Sunday, January 8, 2012

Regaining Confidence

Although my accident with Pie was almost 7 months ago, I'm still feeling the effects.  My confidence still isn't back to where it was, and I've been mulling over what that's all about.  Part of it, I think, is that, at age 57, I came face to face with mortality. When I had my kick-in-the jaw back in 2009 with Dawn, that made me realize that horses are big and that they can actually hurt you badly (I'm still having dental work done to deal with the effects) - don't ask me why but in all my many years of working with horses that had never really been something I was worried about.  It took me a while to get over that - it was months before I was comfortable handling Dawn's feet (although I did it every day) and a while before she and I could work well together.  Then when I came off Pie and was seriously injured and ended up in the hospital, that was a whole additional level of awareness of how badly you can be hurt working with horses.  My concussion was so serious that for the first couple of days I was in the hospital, no one knew if I would recover or have permanent brain damage - and this was despite the fact I was wearing a helmet - which ended up with a 4-inch crack in it.  (By the way, this isn't an argument against wearing a helmet - they can't protect you from everything - but if I hadn't been wearing a helmet, I would probably be dead or a vegetable - wear one every time - there are no excuses.)  Every time I ride now, I'm aware in a subconscious sense that at any time, no matter my level of skill, I could die or be permanently injured. This was never part of my awareness until now, and it's difficult to integrate with my self-image (deserved or not) as a competent rider and handler of horses.

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There are definate effects of this new "awareness", that I have to deal with and in some cases work around, in order to get back to working comfortably with horses.

One of my goals this year with my horses is to be persistant within each work session, making sure that I don't quit until the change I'm looking for starts to come through - that way the horse has something to take forward until next time (it's always fascinated me how much horses learn between work sessions - it's clear that they're consciously or unconsciously mulling things from one session to the next).  If the horse never reaches a point where he or she has "got it", at least in part, it's hard for links in the chain of learning to be built.  I also have to be sure not to avoid particular things just because they may be difficult for the horse, and have to be willing to let the horse try out wrong solutions until the horse himself comes up with the right solution - this is much more valuable than simply telling the horse what to do.  It's not the easiest thing to do, however, as I know from my ground work with Drifter - taking the horse outside his comfort zone (but not too far) and making sure holes in training are filled in sometimes results in some pretty ugly stuff until the horse figures things out and finds the place where comfort is available - that softness must always be continuously on offer.  There's a tendency (certainly true for me) to want to avoid struggles and stress, or just to get in there and "fix" things by demanding/telling the horse the answer - I think quite often we fuss too much rather than let the horse have the time and space to figure things out.  I think, however, that horses learn to find the solution and the security that there will be a place where things are OK partly through our giving them this space to do so, and this increases their confidence in us.

And then there's the struggle to regain my own confidence, particularly with Pie on the trail, and also with my ability to deal with Drifter's histrionics.  For me, this also involves taking myself outside my comfort zone, so that I can have the resolution of my anxiety level coming down again, and again - every time I get that relief it reinforces my confidence.  So I'm trying to set myself up with specific challenges that stretch the boundaries of my confidence, while building in some factors that will promote success - just like with my horses.  With Drifter, I'm getting some quality coaching from my daughter - who's got an exceptional eye for what's going on in the interaction between horse and rider/handler - so that Drifter and I can both progress together and find soft spots together.  With Pie, my anxiety is higher on the trail, so I'm got my husband going on walks with us - Pie appreciates his company at points where I get nervous and might make him nervous - barking dogs, fast-moving bicycles or children, minor spooks - so that I can calm down and give him confidence again.  Every time my anxiety spikes and I calm back down is a reward that reinforces my confidence - I want as many of those as I can get on each ride.  Today we were out for almost an hour, and both ended better than we started.

Slow progress, but we have to start somewhere and every step forward is important . . .

15 comments:

  1. I'm 59, will be 60 next month, and I too have many of the same concerns as you do. I came off a friend's horse 2 1/2 years ago and I haven't been back on one yet. I have permanent nerve damage now in both legs and my balance is off. But, I'm taking basic horsemanship classes to help me regain my confidence and to learn how to help my horses become better trained. They also get a lesson once a week from a trainer I hired just to work with them, so between all that I'm doing, I'm hoping to be able to ride by this summer.

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  2. Well said. My wife Betty can relate to everything you said.

