Older & fairly new rider beginning to fear falling
I began riding lessons around last Feb. at age 59. Now it's November so I'm still pretty new at this. I started out English and then moved to Western. I live in North Carolina and the weather just turned cooler a couple of weeks ago. Since then, my normally slow horse is full of energy. Last week she was not minding me and acting up a bit at the beginning of the lesson which I'd never seen her do before. That was the first time I've ridden her in cooler weather. We got over that hump OK and continued. Today, I just felt totally off my game on her. She resisted jogging slowly and I felt out of balance and out of control when we started working on patterns. It was like I'd never ridden her before. She wanted to take everything at a fast trot. My legs were all over the place and I was really afraid I would fall. I just turned 60 this past month and I'm wondering if that may be doing a head trip on my confidence. Any comments that might help me relax or suggestions on how to handle my fear or adjust to my "new" horse are very welcome.
Since you're working with a trainer, why not enlist his/her help?
Consider what the circumstances are when you feel like you're going to fall, and what's going on then. If you're bouncing around at a trot, are you trying to grab the saddle? Sometimes people panic and try to hold on but end up giving up control of the horse because they're holding the saddle and it makes it all worse. Ask your trainer how to half halt the horse and help bring her back under your control. Also ask what to do in that situation -when your horse isn't really listening to you. Are you worried you will be run away with? Ask your trainer to help you learn what to do if your horse runs off with you. Having tools in your toolbox so that you feel able to help a situation will give you more confidence!
Good luck!! I hope you wear a helmet! If you feel very concerned, you can always add on a body protector.
If she's a little fresh, you might try either lunging her for a few minutes to take the edge off, or doing stuff that really makes her think, especially right in the beginning. If Skip and I have been working patterns and he's a little feisty, I take him over trot poles or work on gates or cones, or trooting barrels or flags, anything to make him think and to burn up his energy a little.
A few suggestions, none of which may be useful...
1 If you are riding a lesson horse, consider trying another. It isn't wrong to ask for another horse until you feel more confident.
2 If switching isn't possible, look into cheating. I started English and moved to an Aussie-style saddle because I needed extra security. We also have a western saddle, but I find it harder to ride because of how it fits me. It just shoves my legs too far apart and too far forward. That isn't true of all western saddles, and my wife & daughter love the saddle I dislike.
However, even within western saddles, some are more secure. A barrel racing saddle has some design features (position, high cantle, tall horn, often grain out) that make it easier to stay in when the horse hits the fan. If the front has a small or narrow swell, get a saddle with a wider one. I also like wider stirrups for my confidence.
3 - Breath. When the horse is acting nervous, try breathing in with an audible sound, count to 2 or 3, then breath out loudly. Keep doing it. Or sing. Horses pick up our nervousness and it can become a vicious cycle.
4 - Wear a helmet and boots with a good heel. Safety equipment helps confidence.
5 - Post. Some folks claim western riders don't post. I do. When a horse gets in a fast trot, posting feels better to me. I usually lean forward a bit and take up a forward seat. That might look odd in a western saddle, but it gets my balance in synch with my horse and gives me confidence.
6 - Lots of folks will say this advice is wrong, so ask your instructor...but I ride with my foot in the "home" position - shoved forward so my heel is almost hitting the stirrup. You can see what I'm doing in the picture below. You can also see how my daughter's wide stirrup pretty much forces her to do the same thing. However, a lot of folks believe this is dangerous, so ask. I find it makes it easier to keep my stirrups.
Good luck. I'm 54, and started riding 4 years ago.
I can hardly think of anything to add to the above advice, which is all excellent.
I am 54, so I know how badly I DON"T want to fall. I have fallen, many times, and it is most of the time not nearly as bad as you think it will be.
Do you ski? if so, you probably fall from time to time and most of the time, it's no big deal. So, if all of the above advice doesn't help, then take this thought out with you.... "I can fall and still be ok. and I can get back on, too"
Every equestrian falls, some more than others, and I am not saying you should just go out and fall. But, just that most of the time you roll off the horse's shoulder and land in the dirt and get your wind knocked out, some free chiropractic and get back on. The next day? Well, it's advil , ice, rest, and wine!
Two things on the more practical side;
Get some leather/fake sueade lined pants (full seat breeches). The even have Western style ones. Check out the trail rider pants by "Smoothstride.com". They will give you added stickum.
Get in shape. the stronger you are , the better able you are to stay over a moving horse.
and someone said not to fall forward into the fetal (fatal) position. once you do that, you have basically said, "I give up. I am going to fall". STay upright and RIDE the horse . never stop riding. It's a frame of mind.
I know it's not always possible wehn things get rough, but try to keep saying "Ride that horse!" and never check out into the I'm done for kind of thinking.
horses do get fresh when the weather is cooler. you might have to get firm with a big , fat "NO!" to this mare.
First of all, congrats on doing things the right way.....ie taking lessons to get yourself knowledgable and prepared for the horse world. You have no idea how many beginners just run out and buy random horses with little to no help, so you are starting out the smart way!
Second, welcome to the fall months, when many of our normally lovely horses are full of beans. Most horses are more energetic and even spookier when th weather is crisp, and add a brisk wind and wheeeeee....they seem to kind of get high on it, so you are not alone.
I handle the fall sillies by doing a few things, some of which have been suggested already, but I just want to clarify how I do it.
If you can, start with some ground work- ask for control of all body parts. Disengage hindquarters, backing up, moving shoulders and head away from you, both directions. Longing in smaller circles at just a walk or trot with frequent changes of direction. Clinton Anderson's "longing for respect" video is a great one to watch to learn how to do this.
