In a funk - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 16 Old 11-14-2017, 02:25 PM Thread Starter
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In a funk

I'm having about the worst-timed horse-related bit of frustration and depression right now. It's no one's fault -- just an unfortunate series of events that's really taken a bit of shine off my horse enthusiasm lately.

It started a couple of weeks ago, when I agreed to do morning feeding and turnout/turn-in (weather dependent) while my coach was away. She told me to go ahead and have unlimited free ride time while she was away, but aside from one sunny morning, the entire week and a half poured rain and gusted wind and the footing was useless. I got one decent ride in.

I almost got two rides in, but the second attempt was on a cold morning with random gusts (ideal spooking weather) blowing through, and my normally Steady Eddie bombproof lesson horse started bouncing and spooking around, nearly spilled me in a big multipart shy-and-run spook, and I hopped off after only a few minutes and lunged her instead, where she proceeded to randomly explode, repeatedly, at seemingly nothing. This left me really badly shaken, as it was so polar opposite of her normal personality that my anxiety started to spiral. If I can't trust THIS horse, what horse can I trust? Am I stupid for ever trusting horses? Etc., etc.

The next day one of the horses I was trying to bring in -- who is normally a calm fellow with good ground manners -- panicked in his stall, got between me and the door and reared and kicked out and I thankfully managed to unclip his lead, get myself out of the way, and let him bolt out of there for my own safety. Then couldn't catch him because he was leaping around kicking out like an idiot. He blasted into the barn aisle and kicked out and broke a stall door, and I'm vague on exactly how the middle part happened, but shortly after... I had TWO loose idiot horses to try to catch. I gave up on bringing them in and shooed them back out into the field.

The next day, the better behaved of the two, who again is usually pretty chill, bit me on the hand when I unclipped him for turnout, and tore off before I could give him any consequences.

I swear the sudden drop in temperature this month has made them all start to act possessed.

The horses were all moved last week to their winter housing, at a nice little barn with an indoor arena, and while it was a new situation and they all needed to understandably have a chance to settle, their anxiety was over the top for the first few days, and while I was able to handle them all without incident (they each got turned out, on a lead, one at a time and got some remedial groundwork which helped a lot to get their brains back in their skulls) I find I'm still very shaken and on edge from the incidents the previous week.

I attempted my first ride there on Friday, on the usual normally bombproof mare, but the horses on turnout where charging around like yelling idiots in the paddock by the arena and even though my horse didn't put a foot wrong, her body language was tense and on alert the whole time, and I feared another big reaction like the previous ride, and only did about ten minutes of walk trot before throwing in the towel.

Yesterday I tried again -- this time with the other horses still in the barn so they wouldn't be a distraction -- and had a really nice relaxed ride, just some nice easy walk trot for maybe half an hour at most. She was a bit looky at one end of the ring but I just let her pick her own comfort zone there so she would have no reason to feel like shying, and rode through it gradually. She was nice and relaxed, stretching, lifting her back in the trot... Just a really nice ride, and then... the second I brought her in to untack her, she abruptly colicked. She was bad for a couple of hours but had started to recover by the time her owner came out to take over watching her. It was incredibly distressing to watch, though, as I hadn't seen a colic episode in a very long time and some of her symptoms were extremely unsettling. While I've since read that even the weirdest-seeming stuff was colic symptoms, I hadn't seen it present in that exact way before and worried until my coach got there that she was dying of a stroke or something.

I love horses, that particular horse, and my coach. I don't blame anyone for this string of bad luck, of course, but it's been totally exhausting and disheartening. My brain is currently making a point-form list of things it is CONVINCED are going to happen:
-The mare, having had one uncharacteristically spooky day, must be completely unhinged now despite two solid incident-free years of lessons on her, and she WILL spook so catastrophically that I fall off and die
-The other horses, despite having settled down considerably since the move and more regular handling, are DEFINITELY going to somehow kill me during blanketing and turnout
-If I ride the mare again, she'll colic again and it will be all my fault, even though I've never had that happen after any ride in the last two years

Any words of advice/encouragement? I'm heading into a potentially great situation this winter where I'll have unlimited riding opportunities with a private indoor ring very close to where I live. I don't want to go into it feeling this awful. It feels like there's already a shadow over the situation. I was feeling so pumped and positive for it until all this started happening. The change of seasons, daylight savings time, and bleak weather isn't helping my mood or attitude, either. Help!!
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post #2 of 16 Old 11-14-2017, 03:37 PM
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Without fail I will have the exact same situation as soon as it starts getting cold: horses having meltdowns, lots of spooking and misbehavior. The first few times I was ready to give up because it felt very dangerous and unsettled horses give me major anxiety. These days I still get major anxiety but I know it will pass. I don't handle horses other than my own during this time and I only ride when conditions feel perfect for me. Last year I asked for lunge lessons. It worked. This year I'm not that bad yet but I might resort to it again. Just hang in there, they should be settling soon.

