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  • Fear

    Ok, I know this isn't a physical issue, but it is mental, and I need some help with coping mechanisms, and maybe even some moral support.

    My last horse was a great kind of guy, but his last couple of years, he got really, really spooky. I came off hard many times from some serious spin and bolt spooks from the canter. I was never hurt physically, but apparently it caused a more serious problem. We eventually found out that the horse was going blind, and he was eventually euthanized as a result of that.

    However, now I am bringing along my colt. He's five now, and is a really great guy. He's calm, kind, and was born broke. I have owned him since he was 4 months old, and I've done all of his training thus far. He is quite solid at the walk and trot. He does small cross rails, and is a star on the trail. I am exceptionally confident that he will NEVER do anything to hurt his rider. This is the horse that out on the trail got into ground bees. He bucked one time, I yelled, and he stopped and stood, shaking, while the bees stung him. I looked down, saw the bees, and got him out of there. He's really a good guy.

    But I am TERRIFIED of cantering now. Not just him, but any horse. I have tried taking some lessons on wonderful school horses, and I have the same reaction for any of them. I have cantered my boy, and I did in lessons too. Once I convince myself to do it once, I'm better and can generally do more without the panic attack, sweating, and huge heart rate.

    I find that I can even talk myself out of riding if I think about cantering the horse. Last night, I was riding, and Merlin was awesome. Calm, forward, paying attention, so I thought, it's a good night to canter him, and promply had a little panic attack. I pushed through it, and we went half the ring in both directions, but sheesh....it shouldn't be so traumatic.

    What's funny, is Merlin knows I'm stressed, and will hesitate going into the canter if I'm panicking. If I'm in a good state, he picks it right up. Good pony, but I'm sure he'd appreciate it if I wasn't such a freak about things.

    Any ideas? I'd love input....

  • #2
    Just a few ideas, but maybe you could get the horse in the arena, and just ride walk/trot for a while. Then, do some calming mind exercises for yourself. Picture going into a smooth, enjoyable canter, and the horse being relaxed and supple. Then, try it! Once you do it a few times, the heebie jeebies you're experiencing should fade. It also helps if you can canter with someone helping you, keeping the horse on a lunge line. I am a bit afraid to canter too, but only because I tend to tense up, and it makes the canter hard to sit. MY FAULT, not the horse's. I also have a gelding that goes from a trot straight into a full out racing gallop. He really "doesn't have a canter" gait. I have fallen from him numerous times in the past, and it's ruined my confidence. I had a mare that was SO EASY to sit in the canter. It was like rocking in a rocking chair. She was my favorite riding horse. But we lost her to a neurological disease this past September. I would love advie as to how to SLOW a horse's canter into a more cadenced, controlled gait, if anyone knows how.


    • #3
      I clinic-ed with an instructor who does centered riding/feldenkrais type work and she commented that most of her fearful riders had an underlying balance problem and once that was addressed, they were fine.
      So, I would try to find an instructor who concentrates on biomechanics and body awareness and see if that does the trick.
      A lot of people ride spooky horses and do not come off. It's the coming off part you need to address
      On the plus side, a good instructor OF THIS TYPE can substantially change your seat in just a few lessons. Huge changes that can completely change how you ride.
      Your saddle could also be a problem and a good instructor will make sure the saddle isn't working against you.

      I'd been riding in an albion AP for the last few years and bought a Black Country celeste because my just backed 4 year old is too wide for the albion. The difference in my stability in the saddles are like night and day. The albion actually fit me well and was a great saddle but the celeste puts my exactly where I need to be on this baby. It is soooo cool.
      "The mighty oak is a nut who stood its ground"

      "...you'll never win Olympic gold by shaking a carrot stick at a warmblood..." see u at x


      • #4
        It sounds like you have done a good job trying different approaches to overcoming your fear issue. I teach TR and I agree with the great suggestions you have been given. I would also add a few ideas. Visualization is very important. When you feel the negative thoughts coming into your head about the canter, make a concerted effort to redirect your thoughts elsewhere. At other times, make yourself visualize the canter depart as a smooth, relaxing, no-biggie moment. Visualization can be a very helpful tool in rebooting the little voice that feeds negativity.

        Work with someone who understands fear issues and can help you with activities to help you gain confience and become rock solid at the walk and trot so that when you are ready to get back into cantering in the ring, you will have no worries about balance which is where your fear may lie. Try to incorporate laughter into your lessons because a wise instructor once told me, "You can't be scared when you're laughing." Play games on horseback and perhaps ask someone to put you on the longe on a packer in either a pad and surcingle with handle or a saddle with a grab strap so you will have an extra place to 'hold' while you ease back into the canter.

        Best of luck to you.