Then, after I am mounted,
1-I try to really put the horse to work, immediately. Start with asking for lateral flexion both sides, several times, then ask for some disengagements of the hindquarters in both directions. Next, if you feel safe to do so, ask for some vertical fexion and then a nice back up. Not too long, maybe 5-6 steps, the release, praise, and move on.
2-If I had good results with number 1 type stuff, then we start moving around more, start walking, but ask for shoulders to move over, make small circles and serpentines. Change your direction frequently because it keeps the horse focused on you "What the heck is she going to ask me to do next here?"
3- Basically start doing number 2 at a jog/trot. If at any time you start to feel out of control, disengage those hindquarters. It will get control back of the horse, reinforce you as leader, and it is something you almost can't practice too much because it is something that eventually needs to come naturally to you in am emergency.
4-Relaxation of *my* body. Horses are amazingly sensitive to tension. When I am asking my horse to really focus on work as listed above, I do try to keep my breathing rhythmic and steady. If I am going out on the trail, or if I am trying to get a relaxed easy walk in the ring, and my horse is feeling silly, I put myself into *total* relaxation mode. It will seem counterintuitive to you at first. Instinctively, we riders want to tense up on a horse that is getting hyper. We want to clutch hard on those reins in an attempt to gain control. That reaction, however, will send all your tension into your horse and it will just get more and more upset.
So how do you learn to relax when all you want to do is hang on for dear life? It takes practice, and, to be honest, a bit of nerve. I leave, my reins long and loose (if she were to break into a trot I would do a quick 1 rein stop and then put her back on a loose rein again). I let my body go limp amd relaxed.....sack of potatoes. Loose neck, head floppy, arms floppy, lower back soft and following her stride. Long slow deep breaths. And possibly, the most important thing to hep you relax is something called "soft focus". Sally Swift discusses it in "Centered Riding".....a book I think all riders can benefit from.
Soft focus, as I understand it, is basically kind of like blurring your eyes, not focusing on anything in particular. Sometimes to get started, I close my eyes completely. The theory behind soft focus is that, as predators, humans tend to have sharp focus, it is something that a predator will use to lock onto prey. It causes tension in the body that the horse can feel, and having a soft focus will greatly relax your body and your horse. There are plenty of times that I don't use soft focus, for example if I am picking a certian point I want to head my horse towards, and she feels that too. But if you are trying to relax yourself and your horse, soft focus should help.
Hopefully some of that will be helpful, these are things that have worked for me with excited horses in my riding life. My current mare will actually drop her head, sigh, lick her lips, all signs of relaxation, if I just do the relaxation stuff described above.
Yep, what KountryPrincess said.
It's just that time of year. Horses get fresh when the weather changes. Their brains fill up with bugs, that's how I always think about it. You have to knock the bugs out before there is space in that brain for you. There are usually some signs that the horse has bugs in its brain that you can see way before you ever get up and ride. I can't explain what those are - probably someone can offer suggestions. I know my horse really well, and I can always tell right away when I come into the barn whether he's buggy or not, and honestly, I'm not even totally sure what I'm reacting to when that happens.
So, the first step is really paying attention to the horse to see if the horse is paying close attention to you. The horse needs to be paying close attention to you long before you get up and ride. Maybe the really experienced riders can get up on an inattentive, distracted horse and get that horse to focus, but I don't think that it is reasonable to expect green riders to do this.
If you realize that the horse is not focusing on YOU:
If it's your horse, get to the lesson early and do groundwork with the horse until he settles down and pays attention to you. If you're not sure what we mean by "groundwork" then you'll want to get some training. I worked a deal with my trainer where I substituted groundwork lessons for riding lessons a couple of times, and that was enough to get me up and running with what I needed to do.
If it's not your horse, if it's a lesson horse, ask the trainer to lunge the horse after you tack it up. It is pretty common at this time of the year for a horse that hasn't been worked yet that day to need to get lunged before riding, so I would not expect the trainer to be surprised by this request.
The primary reason for lunging is NOT to knock the bugs out of the brain, but it does work that way, and sometimes it's the best solution. There have been times when my horse is buggy, and I take him to do some groundwork, and he's starting to focus but is still kind of fresh and freaky. In those cases, I tack him up after the groundwork and then lunge him. If he rockets around instead of moving out smoothly, but then settles down and starts to mind and collect himself, then it's OK to get up and ride. If he rockets around and spooks and doesn't start settling down pretty soon, that's all we do that day, and riding happens at another time.
DO NOT GET ON A HORSE THAT DOES NOT SEEM TO BE PAYING ATTENTION TO YOU. It's dangerous, and yes, you've got a great chance of getting hurt - and so does the horse.
Everyone has offered really good advice.
Any time I've come off it was because I wasn't sitting up. I came off last Sunday. Because I wasn't paying attention to my position. I'm 40, I was sore for days. But I was also reminded that a fall doesn't necessarily equal major injury.
It helps me to put the fear of falling into perspective. I came off and what was the worst that happened? A sore rear. The point is, don't let yourself build up the idea that a fall will automatically land you in the hospital. I've hurt myself worse tripping over my own feet than in coming off a horse.
Just wear a helmet, and keep advil in the car.
So the next few days I'm down with a bit of a cold, but by last weekend I'm all over the cold. Same kind of brisk weather, same trail, same frisky horse - but we trotted, cantered, even galloped a little bit, and everything was fine. Wasn't a problem with the horse that first time, it's just that I really WAS off my game.
I can relate to that. I was off my game on MOnday and felt really insecure on Zulu, so didn't want to do much cantering. Today? we went out and cantered all over the place and I felt fine! I listened to my body that first time and waited for a couple of days, and things felt much better.
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