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Staying calm

10 replies

Pancakeflat · 21/03/2022 13:46

I'm hoping that someone here can help me as I am ready to give up.
I have been around horses for most of my life. For the last couple of years I have really struggled to stay calm when a horse gets over excited or too forward going. I go into a fight or flight response and forget everything I know about the horse I am working with. Obviously my panic transfers to the horse and the situation spirals.
I have stopped leading ponies with children on board because it doesn't feel safe.

If I am stressed in a different situation I can stop and breathe, slowly and mindfully, until the feeling has passed. Unfortunately, a horse doesn't understand to wait for me to get a grip!

Any ideas?

OP posts:
maxelly · 21/03/2022 15:25

Sorry to hear this - have you identified specific triggers for the anxiety, I know you say it's when a horse gets too forward but did something specific happen that made you feel this way, an accident or similar? Clearly you are an experienced rider and horseperson as you can identify the early signs of the horse getting onward bound, but what happens then, do you stop/get off or carry on and what are the consequences if you don't? Are you anxious/have panic attacks in other areas of your life or just around horses?

I've certainly suffered crises of confidence over my years riding, maybe not quite as a bad as what you're describing but I certainly considered giving up completely, in one case it was a case of the horse and I simply not being right for one another, people thought I was mad for selling her on as she was beautiful and very talented and nothing really 'bad' had ever happened but she and I just wound one another up and I felt I was always on the edge of a crisis with her and needed to prevent it by constant management which was stressful to say the least, she went on to competitive success with a very chilled out teenager/young adult and as far as I know the crisis I was busily anticipating and preventing never actually occurred so maybe I was just being a wuss but hey, at my time of life I'm OK with a less high powered horse to potter about on and changing to a different horse worked wonders. But if you are getting this panic sensation all the time and with different horses including on the ground maybe it's not about the horse at all?

Another thing I have done when feeling low in confidence is take a load of lessons with a teacher I trust, mine has quite a bossy, no nonsense manner but I know for a fact she'd never put me or the horse in any danger so I am able to relinquish my decision making/risk assessment to her and just do what I'm told - if she says canter really fast down the long side then it's fine and nothing bad will happen, and the positive experiences gave me a foundation to rebuild confidence in my own decisions again. But again I'm sure that won't work for everyone.

Maybe some therapy would help, anxiety around specific situations and rebuilding confidence and techniques to manage it is something CBT is really useful for, or perhaps just having someone listen and help you explore the reasons behind your fears and rationalise things a bit would make a difference, and then if you can find a really safe feeling environment, a riding school or friends very reliable horse to practice in that would grow your confidence?

Lastqueenofscotland · 21/03/2022 17:04

Is this on your own horse OP or ridingschool horses, and is there a certain situation Ie worse out hacking?

It sounds completely daft but I find singing helps. I’m sure people have walked past thinking “what in the…” while I’m singing horrendously out of tune while my mare war being extra spicy

Pancakeflat · 21/03/2022 17:19

Thank you for your replies.
I hardly ride at all anymore. This is mostly working with horses in hand. I have been knocked to the floor a number of times - sometimes by horses who are regularly handled by children without any concern. I think that I worry that I can't manage a horse anymore, then the horse notices that I'm worried and gets worried too. At that point my heart rate soars and I panic and freeze. Before I know it I am knocked over again and my anxiety gets even worse. Sad.

I really long for the relaxed time I used to spend with my friends and horses.

OP posts:
Escarpahell · 21/03/2022 17:33

Can you describe how you are getting knocked over? You're absolutely right that the horses are picking up on your panic but I can't see how they can knock you over unless they are trying to escape and you are blocking their path.

I do horses assisted communication training so regularly work with clients who've never touched a horse before and are terrified. What works for them is rather than trying to hide it (which makes everything much worse!) is to tell the horse that they're scared and ask it to forgive them. They then stand quietly with the horse - holding a lead rope very loosely with instructions to drop it if the horse wants to move away - and wait until their breathing and heart rate has steadied.

Is this something you can practise in the arena or a large enclosed area at a quiet time when there's no one else around?

Pancakeflat · 21/03/2022 18:08

Thank you for your reply. That sounds both perfectly batty and wonderfully right!
I think that I get rigid and braced against the potential movement of the horse. The horse probably feels trapped by my "tightness" and pulls away or comes through me or knocks me whith their head.

OP posts:
WildFlowerBees · 22/03/2022 16:22

Try slowing your breathing down before you've got to the stables, do it consciously until it's just something you do. Most breathe 12-18 breaths per minute you want to halve that and more if possible. You can also sing, I used to sing when I started feeling anxious and it really helped, now I've learnt to breathe very slowly (3-4 breaths a min) I don't get the anxious feelings at all.

hoorayandupsherises · 22/03/2022 16:44

I have gotten very stressed when riding. A few things really help: doing a 10 minute yoga video before setting off to get rid of some tension; a rider hypnosis download (this has been absolutely transformative for me - I am pretty science-based usually, but as science has proved that the placebo effect works, I am willing to back this one Grin ).

Lastly, are the horses really suitable? It sounds like they may be just be too highly strung for your confidence level. I have been riding for thirty years and am very careful not to over-horse myself or it takes all the pleasure out of it.

Polkadotties · 22/03/2022 17:11

Have you tried leading in a bit rather than just a head collar (I assume you are leading in a head collar). You don’t have to do anything strongly but knowing that you will have more control might help you not get stressed in the first place. Bit of a placebo affect. And should anything go wrong you will have more control

Pancakeflat · 23/03/2022 07:28

Thanks everyone.
I spent some time with the horses yesterday, just chilling out. I was able to really enjoy them and feel at one with them if you get what I mean.

I think the problems start when I need to get stuff done and I am operating too fast (in my head) for them or myself.

I will try slow breathing, yoga and singing (when alone!).
The hypnosis download sounds intriguing too. Do you have a link?

OP posts:
hoorayandupsherises · 23/03/2022 10:51

Sure, it was from here:

The flatwork schooling one includes visualising leading in hand, so might be helpful?

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