Creating Your Own Monster
So everything is going great. Your horse is responsive. He's off the forehand and he's carrying you around the ring with momentum. Even the jumps are being cleared with ease. It's a great lesson and a great ride. Then your instructor changes up the course. They add in an oxer, a liverpool, a skinny jump or they put up the height. All of a sudden, you're not as confident. Maybe you've had a bad experience before or maybe you're not sure why you feel this way. What you do know is that you're tense and your horse feels it too.
You approach the first jump and the rail falls to the ground. Your horse is cantering slower or he's too collected. His head is high while you hold tight onto the reins and keep kicking on his side. The second jump is not any better. Next thing you know, your horse has had enough and has decided to buck, bolt or rear.
Does any of this sound familiar?
I know it's something that I usually have to face when I'm in the saddle. Most of the time, I don't know why I'm tense... I just am. I get nervous over something I shouldn't be. The course is something I've done before and it's nothing I can't handle. But for some reason, I start to feel myself panic. This panic is usually followed by frustration because I can't seem to relax again. Then I obsess over a bad approach over the first jump. Instead of letting it go and focusing on the next jump, I tend to carry it with me and then it's all downhill from there. One bad turn leads to two. Then a knocked rail. And then a bolting horse. All because I couldn't relax and stay confident.
To calm myself back down, I have to go back to flatwork. Focusing on the horse's rhythm at the trot and canter on a circle. I have to go back to basics. Ignore the jumps and go back to getting the horse to carry me around the ring like he did before. Making sure to allow myself to relax and gain my confidence again.
My coach keeps reminding me that I'm creating my own monster. Through being tense I tighten my grip on the reins. Which means I need more leg to get the horse going. The horse gets frustrated (naturally) and once he's had enough he bolts. Then I get nervous that if I relax he'll bolt even faster.
It's a vicious cycle. And it's all a mind game.
I know that this horse does not have a single mean bone in his body. He's just fed up with all the mixed signals. What I need to do is retrain my brain. It's something I know will take a bit of time, but it's the only way to correct the problem. It's about remembering to breathe and understanding that my coach will never ask me to do anything I'm not capable of doing. It's also about trusting the horse that he knows his job. I can't micromanage everything he does. Horseback riding is a partnership after all.
I'd love to know if you've ever had this challenge. How did you overcome it?
Until next time, happy riding!