Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ashamed I Fell Off

You know that feeling where you really want to do something, but somehow can't bring yourself to do it, or don't feel right even when you do, or continue to have feelings of dread and anxiety when you think you should be happy because you're doing something you want to?  This is hard stuff for me to write about, but one thing I try to do in this blog is be as honest as I can.

I think I'm beginning to understand where my dread and reluctance to ride and work with my horses is coming from - it's because of the feelings I have when I think about riding, when I get ready to ride and even when I'm actually on board, although the negative feelings are usually reduced when I actually ride. Some of these feelings are ones I'd rather not experience, so like many of us do, I work hard to cover them up, replace them with activities or distract myself from them.  But feelings that aren't acknowledged and experienced don't go away, and often fester.  Horses have an advantage over people in this - they have feelings and the feelings are right there, expressed more often than not by behavior and body language.  Horses (that aren't shut down emotionally) pretty much don't stew over things, or fear their emotions - they just experience them, which can allow horses to get over things more effectively.

So I've been trying to take time - time when I'm not doing anything else, or distracted - to sit with my feelings, to allow them to emerge, without my attempting to shove them back down, or avoid them, or cover them up with activities.  As I do this - and it's an ongoing process - a lot of feelings want my attention - feelings of shame, fear, anxiety, irritation and lack of worthiness.  What I'm trying to do is just to let those feelings be what they are, without judging them (or myself for having them), or arguing with them, or rationalizing them, or trying to change them.  It's really no wonder that, when I approach working with my horses, that I feel disinclined - there are too many unacknowledged negative emotions simmering down there just under the surface.  I find that, if I can just let those emotions be properly felt and experienced, they can begin to loosen their grip on me and I can start to see a clearer path.  Just not riding except when I feel like it, or cutting down on my riding to reduce the pressure, isn't really a solution - as long as the feelings were unacknowledged, that really didn't help.

Shame is the dominant emotion right now - I'm ashamed that I fell off Pie in June.  (It's pretty clear to me now as my broken memory has slowly returned that I didn't have a cardiac problem that caused me to fall - it was a spook/spin at some fast-moving bicycles with flags on the back and the cardiac problem was likely due to the serious head injury.) It doesn't matter whether I should or shouldn't be ashamed, I just am.  There's a lot that goes into this - wounded pride (warranted or not) in my riding abilities, a feeling that I let my young horse down, a deep-down feeling that maybe I'm not good enough - a good enough rider, a good enough leader for my horses (I feel this in spades when I take Pie on the trail because his nervousness is a good "tell" that I'm not coming through for him),  or a good enough trainer to help my horses make progress on the way to being solid riding horses - hence the feelings of lack of worthiness.  Once again, I could argue whether these feelings are "valid" - justified by reality - but that really doesn't help since the feelings still need to be acknowledged in order to get past them.  And of course I'm afraid of getting hurt again - I've never been seriously injured in a riding fall before in all my long years of riding although I've had a few concussions - and don't trust my body to necessarily be up to the job of staying on - even though I could perhaps argue that it is.  My fear is actually primarily fear of the shame of failure - failure to do what I want, to do it effectively or to do it with the joy that I'd like to be there.  And so I've been approaching my riding with anxiety and irritation - everything bothers me and the joys, even the small ones, are washed out.

I'm hoping that beginning to acknowledge these feelings will begin to allow me to exercise the compassion towards myself - just letting even negative feelings to arise, be felt and allowed to pass through - that will give me a path back to the joy I know is there for me with horses.


  1. I'm glad you are acknowledging and sitting with your fears and feelings. It takes a lot of courage and honesty and strength to do what you are doing and not just push the feelings down and away. Good for you.

  2. A very brave post! WHatever happened it happened, and the fact that you are self aware enough to face and work through those feelings is wonderful ! Hugs KAte, the best of the best fall down sometimes

  3. Kate – This must have been really difficult for you to write. You are not alone. I don’t think there is a rider out there that hasn’t experienced what you are currently going through. I was really nervous, or should I say scared, for a while after coming back from getting catapulted through the air twice by my guy. Every emotion you are feeling are perfectly natural. You have had a very serious incident and I think the negative feelings that you are experiencing are perhaps a way that your mind/body is trying to protect itself. Would it help to have a trainer come on site and help you work through some of the anxiety you are having over your confidence as a leader for your horses?? Sometimes having a qualified person confirm that you are doing everything right is enough to set things back on track. Time heals and I hope you get your “joy” back sooner rather than later. I am sending positive thoughts and a hug your way.