    Dan

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  3. Once confidence is lost or compromised it's hard to get it back 100%. But with small building blocks eventually it will come. There may always be that niggling little voice in your subconscious about getting hurt again but I consider that a good thing. If we don't take chances and are aware of what could happen then we will most likely ride safer. I'm sure this will be your year to get back to your old self and start having fun on the trails again with Pie.

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  4. Kate,
    You are very brave, full of knowledge and so committed I have a feeling you will reach your goals. Being 11 years older than you, I do not have any desire to take chances and am happy to ride a horse that is very predictable (always with a helmet). Of course I do not have your lofty goals either. Riding for pleasure is my choice and I have no feelings of guilt about how often it happens. After years of classical dressage lessons I'm just plain happy to spend time with my ponies.

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  5. You can't rush confidence. And I think it takes longer to come back as we get older. I'm finding that finding a safe and sane horse is much higher on my "must have" list now than it would have been when I was younger. Give yourself time. It can't be rushed.

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  6. I especially love that you have your family working together with you on your goals!

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  7. What a great idea to have your husband walk with you on the trails. I wish my husbands hip was better, so he could walk or ride with me. I too have to fight the tendency to stay in my comfort zone, and taking my young horse on trails is an area for more work. Good post.

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  8. I'm with you, especially after my fall on my newly replaced knee. Fortunately, I was not hurt seriously, but it once again reminded me of my own vulnerability.

    Sending you positive vibes and good thoughts. You are taking a good approach to the situation and you certainly have good horses to ride, so that makes a huge difference.

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  9. It's wonderful to have your daughter and your husband supporting you in your efforts to move forward. I think that almost everyone who rides has the same lapses in confidence and same fears that you express - especially as we get older. I know that for m,e when I was struggling with these issues with Silk, there were two big turning points. First, was when an old cowboy who was a great friend of ours told me that you have to listen to your fear and that it can be a good thing because it will lead you deeper into places that you need to go. He told me that every time I was afraid, I should stop what I was doing and breathe deeply. No need to rush myself or Silk. When my fear passed, Silk would relax and become willing agin. I tried it and lo and behold, he was right! The second big a-ha moment for me was when I decided to stop trying to "fix" Silk and concentrated on working on myself and my ability to communicate and understand my horse. Within an amazingly short time, Silk and I began to really trust and appreciate each other. At this point in my life, I'm in agreement with Lori about just riding for the pleasure of being with my horses and enjoying the gift of having time to spend with these amazing animals. They teach me so much. I can tell that you get as much from Drifter, Pie and Dawn as they get from you- and that's the way it should be.

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  10. Sounds like great goals to rebuild and most important; maintain confidence. There is no time line, so remove any pressure on yourself :) I remind myself that ALL the time too. Ground work when riding anxiety is too high to deal with, is not a cop out, but a valuable tool for both, as you very well know. There are so many ways to enjoy our horses and that is the key; to enjoy. :)

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  11. It took me almost a year to dig up the courage to get back on Gwen after breaking my ankle. It took another year after that before my heart stopped pounding every time I stepped on a mounting block next to her.

    Confidence takes a lot of time to come back- if it ever does. And I'm saying that at 33!

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  12. I think that like weight loss , slow progress is better. In that while a leap ahead one day can happen you have to be mindful that you can and likley will slip back from time to time . as long as the overall progress is a forward motion you are doing well!

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  13. Kate... I am with you on this one. We probably had the same timing on our traumas and I think I have PTSD. Just went to a Sports Psychology seminar and she was extremely helpful... And, if I continue to have anxiety/paralyzing fear, I actually may see her for just that.
    Finding peace again is well worth it! Thanks for sharing!

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  14. Kate, Your thoughtful post is so interesting. You have such good, conscientious goals for each horse, and for yourself. And, when something particularly difficult occurs, like Pie on the trail, you could even shelve some goals with him for a few days, to let the events/ impact of them diminish, while working with the other horses.

    Maybe even work with the horse that gives you the most personal confidence first, then work with the more challenging horse. Just some thoughts, to encourage you.

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  15. I've been so busy with work that I haven't had a lot of time to read other blogs. I had that bad accident with Denali in the trailer and have been terrified of everything ever since. E-mail me! rehabdenali@yahoo.com I would love to share with you what I'm doing to get over it without looking like a (complete) nut online. :)

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