Falling Back Into Fear

Falling Back Into Fear

I came off yesterday.

It was the first jump of the second course of our lesson, so pretty early on.  We cantered up slowly to a 2’3″ oxer.  I leaned for him to jump at a spot that was maybe a smidge long, and he put his feet back down.  I fell completely on his neck and then popped off to the side in front of the jump.

Conditioned saddle was not as sticky as I had hoped
Conditioned saddle was not as sticky as I had hoped

I fell hard and got the wind knocked out of me.  It was one of those falls where you know pretty much immediately that nothing major is hurt, but you don’t exactly bounce back up either.  Today I kind of feel like I’ve been run over by a truck, but I’ll certainly survive.

When I got back on, my trainer lowered the oxer to a vertical and he stopped again.  I had to get after him a bit.  Then we had a series of pretty ugly jumps over it, and finally ended on a short course of about 3-4 cross rails.  He felt fine by the end, but they were cross rails… I was pretty much completely unnerved.  I should also add that on our last crossrail course, he did two clean lead changes. I’m calling them guilt changes.

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On the drive home from the barn it is safe to say that I was not the most positive thinker ever.  My thoughts ranged from, “If he does lead changes I’m just fucking going back to hunters” to “If I can learn to love dressage I’ll never have to be scared again.”  Neither one of these thoughts are very fair, because my horse and I have been doing really well lately.  Video proof from a lesson earlier last week.

The problem is two fold.  My biggest fears are simultaneously falling off from a horse stopping at a jump (aka yesterday) and turning my horse into a stopper from shitty riding.  If I took the world’s most honest jumper and turned him into a stopper because I’m an emotional basket case, I don’t think I could forgive myself.

I know we will get over this, but last time it took about two months and I didn’t fall nearly as hard as I did yesterday.  The fear is real with me.  One of my favorite things of the year, the hunter derby, is in two weeks.  The derby is basically a sea of 2’6″ oxers that you can’t school ahead of time.  If we can’t be brave, we can’t do it.

See?  Giant oxers.
See? Giant oxers.

Twenty four hours after, I’m really trying to put on my brave and positive thinking cape.  When I first fell off I told my trainer I wanted her to ride him over a million oxers, but I changed my tune to instead ask for a private lesson Tuesday night.  I know I was riding too slow to the oxer and I also know that I leaned a tad too much, however I can’t stop thinking that Simon totally let me down on his end of the deal.  That’s not rational thinking, but it’s the truth.

Horse eating oxers.  Everywhere.
Horse eating oxers. Everywhere.

I won’t make any decisions about the show until next week.  Just going to shake this off the best I can and try to improve my riding between now and then.  That’s probably a healthier action plan than curling up in a fetal position and giving up jumping entirely.

Falls happen.  Stops happen. It’s part of riding, and riding is humbling.

60 thoughts on “Falling Back Into Fear

  1. I’ve fallen off jumping – a cross country jump no less! That fear lingers unfortunately and seriously effects your riding. You’ll get through this, I know it. Just keeping doing what you’re doing and make decisions that are mentally healthy for you.

  2. I’m sorry! I understand all of the thoughts going through your head because I felt the same way when I fell off in December. At least you got back on!!! I didn’t. 🙁 I’m glad you’re okay.

    P.S. Did you know Simon is cross cantering in the video after his lead change? Chrome cross canters when he changes leads in the pasture. I’ve never ridden a lead change on him so I don’t know if he’ll do it under saddle. He does it because of his weak stifles I think.

    1. Thanks 🙂 I do know he’s cross cantering… we’re kind of the cross cantering pros. Generally we fix it with either a skip change or circle, but with roll back and quick courses my trainer typically has us keep going since lead changes are Simon’s main problem due to his physical weaknesses in the hind.

  3. I think Simon loves his job and you love Simon and you love jumping. You just had a bad day. I have LOTS of faith that you will bounce back and be fine. Think confidently and you will ride confidently! And yes, this is the advice I try to give myself that I sometimes don’t follow…lol. 😉

    1. Haha, I know a lot about giving advice that I don’t follow! I spent a lot of time yesterday telling my husband not to worry, because this was just a part of riding horses.. yet I’m worried! I appreciate your faith in us 🙂

  4. Forever humbling. But this is the very kind of thing (complete with all of the basket case-ness in our heads afterward) that makes us stronger better riders and people.

