No advice, no lessons – just honesty

Most of my blogs are designed to be informative or to teach something or are just hoping to make people smile or think. This one however, is just from the heart and honest. I have gone through a pretty tough time of late, as my first ever blog explained but even since then things haven’t been great. I have been very lost, confused and unhappy. 

So, Jack came along, a beautiful, kind, talented horse and the Mother bought him. I know she missed having a horse but I also know she was looking to make me smile again. Seeing your child unhappy and struggling to do anything about it must be incredibly hard – something I hope never to experience with Joey but something I probably will.

selfie, winning
Winning selfie – in happier times with Pie

My aunt had him when he first arrived – she has dreamt of winning the hunter class at Windsor and he seemed like an opportunity to try. She did a great job and obviously enjoyed riding him. I was sad that their plans were dashed by rain as she had worked really hard towards it. But having him was more than just about Windsor – I heard her say (perhaps not meant for me to hear) “Maybe seeing me ride him will give her some confidence that she can do it.”

He then went to Southerley Roberts, I have always liked her style of jumping and the fact that her horses often jump in just a snaffle. She did an amazing job and did some initial jumping training with him which he seems to love. Her words “He’s lovely. You are a lucky girl.”

But then, since physically I am well enough to ride again (with the help of some strapping) and as the plan was for him to be mum and my project, he came home (well, to the stables near home). Now the work began and now the breakdown occurred.

I just have zero confidence. Actually below zero.

 Jack is the most wonderful horse – he has the kindest heart and attitude and is so cuddly and gentle. But, he is also only five and he is also not a plodding schoolmaster so he has little worries, little spooks. No malicious intent, nothing over the top, 99% of the time he is a total dude to ride. But I am just crumbling.

Jack – the face of an angel

And today I broke, I’m trotting round waiting for something bad to happen, trying to act like things are ok but failing. I just can’t do it.

So, what happens? What do you do when the thing that used to make you smile, now a makes you cry? What do you do when you dream of jumping around Hickstead but struggle to ride down a lane? What do you do when the thing that used to bring you such joy, now just brings anxiety?

I guess it’s give up or don’t.

And as I write this, I honestly, don’t know which.

It would make one hell of a story if I could get through this but do I have the strength to? I honestly don’t know.

Open to suggestions…. Anyone else been here?

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  1. Years ago I lost my confidence and could no longer even get on my beloved cob. I tried all sorts of things to get my confidence back, including a lesson at the local riding school. After an hour of walk, trot, canter and jumping, she declared me fine, but the next day I still couldn’t get on my boy.
    My mom booked Richard Maxwell and when the day came, I still wasn’t sure if I could get on. He gave me some tools that could help me train and feel in control (long reining & the wip wop mainly) and I finally got on. Something clicked and miraculously everything was back to normal. We have had a ball ever since.
    A few years later someone asked me how I’d first become a client of Max’s – “I’d just got divorced when…” and something clicked again. My nerves were nothing to do with my cob, but to do with my circumstances and mindset at the time.
    My point is it might seem like your accident that’s causing the anxiety, but it could be something else. You’ve recently become a mother and I know I have found I’m much more careful now as mother than ever before. I also know that my difficult childbirth experience caused me mild PTSD and a stint with a clinical psychologist really made a difference.
    Whatever it may be; whatever your future holds; don’t doubt yourself – use your support network; reread Perfect Confidence(!); and go for a ride on Pie. And if you want to ride Jack, ride Jack. And if you don’t, then don’t. The most important thing is to know you don’t have to.

  2. Perhaps a plodding school master is what you need? I was working at a trekking centre and had a bit of a scary, and painful, fall off a friend’s horse. The thing that helped me get back to enjoying riding was a rock solid new forest pony called Poppy, sadly no longer with us. She was the only horse I felt comfortable on for sometime. I allowed myself to feel afraid on her and took it gently. As others have said find small (tiny) things that you do feel comfortable with and build from there.
    So many riders have been there because we have to face not being in control when we get on the back of an animal with a mind of its own and that’s scary.
    I also work as a healer and therapist and know people overcome incredibly scary and challenging anxieties so hang in there and thank you for sharing this wonderfully honest piece.
    Good luck 🙂