        • #5
          I had a bad riding accident that landed me in the hospital. My physical injuries weren't as bad as they could have been considering that I was run over, but I was very traumatized by the whole event. Some other riders recommended Linda Kohanov's books (Tao of Equus and Riding Between the Worlds) to me, and they were very helpful.

          Something else that might be helpful could be lunge lessons on a solid, bombproof horse. That way, you have an extra security net built in.


          • #6
            If walk/trot is fine, why not just do that? Learn to drive as that is primarily walk/trot, too. I'd walk/trot until I was so bored with it that I would want to canter.
            Where Fjeral Norwegian Fjords Rule


            • #7
              I used to have a huge fear of canter. I mean, I literally could not force myself to ask my lesson horse for canter. This went on for almost a year of lessons with my new RI.

              So my RI got a lesson horse in who had no trot. Seriously. If you were at a walk and asked for anything, you got canter. I don't know why.

              Anyway, the horse forced me to deal with canter, and because he is a safe, sane individual with a lovely smooth canter, I got where I could ride the canter confidently. I loved the horse so much I bought him for my very own.

              Do I think you should do this? Maybe not. Because since I bought Houdini and brought him home, I'm back on lesson horses. And do you know what I discovered? I still can't ask for canter. And since none of the schoolies will canter without being asked, well, I'm back where I started.

              It's not really because I'm scared anymore, though, so I guess that's progress. It's more like how my Dad wouldn't let me learn to drive on an automatic because he said I'd never learn to shift gears properly. All that outside rein inside leg stuff just seems like way more than I can manage and keep riding the horse at the same time.

              I think in your place I'd stop trying canter on the young horse until I got my confidence at the canter. I'd be afraid of setting him up to be worried about canter transitions.

              Best of luck with the rest of it. I'm certainly not the best person to advise you. But at least you know you're not alone, right?

              ETA: I've had a couple of months away from lessons (due to an illness and then death in the family) but I'm starting again this Wednesday. If I and/or my RI come up with anything that works, I'll be sure and let you know. I've had great success in the past with the kind of visualization techniques chai describes. But since I've never successfully asked for canter, it's hard for me to visualize it.
              I'm not ignoring the rules. I'm interpreting the rules. Tamal, The Great British Baking Show


              • #8
                Why do you feel like you have to canter

                Walk and trot are perfectly good gaits. Or so I tell myself since I don't canter either.
                When we're ready we will canter and so will you. You don't have to put a deadline on it. This is supposed to be fun
                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.


                • Original Poster

                  But, somewhere in my little odd brain, I WANT to canter my horse. I have visions of Merlin and I out on the trail, bit open field, doing a beautiful, confident canter, sun shining, wind in the hair, flowers, unicorns, you know, the whole nine yards.

                  I have tried to not push myself, you know, only do it when I'm ready. Um...yeah. I can talk myself out of anything. Saturday, I got on. I had cantered the day before, so I was determined. I will do a canter today! Then I found out that it was the first day of hunting season, and the hunters were out. My horse is NOT afraid of gunshots. But, what if, while cantering, he decided he was????? Therefore, now I can't canter.

                  Of course, it was all a moot point, because the second I picked up the trot, I knew my horse was not sound, so no canter for us. Or trotting for that matter. *sigh* But this is what I do. Hunters, wind, other horses running around, my dog, my toe, the ring looks funny, someone moved a jump, Merlin stumbled once while trotting, all are excuses not to canter the horse. I can make an excuse out of anything!

                  On the good side, I think he just has a small stone bruise on his hind foot, nothing major, just a few days off. Gotta love horses....


                  • #10
                    That makes a difference

                    One thing I did to get over my fears was to find an old video of me riding well.

                    That's probably not going to work for you since your horse is a greenie.

                    So how about finding videos of someone else cantering. Think about how great it looks and how much fun they are having. Then imagine that's YOU and Merlin having that same fun.

                    Sophie is a bit laid back shall we say, especially in the extreme heat we had last summer. My instructor had me set a goal, starting with once around the ring at a trot and no dropping back to a walk. Could you set a goal like once around the short side and expand from there? That's maybe 30 seconds. Can you survive 30 seconds of fear? Rate your fear like they do for pain in the hospital from 1 to 10. Write it down on a calendar or diary. Keep doing it till your fear level is a 2 or so, then try around the short side and half way down the long side. Keep charting your progress and I bet you will see progress.

                    FWIW, I don't canter because my ankle hurts. However I have had such bad confidence issues I would sit on my old mare at the mounting block and cry, unable to even ask her to walk off. Jane Savoie's books "That Winning Feeling" and "It's Not About the Ribbons" helped me get through it
                    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.


                    • #11
                      I have struggled with fear, too. And some days, I still do.

