everyone thought I was fearless in the saddle--until martial arts educated me a bunch about the mind-body connection.
                                  This is not "fear" in the sense of avoiding a legitimate source of injury--it's your mind building up monsters that aren't really there. "Diseases" of perception. Cast them out with an act of will by "changing the channel" when those thoughts arise.

                                  That's why I think it's important to really clarify your self-awareness about your horse first, because once in awhile it really IS "Darwin" being your best friend. I asked myself long and hard back in '08 if I really wanted to ride young horses again before acquiring The Next Generation--and the answer is a resounding yes, but I'm NOT confident to do the breaking-in myself anymore. If anyone lifts an eyebrow about that, I just laugh and say I can afford to hire the test-pilots now that I'm older. Truthfully--can't afford NOT to is closer to the truth.

                                  Few of us are the fire-eaters we were in our twenties . . . there's a reason they don't draft 50-somethings for combat missions or moon shots!