  3. Thanks for writing this blog Daisy as you reflect exactly as I feel. You are way more of a horsewoman than me though, so take heart….you can do this but give yourself time. This is what I have told myself. I was out of riding for 20 years as I couldn’t afford it. Then I’ve been back riding for 2 years and just bought my first ever horse. He is lovely, gentle and kind nature but he is only 6 and a little bit green. He spooks, although not catastrophically. I don’t trust my riding ability and I am waiting for him to spook, so therefore he is looking for things to spook at! We were out for a ride a couple of weeks ago (thankfully with a couple of friends) and a deer ran out of the hedge directly underneath him. He danced around a bit and deposited me on the floor. Not at all his fault but it has knocked me a bit more. I won’t ride alone, which means that I only ride about once every 2 weeks, when I can find someone to go with me. I do not have a lot in the way of support as we live in very rural france, so I don’t know many horsey people. I am confident I will get there. I need more riding lessons and get him out more. I also need to try and get on a horsemanship course. I just feel something like this would help a lot. Difficult in a foreign language though. Make use of anyone you may have around you that can offer support and take little steps. You’ll get back to where you were in no time. Good luck!!

  4. You are definitely not alone!
    Alongside the wonderful resource you have in being the niece to the next best thing to Monty Roberts, can I recommend the Rider Confidence Course at the Centre of Horseback Combat in St Albans?
    Along with a Perfect Manners weekend, I came on in spades after this. Not cured overnight, but came back with a better attitude and a plan.
    But you have to keep taking stock of where you are, and be proud of how far you have come – even if you change course.
    A year or so later, I have decided to take some pressure off myself and am in the process of downsizing. My horse is a really good horse, but still a bit green and when I don’t have a riding buddy or my instructor on hand, I often feel out of my comfort zone and completely over-horsed.
    Maybe a more experienced mount to play with alongside your boy might help you find your way?
    My daughter had a serious life-changing accident 3 months ago, being hit by a car travelling at 50mph and we are so lucky to still have her – but I find my attitude to risk has totally changed.
    I do feel a bit inadequate that another rider will manage to do all the things I long to do with him, but I am giving myself a break and sending those thoughts packing.
    Your brain is very powerful, but it can be re-programmed a bit with help from the right quarters. Good luck!

  5. I am having the same problem and always found it hard to ask for help off other people and admit that I have lost my confidence. My horse sounds just like yours but he bolts when spooks. I have found a lovely lady that does horsemanship and gone back to the basics and what a difference it has made to my horse but most of all me as I used to get serious anxiety before getting on, sweaty palms the lot. Believe u can do it and get some help.

  6. I’ve been there too. When Théoden arrived I asked him to trot and he said no, I asked him to trot again and he said, “I told you no!” and there I was on the floor. It’s disconcerting to be an RA and to be too nervous to ride your own horse, too quick to name your spot and land in a heap on the floor. In his case he went off to Jim Goddard’s for a while and I rode a horse that I know extremely well and trust. When he came back I shook when I got on him and like everyone above I made excuses not to ride him. In the end I kept riding the ‘easy’ horse and just went for vey very short rides on Théoden with a trusted friend on my other horse. Bit by bit and day by day it got easier although it took well over a year over all. However, riding is never compulsory and as Kelly says, nerves can be there for a very good reason. Show yourself some real compassion, and just do what you can when you can and if you want to. We all love you Daisy!!

  7. Maybe you could find an old, slow, kind horse and just potter until it’s fun again? Low pressure, low expectation. Put your face in their mane and smell that good horsey smell. Watch Heartland and clean your tack and boots. It’s your thinking that’s collapsed, not reality. Let yourself have a good cry. Good luck and big hugs xxx

  8. I tried the fake it till you make it thing – pretend it was fine – sing – all that happened was the horses knew I was really scared and pretending and they lost confidence in me – amongst a pile of help sources I read Tao of Equus and Linda’s other book about emotional congruence – and it struck enough of a chord that I stopped pretending it was fine – if it isn’t fine then I don’t ride I do something else – groom, long rein what ever – sit in the manger and mutter ‘Silver Snaffles’.
    I am a writer and just as horses are my life they feature strongly in my books but suddenly I felt a fraud -I found that by not pretending and taking it from the ‘looking after properly’ to the rides where everyone feels safe – or I even just tack up and sit on – I am finding a way to reunite the horses in my soul with those in my field- funnily enough the piece Kelly had about her run up to the Windsor show also helped me to let go of the outcomes with my lads.
    I am lucky and my horses graze here in front of my window on my farm but this last 18 months what with one thing and another it has- at times – been painful to look out at them, for the sense of loss and helplessness that has overwhelmed me.
    I hope your journey with the horses in your life gets smoother Daisy – be kind to yourself and do what you feel comfy with not what others want. – Love the blog 🙂 MC