  5. Jumping fear is really, REALLY hard to deal with. I totally get it!! But what I do that helps me a ton, is on the way to the fence when your mind starts spinning all of these crazy horrible scenarios, I just say to myself “I am brave. I am brave. I am brave.” or something similar. Or I talk to my pony, “We are going to jump this fence from a great distance!” Sometimes telling yourself these things in the moment makes a big difference!

    1. Yes! While driving to the barn when I know I’ll be jumping big, I have even blasted some Katy Perry to get my confidence up. Whatever it takes!

    2. I love all of these suggestions! I also think Daniel Stewart has some great suggestions for dealing with fear — one of which is tricking your brain by capitalizing on its inability to properly mentally multitask. In addition to these power postures (THEY WORK!) you can get yourself a really positive, happy, fearless theme song that you can sing while riding — aloud! — and that can help you stop feel so much fear. Also, I find that singing really helps me not lean to jumps and let the spot come to me.

      This is such a bummer it happened before your hunter derby!! I hope you chronicle the strategies you use to help you get over this, so others can benefit from it too! You’re such an open, honest voice that I know it will be helpful for others.

  6. Girl, this exactly why I went into dressage with Amy for a year or so. Honest to goodness did not have the confidence in myself with jumping, thus no love for it. I don’t know if that was the best reason for going into dressage, but either way I’m glad I got that training. It’s invaluable as I’m trying to move back into h/j land. I think y’all both love jumping and where I think y’all look your absolute best, but getting a couple dressage lessons every now and then could help. Amy completely eradicated my fears out of me 🙂

    1. I love Amy 🙂 Wish she were closer so I could get a few lessons. I’d like to think we’ve come a long way since last time I trained with her! Glad to hear you’re enjoying the return to hunter/jumper land. Simon misses you 🙂

      1. Haha I miss the cutie, too! I’m home for a bit after the Fiesta Classic; maybe I can finally come out and see y’all

  7. Bravery isn’t not being afraid, it’s being scared shitless and doing it anyway. And dressage is scary, too. I’ve seen plenty of people sobbing in terror before entering the ring at shows and I’m sure I’ll see plenty more. I’ve certainly been scared out of my mind when a fractious horse decided he’d rather do airs above the ground than sit down and collect. I’ve fallen off plenty of times and could sometimes barely get back on because my knees were shaking so hard, but I always end up going right back to my obsession. You’ll figure it out.

  8. Sorry to hear-I’m pretty sure we’ve all been at a place of fear before. My old mare used to stop all the time if distances and my position weren’t perfect. I can’t tell you how many times I came off! (One week I think I came off every single lesson. That was fun). Just take it back to basics and don’t put pressure on yourself to go to the derby unless you’re feeling confident.

      1. Actually I fully believe there is truth to that statement. No one wants to fall off, but I think for some to have what they fear the most happen to them and then realize they survived just fine helps in moving past that fear. Sometimes that might take a lot of falls. Even after my mare I would say I come off about once a year. Also, to me falling off does not equal you being a bad rider. It means that you are taking some chances, and pushing your comfort zone a bit. Which, for the last few months is what you’ve been doing (i.e. making the transition from hunters to jumpers and a different way of going). So just keep on keeping on, you’ll get through this!

  9. I’m glad you’re okay! Getting the wind knocked out of you is the worst feeling. I’ll bet you’ll be feeling better about things after your private lesson. And I think you’re being super smart to wait to make any decisions about the show until next week. Go forward and jump jumps Simon, do not dump your Mommy!

  10. The reason I”m currently training and showing dressage is that deep down, I felt that my core and seat were not strong enough to get me out of trouble on a course. SO I was always wanting a perfectly smooth jump. Anything else was scary. And I’ll tell you, I am SO MUCH more confident now, after four months of concentrating on dressage. We’ve spooked, he’s lost his nerve, he’s gotten irritated, and I’ve figured out and gotten strong enough to stay with him. Bonus the dressage works has TREMENDOUSLY improved his balance and my ability to ask for more push. We’ve only played over jumps here and there but I can tell it has made a huge difference.