  4. I think you are doing exactly the right work here. Acknowledging the fear is a huge step forward. You are not alone. I used to be a pretty competent rider and since coming back to it from taking a break to have a baby at 43, I am aware that I am afraid to ride young/green horses, period. My solution was to stick to solid horses--where I am not afraid--but that isn't necessarily your solution. I think that you will find the right path for yourself--and I totally admire your honesty and think it will lead you exactly where you need to go. In my opinion, given the way you keep your horses, it absolutely won't hurt them if you take the occasional break from riding just to give yourself some space to breathe and come to terms with where you are now. But again, I'm sure you will find the path that feels right to you. You're doing it right now. Great post, Kate. Your honesty is a real inspiration to all of us older "re-riders".

  5. Great post, difficult to write I agree. We've all been there, well I have, still there in some respects. There won't be a rider who reads this who won't feel the familiarity in your words. I'm sure the confidence and joy will return!

  6. Very good post, very brave post.
    I think that for a lot of us many fears, dreads etc boil down to the fear of failure. We work so hard at this, we call ourselves horsemen, horses are the focus of our lives, we want to be GOOD at this. So failure becomes an overwhelming fear.
    I think that defining mistakes, accidents, bad days or a crappy ride as a 'failure' is how we get sucked into this. What would actually make me a failure. Well, becoming an abusive jerk who browbeats horses into submission would define a big failure for me.
    I try to keep in mind that nearly everything else is a learning experience.
    But I feel your pain and experience it myself - as I believe most people involved with horses do.

  7. I'm sure that you'll work through this and the horses will help you. It's perfectly normal to feel fear after an accident like yours. And it's hard to step up and just go back to normal too. I think as long as you're acknowledging your feelings and dealing with them in a healthy way you'll get past this.

  8. I agree that it took guts to bare your soul in this post. Holding in or denying emotions is unhealthy for body, and spirit. Acknowledegment is first, and the next step, probably the most difficult, is to release them... sometimes we want to hold on to our fear or shame, because in a weird way it protects us, and to actually let it go means we have to make a change, even if it's only a mental change.

  9. I had a lot of jumbled thoughts running through my head while reading this. The first was how differently you and I think of falling. As you know, I fall periodically, and perhaps because it happens to me more often -- and because I don't have as much experience as a rider as you do, and therefore don't have as far to fall, figuratively speaking -- it doesn't impact me as much. I usually look at it as a sign that Panama and I need to work on something, but I still think of myself as learning, so I think this attitude is easier for me.

    But with this in mind, when Pie -- or any of your horses, for that matter -- "mess up" at something in a training session, you always approach it as an opportunity to work on something. You wouldn't consider them as failing, so why do that to yourself?

    I know saying this won't change your fear of failure, but as good as it is to acknowledge your fear, I think it's also good to realize where it's wrong. You're NOT failing your horse just because he's nervous -- even the most perfect rider in the world (if there is such a thing) cannot prevent a young horse from being nervous from time to time.

    I think you are one of the most amazing horsewomen I know, but it seems to me that you need to remember to approach your mistakes with the same fairness and patience that you show your horses!

  10. Great post! This is what I am trying to accomplish as well, total honesty with myself.
    You are a brave person to be able to look inside and recognize those feelings, admit them, then share with us!

  11. Kate,
    You are very brave. I can see that this would be very difficult to write about, but I think that you will feel better for doing so. Fear of physical harm is practical and very rational. Fear of failure is more complex and horses seems to challenge us with it very often. Think back to all the positive things you have done and are doing with your horses, the feedback you have received from respectable horse people, like Mark Rashid, and relationship you have with your three beautiful horses. There are loads and loads of comments here from readers who admire your work and believe in you. Give you emotions the time they need to be experienced and then reconstitute yourself with all of these good things. Every one of us has been in this place. I certainly understand the dry mouth- shaky knees feeling of getting back on a horse who has just sent me flying. We are mortal, so take care, but know that you can and will bounce back.