                      Sounds like Merlin is a good horse for you.

                      One thing that helped me, is to focus on a good canter depart. Most of my cantering starts from the walk, when she's collected. It's a soft, easy depart. We canter a few steps, then we go back to the walk. So rather than fixating on "I must canter today" I could entertain the idea of a canter depart. And then, if I felt balanced, I could stretch it out for a few more steps. And then a few more, and then I have an entire circle. Then two.

                      Sometimes I sing or hum. It helps normalize my breathing. Sometimes I exhale loudly, and then my mare does, too.

                      Good luck!


                      • #12
                        I gave up cantering a number of years ago. Walk/trot is just fine. Do enough of it and you will keep your horse in good condition.


                        • #13
                          No fear!

                          Try only trying a canter when going uphill on a long grade. There's less chance he'll get away from you. And only try after riding a long time out on the trail and you're both relaxed. So it's sorta "ho/hum"!

                          It's easier to control them and yourself too if you use a neck strap to hold onto with one hand. I use a long stirrup leather on the loosest hole around mine when I'm out foxhunting. I hold on with my left hand when doing something scary like jumping a ditch or crossing a stream or going up a bank. You can balance off that strap. Then you won't hit them in the mouth. I use it trail riding all the time. Hold on when I mount! Grab it if I feel a spook coming. It gives me better balance (I'm a bit forward) and steadies my upper body. I call them my "sissy strap" or my "Jesus strap" (for those moments when I say Oh Jesus!!) But what it really is...is my "confidence strap"!!! I feel less anxious and capable of great feats of athleticism with it! So VOILA!!

                          Since fear is an emotion; I like to use other emotions to minimize or hide it. I use humour, talking to myself, talking to the horse, singing whatever. we've talked about this on some other threads so do a search and see what else we've come up with! Good Luck!


                          • #14
                            Some great advice here - great post Wateryglen! I always feel better cantering up hill.

                            Singing helps, and I may be flamed for this, but a little tq for you may not hurt - something mild like xanax or whatever your dr would prescribe. Of course you'd need to test your reactions and tolerance to a low dose prior to riding, but it might take that edge off untill you can get your confidence back. I'm no doctor, and don't think it's good to just mask things, and realize that you have to deal with the step down from the drug as far as your first canter without it if you choose to go that route, but it can be helpful in limited ways if your doctor agrees that it is a viable option. The drug is for anxiety, and can help in certain situations (for me it was for flying). Now I don't need it at all, but it helped me get over a very specific fear....

                            Good luck! Sounds like your horse is a keeper!


                            • #15
                              since your fear is linked to a specific event, EMDR might work for you. Its a technique used by psychologists to treat PTSD. pretty simple - mine use tones not eye movement thru a headphone as you re-visit the incident (both verbally and visualizing). I had a couple accidents and even though I have the worlds sweetest horse I was really afraid to ride out of the ring. the EMDR really helped me. I worked with a GREAT therapist in Massachusetts.....

                              lunge line lesson might help you, as well as getting your guy more broke to down transitions trot to walk, (if you have a trainer, they could work on canter to walk for you) and a great response to half halt, so you feel like you have more control.

                              good luck!


                              • Original Poster

                                I'll have to go check out the EDMR. I have thought about mild tranquilizers. Maybe I just need to take a glass of wine with me to the barn. I never drink, so one should do it. *grin*

                                As far as downward transitions, now THAT I'm not worried about. You have no idea how much I've worked to install a "GO" button in this horse. His favorite speed is mosey. It's sad, I'm not worried about the horse running away, or anything like that. I worry about him spooking out from under me. Even knowing that he isn't spooky (it takes WAY too much effort to be spooky).

                                I am currently working on my physical condition. I think if I strengthen myself, it will help. And I'll quit feeling worried about squishing my pony. I have a doctors appointment next week, so I'll talk to him about something to help with anxiety. I'm just not sure if he'll be amenable to providing help. Especially since I'm not notably anxious about much of anything, except cantering my horse.

                                Either way, thanks for the input. It gives me something to think about, as well as knowing that I'm not the only one around.


                                • #17
                                  I am pretty much in the same boat. A mare ran off with me several years ago and blew my confidence. I have a wonderful filly I have brought along myself, who would never do anything dumb on purpose and is not at all spooky.

                                  And yet, and yet...we trotted a bit over the summer and then my life got busy and I got out of shape. So it turned into hop on and walk. We went to a very small show and missed one of the in-hand classes thanks to our other horse being a brat. We were entered in a walk-only class and THAT was the one I was kicking my own ass to do. i told myself I *had* to do it and we weren't even at the show for ribbons. And then we tacked up and I was so nervous I forgot that my filly prefers to be mounted in the stall, and was using a new girth that wasn't tightened properly and so when I went to mount, saddle fell off, my boss let horse go and horse fell. (But she was fine.) Boss made me get on the horse and ride to the ring even though we missed the class. I had been taking lessons on school horses, but funds ran out for those.