  11. Well, I’m really glad you’re okay! I have the same feelings after a fall and it always really shakes my confidence. Just keep at it (I’m sure the private lesson with help a lot!) and I know you’ll both be back to tackling jumps soon -hugs-

  12. Not going to lie. Dressage can still be intimidating for people. Especially when you start pushing for collection and stuff and your horse throws a huge fit and basically says “What now? You go away, lady!”

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take the time to introduce yourself back to being a badass by doing things that make you confident. Watch videos of yourself being awesome. Take deep breaths. You guys will be fine. 🙂

    1. Oh yes, I don’t want any dressage people to take my comment as a sign that I don’t think their sport is hard or can be intimidating. Completely don’t think that!

      I just meant that I never feel unsafe on the flat on my horse, so it seems less stressful… especially at lower levels. 🙂

  13. Confidence is a fickle bitch. I have been there. And let me tell you, I can jump a course of 2’6″ oxers while scared shitless, but it’s never something I’d recommend.

    I wouldn’t pretend to tell you want to do to fix it (yay private lesson), but be kind to yourself, whatever you do. No one doubts your grit or your ability.

  14. I totally feel for you and wanted to say that was very well written. The fear can come from multiple places and just suck all the fun out of riding. Hope you can find a way to figure it out and heal quickly.

  15. The fear is definitely real. For me personally, having a $hitty lesson, feeling strung out over jumps, having a couple stops and missing distances can really set me back mentally. As an A-type personality (and a hunter), I don’t want anything to be less than perfect. But it’s never perfect. Even during the most huntery ride of them all as you lope casually over 3′ fences feeling like a rockstar, there will be something on course that you could have done better. You’ll wish your horse was listening a little harder or that you had asked for that lead change a bit more precisely. Bottom line, I had to learn that it’s never perfect and stop beating myself up when it (inevitably) wasn’t. Or else it’s not fun to (more often than not) feel like you’re failing. Falls are hard, and we’re not 15 anymore where you can bounce up without injury to your person or your ego. That said, give yourself and Simon a break and let yourself off the hook. Guaranteed you aren’t ruining him. Have a few good lessons over crossrails to get your confidence back. Give him a bubbly bath and hand graze him for a while to make friends with him again. You’ll be derby-ready in no time!

  16. If you ever want to talk to someone who suffers from major fear issues (like, last month I decided I could.not.canter) you know where to find me… I’m happy to chat.

  17. Stopping can totally shake you, especially in a horse that doesn’t normally exhibit it. I’m sorry you fell, and I hope the private lesson helps get you back to being happier and working team.

  18. Glad you are ok! This is the time where you dig deep. I’ve had a stopper and it sabotages every ounce of confidence in you. So this begins the mental game with yourself. You tell yourself stopping is not an option. Seriously. Out loud and over and over. You say we can go over it or through it but we are going. Sit back, grab mane, and f-ing kick. Don’t think about distances only think about getting to the other side (on your horse). Some horses when they learn that jumping is optional choose the opt out option. So teach him and yourself there are no options. You can do this, you have grit. Get mad and just do it. ❤️

    1. Good advice! Under, over, or through! Seriously though, there is something to be said about getting a little angry about it and not worrying about the distances. I had a random, out of nowhere stop on course with my young horse at WEF this season. The next course I went into ring with a “we will get to the other side or die trying” attitude and rode FORWARD, shoulders back, feet in front of me, to whatever distance came up. After that, my horse was all “Yes ma’am!” The rest of the season. Like you said, sometimes, you have to completely take away the option of a stop.

  19. aww, feeling fear is never fun. I am so sorry you are experiencing that.

    You and Simon are such a lovely team. There are so many photos where you have a solid position and are giving him a kind, supportive ride. It was just one bad fence, one moment in time. Don’t let it rent space in your head!

  20. I’m dreading the day I fall off Addy (which is inevitable at some point), because I know it’ll knock my confidence just like this- I feel your pain! I think a private lesson where you have your trainer focused entirely on you and coaching you through any sticky spots is exactly the right move. Also- don’t be too hard on yourself and think that you’re ruining your pony. Even schoolmasters will stop every so often, and if you work together to build each others confidence back up it won’t become a habit. These things happen!