  12. Kate, along with the others I also have had to face down fears to keep riding; most riders have to at some point, whether they admit it or not. You are being very brave facing it so openly and honestly. As several others have said, be as kind and understanding to yourself as you would be to one of your horses. Kudos on not just "stuffing" or ignoring those emotions--facing them is the only way to deflate them. I trust you'll find what's right for you. You've got lots of people rooting for you!

  13. Your honesty blows me away, brilliant post.

    I think we all feel it to varying degrees and depending on our history. I had a bad break hacking alone years ago and there are times now when I can barely get my chaps on before a ride for shaking. My mouth gets so dry. I sometimes sip water as I get ready so that I don't notice (kidding my body, if not my head). I am usually okay once I am on, as I know that whatever happens from there on happens, you are on now, that's it.

    You talked about just being with your feelings....a friend gave me reiki one day, you might find it useful. All I felt around my sternum was that sensation of what can only be desrcibed as mortal fear. It was such intensity, that I know where exactly I locate that feeling, I know what it is. It is like being able to say hello to it and then let it go, just a little. Very odd.

    In a strange way I feel like the fear is part of the need to ride, its a bit of an acknowledgement of our luck to be here.

  14. Kate - I have so many thoughts about your post. I will probably think about it more and add more later. Mainly right now, I wish to convey how courageous I think you are. Not just for this post, which shows how brave and honest you are as a rider, horse person, and person in general, but you have always shown yourself to be brave in this blog. Riding and working with horses is scary enough. Publicly doing it on a blog adds another layer of bravery, I think.

    You are an amazing horse person because I have seen you wrestle your own ego (the only thing which has the power to label us a "failure" in our work with horses) and I've watched you let go and choose the horse over your ego. That is why you will never fail with horses. To me, that means that you are training/treating them well.

    You haven't let Pie down. You own him now and you two are a team working on both of your paths. Your own path is just as important as his. Horses wait for us. It is true, you can't do something you don't feel comfortable doing and expect Pie to find his own confidence, but if you keep your work with him in your own comfort zone - even if what you are doing seems juvenile and like a beginner - he will still enjoy your time together. You, Kate, seem to me from your accounts to stay in the moment with horses and that is never lost on them.

    I am not you and I am not there, but if I were you I would strive to be with my horses each day and NEVER do something that makes me nervous or nauseous. I would not be too proud to only lead, groom, graze and even have someone lead me if I wanted to hop on for a safe short ride. Your horses will love all of that. They would never complain and you would get your horse dose each day. What else is there?

  15. Good post Kate, and I'm glad you had the courage to write it!

    I think what your going through is a very normal, natural part of the healing process. I felt the exact same way after my fall. I was so ashamed. Ashamed of my poor performance, ashamed that I was a professional and had still had this accident, ashamed that my injury was effecting my job performance. It was horrible.

    So, I set about arming myself with all the knowledge I could get, getting myself physically better and re-evaluating my methods and goals. In my self-reflection, I realized that it was just an accident.

    Looking back on it now, there is not a single thing I would or could have done differently. Sometimes bad things just happen.

    Our horses give us wings. It stands to reason that we will sometimes fall. There is no shame in that.

  16. Great post - I actually think what you are struggling with right now is part of Pie's gift to you. They don't always give us the lessons we want to learn, but they seem to find ways to give us the lessons we "need" on some level. That you are delving so deeply and so willingly into this one speaks about your commitment to riding, to horses, and to growth as a person.

    As a psychotherapist who has spent most of my career studying trauma and working with clients battling the aftermath, and in the past few years doing work with riders who want to build or rebuild confidence after accidents or years of not riding, I loved reading that you are allowing the feelings and being with them. IMO that's the first and often the hardest step.

    Sending good thoughts for many joyful rides to come.

  17. Great post. Do you know any horse people who have never fallen off a horse? There are not too many people out there who face things the way you do. You deserve kudos for all that you invest in riding and the relationships you have with your horses.

  18. You have a lot of courage, Kate. Not just in your riding, but in your honesty.

  19. I echo all the thoughts above, and share the feelings. Allow yourself a lot more time to work through them, things will get better.

  20. A [painfully yet refreshingly] honest post. Take heart; it looks like we're all with you on this one sistafriend!

  21. I agree with everyone here, you are not only brave, you are doing the right thing. You also aren't alone, in fact, if you could see all the people you on your metaphorical journey, it would be like a million woman march.