  9. Oh Daisy, I’ve been where you have! It’s soo hard, and your head talks ten to the dozen. I went to a place that did rider confidence courses on stunt horses and watched videos online and read lots of books. The stunt day was brilliant and worth every penny, and I met some lovely people, and they started me on the positive thinking. My advice would be to keep a notebook and write down all the little achievements you make, and it can be something as simply as ‘brought in from the field with no dramas’ or ‘trotted over poles’. Block everyone out who uses the phrase ‘you should be doing…..’ as they won’t help and will destroy your confidence even more. One of the stunt team said that if you get the ‘should’ phrase, to turn it around and say ‘why’, and they said you’d be surprised how often the answer was ‘because that’s what everyone else is doing’, and that just makes life boring! Focus on what you achieve in baby steps, and before you know it you’ll realise that you’ve taken big steps over the course of time. Nothing is a race, and not every rider is William Fox-Pitt the same as not every horse is Valegro. Love what you can do, and remember we have enough pressure elsewhere in our lives, don’t put pressure on your hobby as well. Good luck Daisy 🙂

  10. I’ve been there and it’s been a long process. I also lost my nerve after an accident and went from competing 4-6 year old arabs in endurance competitions to physically trembling at mounting a beginner’s school pony. I’ve had moments when I really thought about giving up because every time I though I was gaining confidence something would happen to knock it again (often the tiniest thing, like my horse spooking at a jump or giving a little buck in the canter depart). It took me over a year to get my confidence back and more than that to get back to riding young horses again. BUT I wanted to share this, because the point is i DID get my confidence back.And I believe I am a better, safer and more self-aware rider because of it. This year, I bought my first youngster this year and backed him myself. So it absolutely is possible!

    I don’t know if this will be any help to you, but here are some things that helped me along the way:

    * setting small goals and ending every session on a positive, just like I do when training horses. If I’m finding something hard, I look for something, however small, that I can achieve in that session before finishing. And I make sure to judge myself only on that session, not thinking ‘last week, I did more…’ Some days, that has literally been ‘I’ll do three strides of canter, in each direction, then I’ll get off’. I’ve also been known to hack down the road on my horse, then walk the rest of the way on foot!! But who cares, I still achieved more than I thought I could that day! Even now, years later, I have occasional days like this and I still follow this rule.

    * making sure every few weeks I have a fun, easy ride on a ‘beginner’ horse, rather than always having a goal to achieve.

    * attending the Rider Confidence course at Horseback combat ( I can’t recommend it enough.

    * working on my own fitness. Feeling fitter, stronger and more supple means I have a much greater chance of staying on if anything happens and it definitely boosted my confidence.

    * accepting that sometimes it’s not the day. I try to block out unhelpful fear (the kind that is telling you to quit, etc), but I still make sure to listen to my instincts. If I’m feeling a down or nervous, I don’t ride my youngster that day or do anything new or challenging. Why set myself up to fail? Instead, I work my youngster on the ground or ride my older horse who is less likely to react to my emotions. I choose something I find easy like flatwork rather than jumping. Sometimes I don’t ride at all. And I don’t beat myself up about it, I just accept that sometimes it’s not the day!

    Most of all, just keep at it. You will get there 🙂 x

  11. My dear Daisy, I feel your pain. The place you are in right now is not a place that any of us would ever want to be – but many of us have.
    One of the most liberating moments in my life was the day I decided I would never, ever jump another cross-country course.
    It had been a normal day, with the nerves (which had been increasing for months) and excitement, and it went tits up when Quila stopped at the first fence. We did jump it on the second attempt, and we did complete the course, but I got off at the end, and said to Quila’s owner “that is it. I will never jump cross-country again”. Everybody said “you can do it!”, and “take it slowly and you will be jumping again in no time”, but I had made the decision, and because I KNEW I would stick to it, the weight of a thousand camels lifted off me. The increasing fear had been mounting (Quila obviously knew), and all the pleasure that I had previously got from it had gone. Making that massive decision took all pressure off me. I knew that I would never have to put myself through it again.
    I have jumped since- but only when I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to, and only on a hack if a suitable obstacle presented. Take the pressure off yourself hun. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. It takes more courage to tell people that you won’t be doing it again than it does to force yourself to do it sometimes, but once you have made that decision, you will feel free to do as little or as much as your body and mind allow you to do. Do not feel disappointed in yourself, and let other people deal with any disappointment they have. You have many other things to give you joy, and you still have many opportunities to have a horse fix 🙂 xxx