                                  Now back to where I was a year ago, and the year before that....

                                  Some days, it's all I can do just to get on her and we just do a couple spins in the stall. I am watching all our yearling TBs get broken and I feel like such an idiot because they're ridden all over the farm and my filly is coming 4 and I've never had the confidence to do that.

                                  Sigh. Goal for the new year is to take her back to the same show and show walk TROT and prove to myself I can do it. Got a long way to go.
                                  It's a uterus, not a clown car. - Sayyedati


                                  • #18
                                    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this thread!

                                    To make a long story short (sort of) I got my horse five years ago and rode him for the first time on Friday. Albeit only at the walk and trot.

                                    I am a former dressage rider, rode through the FEI levels, I have done big expos as part of a quadrille riding in the spot light, I have ridden young wild horses....but I just couldn't get over my fear of riding my horse. He is a driving horse, for heaven's sake, we do stuff like this...http://i239.photobucket.com/albums/f...dyOaks2009.jpg
                                    He has done some pretty wild stuff in harness and never scared me.
                                    My husband (who is the best horseman I have ever met) has ridden him all over the ranch, galloping through the forest, having a blast. The big German guy looks pretty cute in all his western gear
                                    I had a trainer riding him for a year and a half off and on to help our driven dressage and he did great. He is green under saddle but was coming along well.
                                    I have a boarder that got us access to a nearby indoor arena so we went on Friday. My dear, sweet, security blanket husband came along. I lunged Apollo for quite a while then walked him around the arena. My husband finally said "I'll just get on him". So he did and everything was fine. So he said just get on and walk and I'll walk along with you. So I did! Hurrah! And then I trotted! Double Hurrah!
                                    What is helping me is to do the visualizing and praying!
                                    So...wish me luck tomorrow. I am hauling to the indoor to have a lesson with the trainer. She has been great and totally understanding. She will ride him first and then it's my turn!

                                    Sorry the short version turned long, but I am so excited to have achieving a goal in sight!
                                    Kanoe Godby
                                    See, I was raised by wolves and am really behind the 8-ball on diplomatic issue resolution.


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by Slewdledo View Post
                                      Some days, it's all I can do just to get on her and we just do a couple spins in the stall. I am watching all our yearling TBs get broken and I feel like such an idiot because they're ridden all over the farm and my filly is coming 4 and I've never had the confidence to do that.
                                      Stop looking at them. It doesn't matter what anyone else is doing, those other horses or those other riders. Not even what you used to be able to do. What matters is you, how you feel and what you're capable of .... today.

                                      After a couple big wrecks as I was getting back into riding after 30 years, I was terrified. My mother couldn't believe it, recalling how I used to ride anything, anywhere, or just race across the desert. That was then. I don't know where that stryder went, but lord, I wish she'd come back.

                                      After the wrecks, I can't tell you how many times it took a huge leap of faith for me to swing onto a rock-steady school horse and then be lead around the arena. It was more than twice. Then I went back on the lunge line, at a walk. Or the trainer worked the horse in hand while I sat on it. Anything to get me to relax enough - and breathe - so I could begin to gain more confidence and actually ride.

                                      I could not think of myself as a rider. "I'm afraid," I kept telling myself. One day I said it out loud. My trainer corrected me, that I was simply less confident. My brain seized on the "confident" part and that little part of me started to grow.

                                      It's still growing because I've kept riding and in the meantime, I've learned all sorts of cool things to help: a more independent seat, how to maintain focus, how to use the horse's bend to control her, how to prevent her from switching bends on me (switching bends at the scary thing is the precursor to the uncontrolled bolt that makes me weak in the knees). I am no longer at the mercy of whether the horse chooses to be good. I have more say. But on less-confident days, I have asked someone to babysit me while I get mounted and get going in the arena. No one has turned me down, and some were barely acquaintances.

                                      Everyone can ride if you want to. Some are more confident than others. Some are better at faking confidence. You're riding in your stall today. Maybe tomorrow you'll go outside and someone will help you do it. Getting help - a holder or leader, perhaps - doesn't diminish what you're doing.

                                      Good luck.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by CDE Driver View Post
                                        So he said just get on and walk and I'll walk along with you. So I did! Hurrah! And then I trotted! Double Hurrah!

                                        Double hurrah!! indeed. Baby steps to riding.....

                                        Hope your lesson tomorrow goes well, too. Keep visualizing yourself as a rider!