    You're right about the feelings of shame and not being good enough, and it really doesn't matter if the fall was caused by a medical problem or it was your "fault." I had a couple of troubling injuries a few years ago that were totally unrelated to horses, and I still feel the same way. I experience the dread, but when I ride I know I love it and don't want to give it up. I wish I had the answers about how you can get over this. But I don't know. I think you just have to ride with it for a while.

  22. I am sure if you keep at it your confidence will build. I used to be a very nervous rider and over time I have improved. But remember you don't need to do anything you don't want to and you will gradually build on and expand what you feel confident doing.

  23. I'm still processing our fall, too. I'm not terrified by the memory (although I, perhaps, should be). When my mind turns to the fall, I try to just acknowledge my feelings and then redirect my thoughts. I don't know what else to do, and this seems moderately healthy.

    I don't think you're a bad leader in any way because Pie spooks. He's just a young horse without a lot of innate confidence in himself or you. It just takes time. Think about what Laura Crum wrote about getting a broke horse. He's not broke, simply because he doesn't have the miles and the life experiences. You can either sell him and buy a broke(r) horse, or just keep taking baby steps toward your goal. Eventually you'll get there.

  24. Kate, that is such an honest post. I do hope your acceptance of your feelings allows you some relief. For me, what horses value most is our authenticity, whether we can be brave or not (and who can always be brave?). I am sure Pie responds to your authenticity that comes through so clearly in this post.

  25. Kate, you are among friends here--I can tell that by reading the many posts ahead of mine that basically say the same thing. You have traveled a very difficult emotional and physical journey after an accident that, while differing in the details, we have all experienced in some form. All riding accidents result in truly sensitive riders reflecting what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent or circumvet it happening again.

    Several things struck me about your posts (after the accident and subsequently). First, Pie was NOT trying to dump you. He reacted like a horse. He spooked and you came off. He has just as much to recover from emotionally as you do. I came off my OTTB about four years ago--flipping off, completing a 315-degree circle (had I landed sitting up, it would have been a perfect 360 ;o) with his entire bridle--no straps broken, nothing unbuckled--in my hand. It freaked him out--he had "killed" his MOTHER--and he took off running back home. I got up, made sure I wasn't broken (I wasn't, though I had the wind knocked out of me) and walked home, to find the horse waiting at the gait. I ultimately went to the doctor and had two cracked ribs, but I was otherwise fine. Got to throw my much-hated helmet away, too. It was uncracked but "had been in an accident" so that was excuse enough for me to get a new one ;o)

    Second, WRITING about your recovery and your feelings is VERY cathartic. A woman I know lost her very dear friend and dressage trainer quite suddenly. The trainer underwent minor surgery and developed a pulmonary anyeurism. She was 50 years old. When I was putting together a memorial insert for a newsletter I edited at the time, I asked for people to write their memories about the trainer. I asked the woman and she said she just couldn't do it. I told her the same thing--writing is cathartic--and she penned a lovely tribute to her friend. Afterward she said it did make her feel a lot better and provided some needed closure for her. Same for you.

    Third, by reflecting on what occurred and trying to make yourself more aware, you will be a better leader. Your blog, which I have followed for several years, is very thoughtful on several levels. You discuss digestion, training, your clinics with Mark Rashid, bits, tack, grooming, EVERYTHING with the same attention to detail. THIS quality is going to get you through this troubled period.

    Finally, no matter our age, we are like teenagers who discover they are not invincible. Stuff happens. Horses spook. Bones break. Skin bruises. Tires go flat. Batteries go dead. That's just life. It's how we deal with those little setbacks that make us stronger. I think you are doing fine. And you are inspiring the rest of us do move forward as well.

  26. I would think the most important thing is to ride where you feel comfortable. If that is only the ring for now, that really is OK. Is there someone who is more experienced who could ride Pie on the trail and help him become calmer and less afraid. I don't think you are silly at all for being nervous that your horse is nervous. And you had quite a fall and it takes a long time for many to even get back on again.

  27. Just want to say I totally relate to your post, and not enough of us let out our feelings and I am so one to bottle it all up till I literally pop....thanks for sharing..

    Also wanted to say thats a beautiful picture of your horse in the paddock grazing.

