Friday, February 10, 2012

Confessions of a Horse Owner - Fear

Hi, my name is Jeni and I'm afraid to canter my horse.


Clearly, I do canter Rosie.  I can tell you there is nothing enjoyable for either of us.  I'm a tense, frustrated, angry canter rider.  I'm always waiting for that moment when she drops out from under me.

Just sitting here thinking about it my breathing shallows a little, my heart rate goes up, all the classic signs of anxiety.

I can canter any other horse without these feelings.  I can sit and relax and enjoy canter on Bitsy, a strange horse to me.  I canter, even gallop Bonnie and she's bucked me off numerous times without feeling the vice grip of fear.

It's just Rosie...  It's embarrassing.   It's frustrating, and makes me angry with myself.  I've never been afraid to do something on a horse, ever, until now.

Now I've said it, I've written it.  It's down for the whole world to see.    So what's next, how do I solve this?  I've been "pushing through the fear" for months now.  It's not getting better.  If anything it's worse.

The logical thinker that I am says "Break the problem down into it's elements"

Rosie is learning canter under saddle.  This means the transition isn't crisp and smooth.  It's during those few seconds between asking and her thinking 'yes' or 'no' that I first tense.   Tense I can't demand the transition so she gets off balance and on the forehand.  This means that if she does pick it up she's off balance and often on the wrong lead.

Once in canter,  I have weight in my stirrups, my core is tight as a rock, and my seat is concrete.  Rosie halts off seat immediately.    I'm demanding with my legs and whip (showing it to her), but my entire body is screaming at her "Stop now!".  So now I've just confused my poor mare, and the more I persist the grumpier she gets.  She never does anything naughty or mean.  Just pinned ears and a little attitude shown in tail wringing.

Can't say I'd be that patient with my rider... I love this horse!

So problem is - I need to be precise in asking for transition, and I need to relax.  Easy right?!?  So how do I get to that point?

First off, Rosie will be getting once a week training ride with Jodie. Focusing on canter.  End of training ride I will get a schooling on what to work on the next week.

Second - I'm going to do a lot of bareback riding.  Just hacking around - having fun.  Loose rein kind of stuff.  Learn my balance again and gain more leg and core strength so I can handle the down transition from canter.

Third - Canter as much as possible but make it targeted like canter down center line from A through X - working trot at G track right or  left depending on which ever lead we were on.  The idea is to give myself something to focus on so it's not "Oh crap I have to get her into canter, keep her in canter for x amount of times around the 20 meter circle".  Smaller chunks should naturally lead to larger chunks.  Also the transitions in and out should help make them more crisp and natural.

Now I just have to get brave enough to execute my plan...


  1. My first thought was that maybe you shouldn't be the one building up her strength and teaching her the canter. That you should be there and watch as a trainer does. That way over time you will see that she is capable and she can get a track record, in your mind, of not tripping. I think you feel as if you have lost your confidence but I see it more that you have lost confindence in Rosie. So you are not pushing through a fear of something you can change but you need to see that Rosie has, can and will change. I think those two things are distinctly different. So I, of course, think your plan is perfect. To let Jodie work with her for a while. No reason to push anything. It will all eventually work out. I think sometimes we put ourselves under a big sense of urgency to fix a problem and fix it now but in reality why does it matter if it takes us two years to work through a problem? It is not like we are training for the Olympics in a few months :)

  2. It's funny, but I looked at your header picture a few days ago... and loved it... and you are cantering! You look 'at one' with Rosie in the picture. But, now that you say this, when I look at the picture again, I'm wondering if the straight back and the forward gaze are from tension! Oh... and a third look; look at Rosie's ears!
    I'm thinking that strength and balance will help.. if nothing but to build confidence!
    I'll be interested in hearing how things go. I have similar issues with my horses. Neither of them canter well.

  3. TOTALLY been there, just now getting through it. Can you try to transition to canter in a two-point, so your weight isn't on her back? I know a lot of green horses take to that better. If you're a bit shaky in your two-point, can someone lunge you on a different horse so you can practice? Does she lunge well at the canter? That might help her build her balance, too.

  4. I like your plan. As I was reading your post I was thinking how we train our horses to get used to something scary. We take them to the edge of their fear bubble and one step in and we back off to let them relax and think about it. We do that many, many times and, over time their fear bubble gets smaller and smaller.