  21. Hugs. It’s so hard to get back on and keep going – the fear and the doubts are real. FWIW, I’ve got faith in you – and in Simon! 🙂

  22. I hope the private lesson helps boost your confidence! Stopping sucks… Max stops dirty a lot and I used to get upset and ask myself why I didn’t choose dressage… but over the years, I’ve just gotten used to it (and have learned to be a little bit stickier in the saddle!) I think once you have another few good rides, you’ll be OK!

  23. I’m glad to hear you’re okay! As the owner and rider of a dirty stopper, I know it’s SUPER unnerving to not be 100% totally confident that your horse will go over the jump. That said, Simon isn’t a dirty stopper. Sure, he did kind of let you down on his end of the bargain, but it doesn’t sound like it’s a regular thing that you need to be super worried about. I’m sure the private lesson will help- stay positive and stay determined!

  24. I’m glad that you are ok. I definitely get how you are feeling. I have been having a recent set back with fear myself. My confidence over fences is growing but my horse has been spooking a lot during my last couple rides and that really unsettles me. All of my recent falls were due to spooks. I don’t know how to get past this because it’s not really something you can practice. I had a fear of jumping so I worked on that and it’s a lot better. Having a few spooks and scary situations in my last couple rides has set me back so now I need to work on getting back to where I was. I wish I could be more confident in myself and my horse. I’m sorry you are going through this but I have followed your blog for a while and I think you are a lovely rider. I love watching your videos and I enjoy reading about your progress with Simon. You are certainly not ruining him. I think a private lesson is the way to go. I have a lesson tonight so hoping to get through it with no fear (or just a little).

  25. The archives of my blog are chock FULL of posts like this, so I can totally relate. Stops are scary and falling is awful, no two ways about it. I would say a private lesson is just the thing to refocus and gain some confidence back. In the photos it looks like you rocked the hunter derby and its many oxers before, so I bet you can do it again… although there is always another show and another season if you decide the timing isn’t right on this one.

    1. That makes me feel a lot better since you and Tucker sure did accomplish a lot in the hunters and just today you said he was such a made jumper! Maybe there is still hope 🙂

  26. I’m glad you didn’t get hurt. It could have been way worse. I am going to repeat the last line of Amy’s post above me. “Get mad and just do it.”

    Fear sucks. It can pop up at any time, any place- jumping, flat work, trail riding, whatever. The quickest way to get over and past your fear is to get pissed off! Seriously. If you’re mad as hell, you’re probably not scared anymore….

    You don’t have to be mad at Simon, yourself or anyone really and certainly don’t take it out on him. You can simply be mad about being afraid, if that makes sense. If you have to, just yell “Dammit I don’t like being scared!” as loudly as you can and say it like you mean it. It is empowering and kicks your fear to the curb as quickly as the words roll off your tongue. It works not only in riding, but other situations as well. Try it sometime.

    I think the private lesson will help you guys get back on track. You’re doing so well. This is just a bump in the road.

  27. Girl, that just sucks.

    I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said already. Simon is a gem and you are a good rider – in jumpers you can ride defensively if you need rather than the hunter position so that can help (it does me!).

    Keep riding girl, this too shall pass.

  28. Oh boy, glad you’re okay but so sorry you fell off. The mental damage can be worse than the physical toll of the falling off, don’t you think? I’m glad you’ve got a private lesson – that’s a very proactive approach to confronting the fear and feeling back in the groove.

  29. Awww! Don’t beat yourself up over it. On Saturday I had TWO stops in one lesson. I find that as long as I learn from my mistakes and don’t dwell on it too long, you’ll be alright 🙂

  30. I hate falls. I hate when others fall. But, your horse love you and you love him, and I don;t believe you will ruin him. You will be back up to speed soon. No rushing needed.

  31. sorry about the fall – that really stinks 🙁 at least you know you’re not alone about feeling scared sometimes. my confidence definitely has peaks and valleys that don’t really make any sense to me… but it is what it is.

    for what it’s worth – you two look fab in that video: he’s turning on a dime and looks comfortable jumping from any distance. nice work!