  28. Oh Kate, I simply cannot add anything new to this refreshingly honest post that's not already been said. But, I want to say thank you for being you. Thank you for being so very open and willing to share your "humanness" with all of us, and for putting into words so thoughtfully and eloquently that every single person who reads your words, can relate, and say...yep, I know exactly how she feels. You are a "true horseman" in every sense of the word. You're not perfect and you will never be perfect. Your horses aren't perfect either. There are no perfect people or horses in this world. But, you are amazing. I appreciate you and your experiences, and I learn from you whenever I read your posts. And, I'll put in my 2 cents here along with everybody else...I have sooo many fear issues that I never used to have where my horses are concerned. I am 51 years old, I'm afraid of getting hurt, I don't trust that my body won't fail me when I need it the most, and I haven't even a fall to blame this on. I simply have unjustified fear. And...I hate it! I love riding and being with horses more than anything else that I've ever experienced in my life. And...I'm way too stubborn to give it up. In my own, slow and overly-cautious ways, I'm working through my emotional and physical issues that come between me and my love of riding...fear. It definitely helps me to have someone I trust on the ground barking orders at me. When I'm by myself, I sing and I pray, or I talk to my horse out loud. I figure if I can keep my mind (and my horse) busy, we'll both be too busy working to be afraid. I love you my sister horsewoman!!! Boy, for someone who didn't have anything to add, I sure didn't have any trouble finding anything to say, did I? :)

  29. I just wanted to agree with everyone who posted comments to you, especially those who mentioned your bravery! I was blown away by your honesty. I also thought of the Zen saying: "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." If you open yourself up to your authentic feelings, I know you will find answers. I'm struggling with the same sort of thing myself, and as hard as it is, I know it's a wonderful learning experience and that my horse and I will be better partners from going through this. But don't ask me about it at 2 a.m.--I am too busy beating myself up!! Remember that it's a process, and things will get better! Thank you for being so honest, and remember that you have many sisters and brothers in your struggle!

  30. I'm late to the conversation (darn day job), but I wanted to share a few thoughts, since I'm in the midst of this struggle.

    First, confidence, like trust, is built over years yet we seem to be shocked at the time it takes to rebuild it after it's been broken. It really hasn't been that long since the accident.

    I'm dancing a line myself - pushing past a comfort zone and enjoying my horse. For now finding the joy is more important than finding ourselves 5 miles down the trail. I may, at some point, have a trainer put some wet saddle blankets on Smokey while I earn some on a quiet mount to rebuild my confidence in myself. Honestly, how can I ask my horse to believe in me when I have deep doubt? We both need a more confident partner to get back to a good place.

    Secondly remember the dressage rider that fell. I dare say she probably has a heck of a seat, certainly better than most. It's not about skill in those situations, it's about luck - the buck Smokey gave me wasn't quite enough. Cibolo's spin almost got me, but I had a very deep saddle. I now know that Canyon's bucks were pretty minor.

    I have some thoughts about Pie's behavior and bite too... but this is already too long.

    Bottom line, I think it's all about time and building back up - a brick at a time, not an entire three story building at a time.

  31. I appreciated your eloquent way of sharing your feelings.
    Kate, this could have been written by me. Thanks for getting the words out. Noone who has ever been in my shoes seems to understand where my fears and anxieties are coming from. Reading your words, I felt like a one ton elephant was lifted right up off my back.


  32. great post! i know just exactly how you feel. I went through these feelings (and a broken bone or 2) with Kazam over a year ago
    and I still feel terribly guilty, sad, unworthy, ashamed, wounded, etc about him when I think about it, and it took me a while to be able to write about it too.
    Other horses will help your soul heal, though if you're like me, it will always be in the back of your mind, though hopefully you'll come to peace with it.
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  33. Now shame is an aspect I hadn't explored, hmm. Have to think about it a little, but I agree with the others--very brave post and kudos to you for opening that dark place to the light, Kate.

  34. I'm sorry you're still having problems from your fall. I can totally, absolutely understand the fear aspect of it. I've been feeling the same way. In fact for every bit of excitement I feel about riding Chrome for the first time in May I also feel afraid. :( So I understand. I wish I knew what to say to make it better, but I think acknowledging it is definitely a step in the right direction.


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