  12. Hi Daisy,
    Like so many others, I too have been there. 8 years ago I stood on the mounting block and threw up. My husband patiently led me round the village week after week – a 40 something fairly experienced rider on a lead rope – because I was too frightened to do anything else. 8 years on (and yes, it has taken that long) I’m now really enjoying riding again, and I’m glad I persevered, but I won’t pretend it was easy.
    If you are really determined to ride again, then I’m sure you’ll do it, but don’t let anyone else push you if it’s not coming from within.
    Reward your tiny successes. A walk round the block. A trot over poles in the school. Backing through an L shape. Every time you ride and nothing bad happens your brain will reset a little. You’ll remember that this is ok, and then that this is good. Do not expect to be the rider you used to be – just aim to be someone who enjoys riding – if that is what you want.
    Best of luck.

  13. Yes me ! I don’t know how to break the lack of confidence cycle either, I spend all my time riding waiting for something to happen, and only ride because I have to ( pony needs light work) and not because I want to. Cannot imagine feeling how I used to about riding, I loved it and missed it if I didn’t ride but now I can take it or leave it. Which is a horrible feeling and I hate feeling like that but am at the stage where my confidence is that low it feels like I’ll never get it back. Mines due to a few bad falls which have really scared me.

  14. I can totally relate to this, and when you find the answer I would love to know it. I have the most wonderful 9 year old cob who I recently fell off when he fell over, so completely not his fault. He is undergoing vet treatment now but the hope is he will come to sound to ride again, now whilst part of me cant wait to ride him again the other part of me is terrified, I love him to bits and he did nothing wrong so why am I at rock bottom?

  15. Sorry to hear that, your horse sounds wonderful. Like you, I bought a pony for myself & my daughter who little did we know at 8, was still green. I lost my confidence completely which impacted any horse I rode. I slowly started like you, do I give up what I used to love. One year later with a lot of help from friends and a more experienced rider on my pony I’m able to hack out alone and ride in my field at home. Whilst only baby steps, it has taken me a long time to get here. I’m still a little nervous in the fact that I know my pony can spook and is still learning like me. I’m taking lessons so we can learn together as well. My advice if you can persevere … You can do it x

  16. I have been exactly where you are. I lost my horse of a lifetime, then a lovely horse I had after that went irrevocably lame, and then I bought something unsuitable. I went from jumping a 2ft9 course to being too afraid to trot in the arena. He was just green and needed more than I could give him.
    Many people seemed to think I should just carry on, take it in small stages, one step at a time, get someone else to ride him etc.
    But I was nervous everytime I went to the stables, I couldn’t see myself hacking him out alone, ever, or taking him somewhere to jump a course.
    I decided to give up. I planned everything and even sold my trailer.
    So, I sold him and bought a 13.2 New Forest instead. Not what I had planned!
    I went from being too scared to trot round an arena to hacking out on my own for hours again, and taking her out to competitions, in the space of a month. All my confidence came back.
    So I guess the point is that don’t feel like you have to battle on with an unsuitable horse. The right horse is out there for you. You just have to find it.

  17. I have been exactly whee you are. I lost my horse of a lifetime, then a lovely horse I had after that went irrevocably lam, and then I bought something unsuitable. I went from jumping a 2ft9 course to being too afraid to trot in the arena. He was just green and needed more than I could give him.
    Many people seemed to think I should just carry on, take it in small stages, one step at a time, get someone else to ride him etc.
    But I was nervous everytime I went to the stables, I couldn’t see myself hacking him out alone, ever, or taking him somewhere to jump a course.
    So, I sold him and bought a 13.2 New Forest instead.
    I went from being too scared to trot round an arena to hacking out on my own for hours again, and taking her out to competitions, in the space of a month. All my confidence came back.
    So I guess the point is that don’t feel like you have to battle on with an unsuitable horse. The right horse is out there for you. You just have to find it.

  18. I really appreciate Daisy’s honesty about her feelings. One is only as happy as your saddest child I am told and I have to agree.

    I cannot start to take in everything she has been through over the last year and a half and am very proud of what she has achieved so far. She has picked herself up and carried on where some people would have crumbled. I remember quite well sitting staring at the wall with two young children and not knowing how things were going to turn out.