  32. Do you feel internal pressure to keep jumping? Or showing? There’s nothing wrong with taking a break to enjoy your horse – the lower level dressage tests are fun, or maybe just hacking. I think the jumping fears happen to more people than we realize!

  33. I have this all the time. Am I ruining my horse, I’m gonna die etc but I have found working with a biomechanics instructor to give me a really secure seat has helped so much. I’m not so scared of the stop or the spin and bolt out the dressage corner because I have biomechanics glue! Funnily enough those things happen less now I’m not so scared and when they do it doesn’t knock me around so much. For the record, falling off sucks.

  34. I feel your pain. Falling off is a major confidence setback for me too. The only thing I’ve really found that helps get it over with and fast is to keep pushing it. For example, I fell off twice in one day during a horse show last summer. I considered my own death rather than jump another course. And I was scared and nervous and cried and went too fast and made my trainer gasp (and not in a good way) but I went back in – a division higher no less! – and I made it. And after that? For some reason, it was FINE.

    Not recommending that approach for everyone but I did figure out I was made of sterner stuff than I anticipated. I dunno.

    I find positive (this is key!) visualization also helps. Take 15 or 20 minutes, chill, and visualize you and Simon jumping a great course. Not every distance has to be perfect – it’s better if they aren’t and, in your visual, you deal with it calmly and appropriately. Think of it as free practice!

    I hope you feel better asap – nothing feels quite the same as taking a fall. Take a hot bath and don’t be afraid of that Advil! Good luck in your private lesson and if you want to push then push… But if you don’t? Then don’t. This is “fun” after all!

  35. Maybe see it as Simon sensing your guys were off balance and protected you both by stopping. My mare stops when she’s nervous. She’s done it with me and WS. That alone is scary, so add a fall and you have every right to be shaken. Your story makes ne scared to jump lol. I ride with a tiny 8 year old who’s fallen 15 times since she started jumping a couple years ago. I keep thinking if she can get back on, so can i.

  36. You’re right, stops and falls happen on even the most trusty of mounts. But your fear is totally rational. When wiz was being terrible for a minute I thought hell I’ll just never jump again, dressage all the way! Then he proved dressage was just as dangerous lol. But now that he’s behaving again and we’re rebuilding trust, I’m itching to jump again. But I’m sure it’ll be a slow process of regaining trust in each other. And I think we all get scared about screwing up our horses. When wiz was going through his crap I kept wondering if it was something I had done. But you two are making progress and you’ll continue to do so, of course inevitably with plenty of bumps along the road 😉

  37. First, glad you are ok!

    Henry came to me as a dirty stopper.. It shook me HARD and it was one hell of an uphill battle to get past it BUT I am a much more secure rider bc of it.

    I don’t think Simon is a dirty stopper at all but know you aren’t alone and I’ve been scared shitless too lol.

    Big hugs and here is to being determined to push past it 🙂

  38. Coming from another fearful rider (my fears are in corners, lead changes, and bolting) – I find that things are the worst for me when I get frustrated with myself for being afraid.

    My motto is: Its okay to have fear. Its not okay to let fear have you.

    Once you accept that you have fear but you’re not going to let it stop you from doing what you love, I think its easier to figure out how to deal with it.

    When I was dealing with the worst of my fears, I found it was very helpful to write down a plan of how I was going to attack my fear from multiple angles. Little things like buying some full seats and spraying my saddle with conditioner before every ride to help me feel more secure. Reasonable things like doing some reading and research on techniques or taking lessons on the calmest horse at the barn to help me identify issues and work through them. Completely unrelated things like doing groundwork with my horse to work on connection and trust. Everything combined helped me to get past the worst of it. I still deal with fear, but usually I can work myself out of it or go on despite.

    Its an ugly monster to battle, but you can do it!

    1. On a non-fear related note – seriously, you should take some dressage lessons! I do hunters/eq, and my first dressage lesson completely transformed myself and my horse, and made a huge difference on course. Some of the best relaxed lead changes we’ve ever had (my guy gets up and really fast to get his changes) came on the heels of that lesson. Hopefully the more we are able to do, the more it will help. Give it a shot!

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