    I think your plan will do the same thing for you. Don't try to burst your fear bubble all at once. Do what you're planning to step one foot into the bubble and then back off to relax. I also like that you're going to do fun, relaxing things with Rosie that don't approach your fear bubble. It sounds as if you need to restore your relationship with her.

    Most of all, be patient with yourself. And God bless.


  5. you are doing fine, sounds like a great plan and you will beat this! Rosie looks like a big ride , and you have done brilliantly with her so far. Hang in there cowgirl! I know you have the stuff to get through!
    Just remember to be kind and patient with you too!

  6. So glad you put this post out there!

    I am a green rider - riding a green horse - have VERY little experience cantering any horse. I too am letting someone else work canter with my Riva - that someone being my much more seasoned rider daughter.

    It helps me to watch my daughter ride Riva in canter and then for me to get on, with my daughter coaching. I know this will help ease your anxiety also!

  7. I'm right there with you! I also found that the thing that helped me with my fear of cantering was more cantering (under supervision). I must have spent an entire lesson cantering, cantering, cantering. Change direction and CANTER before I could make it a *thing*. I also find that having my trainer ride her first helps when I'm feeling nervous. And then we just do it over and over and over. It's often not pretty, but my body eventually loosens because I'm exhausted!

  8. I don't know if you have access to a trainer but cantering on a longe line was really helpful to me.

  9. I understand completely - I've been there for sure.

    I'd stop trying to get the correct canter - correct lead, correct transition, etc., and just canter, any way and any how. Do a lot of big trotting and just let her go into the canter any which way, even falling on the forehand. That will take a lot of the pressure off you - pretend you're a kid again and just canter and gallop around like a fool until it's fun again. Don't set up and plan and make things happen, just let things happen, and try to be a noodle - even looser and floppier than you should be - exagerate it - and just go, go, go. You won't harm her training - she'll just be cantering like she does in the pasture and the trainer can work on refining things and so can you - but only after it's fun again.

    Just some ideas . . .

  10. I completely understand being anxious about cantering because I STILL get anxious in any open terrain. Cantering my horse on the trails took a while to get comfortable with and for me hill work was the answer. Find a long semi-straight hill trail and ride the horse up it at a canter. Harder to buck like that and over time just keep cantering when it levels out. I know you guys do arena work so I can't say that I have a lot of skill to over advise for that area but for endurance training it's sound advice.

  11. Sounds like a great plan, but oh boy! I bet she has a huge canter!
    (my breathing is going shallow and my heart rate is going up just thinking about it, too!)


  12. Yeah, me too. I'm just waiting for my horse to trip and flip over and crush me. Makes for an unpleasant ride. I'm with Kate or Caitlin - I do a few strides at a time on short inclines, just til I get tense, then I bring her back down to a slower gait. I've been scared before, and I find that if I keep poking at the boundaries of the fear it'll eventually fade in time.

  13. Keep the rides fun and happy. Take small steps and breathe!!!!! .... it will come

  14. Hey Jeni.... You have been given some good tips above. I vote for you cantering while on a lounge line AND if there is anyway you can be talking to the person lounging you or singing Happy Birthday so you have to breath...maybe Rosie won't get the fear message. Annette and Kate have the right idea. Stick with it.

  15. I like your plan and think it will help both Rosie and you. The thing I've always found is that if you get tense and worry nothing is going to work well.

    The one thing that always worked for me was to warm up at the walk, then trot and then back to walk. I'd do a few circles at the walk and remember to breath. Breathing is a big part of relaxation and then I would also think about where I was going to ask for the canter transition. Picture all the cues in your head and then when you feel relaxed and ready ask for the canter. Sometimes when the trainer is calling for a canter NOW it just doesn't work and you can get all discombobulated and tense. I would need to just take a step back and focus on what I wanted to do when I was ready to do it. This way you are in control. Try it, it may work for you. Hope all goes well with you and Rosie. She's a gem.

  16. I can relate -- I used to be terrified of not just cantering, but riding, period. I can't say exactly how I got past it, but I did. Now it always makes me sad to hear of a rider who hss fear. It sounds like you have a good plan, I am hoping to hear soon of yur success....keep us updated.


Happy Trails!