    Jack is a horse we have dreamt of and so obviously we want to succeed with him but there is no time scale to this. She has a patient friend Claire in me (thank you for caring enough to suggest it). We will start with some help with his exercise and do ground work and whatever Daisy feels like doing. Riding is of course not the be all and end all of life but it is part of what we have done together and I would like to think we can get through this but maybe not. Only time will tell but we have some expert help.

  19. So agree with these two having just come off again feel as though I’m back to square one, yesterday got back on – baby steps is the answer do the things you are comfortable with .
    Ground work helps me as I feel it opens up communication and my horse starts to think I do know what I’m doing !
    You do not have to prove anything to anyone – just take your time and find a patient friend who will support you , it doesn’t have to be done today or tomorrow just in your own time and that’s just fine x

  20. Agree with Ele, celebrate the smallest achievement. Read and re-read Perfect Confidence, it will definitely help. I started by just tacking up my young horse and being happy with that. We have now achieved my ambition of being able to hack alone in huge fields. Please don’t give up, I know you can do it, as you’ve done it before. As the comment above suggests don’t do anything you’re scared of, build up a foundation of good experiences. As a health visitor I know that having a baby can cause mother’s to have a crisis of confidence and I have observed that those who do best do something which retains their own identity. Good luck

  21. Oh Daisy, that really was from the heart. I have heard people say the very same thing when they have had a baby. Probably not the reason but a definite protection barrier goes up when you have a child and whether it’s in the back of your mind or you genuinely feel it, there is a fear of “if anything happens to me my child won’t have a mother!” My brother had a similar thing when he was very stressed, not about riding but about flying and heights, he gradually got,over it by doing as ele has suggested, baby steps and not pushing himself to fail. Without a doubt you are a fantastic rider 🙂 hope the fun and confidence comes back for you xxxx

  22. Don’t do it by yourself, get someone to hold your hand. Whether it’s someone to go back to basics with during lessons or a happy hacker to share that trip down the lane. I’ve learned that if you trust someone, you can gain confidence from them. It’s a bit like join up, Kelly and monty are asking those horses to trust them, then asking them to do stuff they are scared of. They gain a bit of confidence from Kelly or Monty and suddenly it’s not so scary.

  23. Have been there (and back!)so many times. Finding a thousand excuses (too windy, too hot, too cold, too rainy, too many flies) to not ride. In fact am having a bit of a wobble at the moment. From happily out competing to needing a large gin before simply walking around the block. Take the pressure off, stop setting goals and celebrate the smallest achievements. Whether that’s having a trot, jumping a spread or simply getting on – baby steps will get you (and me) back having fun. And it’s OK that it takes as long as it takes xxx

    1. I do feel for you, you’ve had a serious accident and it’s entirely normal for it to leave you shaken up. I wonder if you might have some form of PTSD?

      I’ve never had a bad accident but I’m still a nervous rider. I blame my generally and delightfully (not!) anxious personality for that. I very nearly sold my horse because I got so anxious that he’d just spin around and chuck me for very little reason. Walking down a lane had ne trembling.

      What’s really helped me is finally allowing myself to do only what feels comfortable. For years I had pushed myself and beaten myself up for not going on stubble fields , for not jumping, for not cantering in company etc. Until I finally accepted that riding is supposed to be a pleasure activity and I was not taking much pleasure out of it. So I started doing only what I was comfortable with. That meant that for a good while I paid my yard owner to ride my horse every week and let him have a good run. Then I realised, only this summer, that stubble fields don’t freak me out any more! And I’ve been cantering on stubble! And guess what – nothing’s gone wrong.

      So my suggestion would be to allow yourself to do only what you feel comfortable with. If it means just having a walk and trot in the school- that’s fine. Or if it’s walking around country lanes- that’s ok too. Try not to think about what you “should” be doing. Try not to think about what you used to do. I’ve got a chronic medical condition and it took me years to really admit that I’m not getting the old me back. So perhaps you need to work on accepting that you’re not who you used to be, and this new you needs to work out where the level of comfort is with riding. I suspect that once you stop trying to get back to who and what you were, you can start enjoying riding again.

      On a separate note, I wonder if you need to talk to someone about the accident? People have PTSD for all sorts of reasons and I get the feeling that you’re kind of expecting it to happen again. Which us understandable. Don’t be afraid to re-visit your thoughts and feelings about your accident. It might help you understand your nerves when you’re riding.

      Good luck xx ?

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