Edit: I'm not sure if they actually settle or I get used to the loons but my anxiety usually goes away by Christmas latest.
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post #3 of 16 Old 11-14-2017, 03:54 PM
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Aw, I'm sorry you had such a bad time lately. It will get better. I know, it's very hard to believe that right now, but it will.
I've had weeks like that. I'd take a day or so off from the barn, until you feel comfortable again, and can compile your emotions. Or even just go there and hangout, groom.
Horses can definitely sense when we are frazzled or tense or anxious, which doesn't help either.

Ride when you feel comfortable, take it slow. :) Nothing wrong with even just going to the barn hanging out with the mare, grooming her until you feel more comfortable/confident enough to ride again. I know it's not easy especially anxiety, I struggle with it myself. It sucks when it affects my rides. I have to really take deep breathes & just try to relax (as hard as it is).

It may be off to a rocky start, but you will be just fine very soon! Keep your head up! Unlimited riding will be lovely! Think of the positive things! :) That will help.

Ride more, worry less.
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post #4 of 16 Old 11-14-2017, 04:03 PM
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You don't trust horses, you take calculated risks with them based on what you know about them and your ability to handle incidents. They are under no obligation to "have your back" when their survival is at stake, so all you can do is be like the bird that doesn't trust the branch it sits on, but its own wings.

The biting might just have been an act of affection, not aggression. Last Sunday, I was standing at the pasture fence with a woman, messing around with the horses - petting them, letting them sniff our hands and faces, you know...generally being reckless. It was only when the woman had a conversation with me and stopped paying attention to the TB gelding that he took a swift nip out of her and ran off. (Her sentence was interrupted by a sudden, "Ouch!") He just wasn't done talking with her and she ignored him. So rumors of your impending demise may be a bit exaggerated - just watch them like a grumpy lead mare. Did I mention not to trust them?

Anyway, I never go out riding expecting that I won't have a spook. I, too, can be complacent, though. Once recently, I rode a semi-greenie, and while I was all smug about how I slowed him down by slowing my posting, a bird flew up from the field. I had sat through dozens of spooks like that before (and 2 or 3 afterwards in the same ride on the same horse), but due to my complacency, I still came off. I'd need to stop riding altogether if I worried about avoiding spooks and little bolts, because going back to the arena is out of the question for me.

So you had a combination of "facts of horseback riding" and "bad luck". I can see how the colic episode was distressing. Accept the fact that horses spook, and, like the afore-quoted bird, learn to trust your own wings. The trick is: While you watch them like a hawk, ready to react to whatever they'll throw at you, you have to stay calm and relaxed. If you're on edge, whatever environmental stuff bothers them will only be amplified, because they'll now really think they have a reason to worry.
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post #5 of 16 Old 11-14-2017, 04:24 PM
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I read a story recently about a woman who helped a guide company. Anyways, this women at one point had a colt that she was starting and had gotten a picture in her head of this colt falling off a steep trail. Because of this she would get off and lead the colt when the trail got very steep. Eventually with the teasing of the other crew members she decided to ride this horse the whole day without getting off.

The horse did fall off the trail the first time it got steep. Somehow she managed to get him back up without either getting hurt. The next time the trail got steep he did it again. Again, very luckily, neither were hurt. She realized at this point that she had been picturing this wreck so she was leaning towards the upper side of the trail and therefore she pushed him off balance and it caused him to fall. It was her fear of the situation that created the situation.

I have seen this happen myself with my daughter starting the pony more than once. (It is much easier to see in others than in ourselves.) The pony is fairly fast, and so sometimes when she breaks into a lope it is fast and my little girl imagines she is going to run away. Well, because of this fear, one day when the pony broke into her speedy lope my girl panicked and tried to one rein stop her. In her panic she didn?t choke up on the rein and leaned off to the side. On this little round backed pony it caused the saddle to slip. At this point the pony was still loping but mildly confused and I told my girl to stop her. Again rather than just pull back on the reins her fear caused her to try to one rein stop her which caused the saddle to slip the rest of the way, the pony to finally panic herself and really run away, and me to tell my girl to fall off. Neither the pony or the girl was hurt. However, it was her fear that created the situation.

I guess that what I am trying to say is that often our fear is the culprit. I understand this completely as I am a very anxious person. It is difficult to control, but if you try and give the horse the chance to do things right before you allow yourself the fear it is very likely that nothing will go wrong with your steady school mare.

Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you? - Balaam’s Donkey
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post #6 of 16 Old 11-14-2017, 09:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Knave View Post
I read a story recently about a woman who helped a guide company. Anyways, this women at one point had a colt that she was starting and had gotten a picture in her head of this colt falling off a steep trail. Because of this she would get off and lead the colt when the trail got very steep. Eventually with the teasing of the other crew members she decided to ride this horse the whole day without getting off.

The horse did fall off the trail the first time it got steep. Somehow she managed to get him back up without either getting hurt. The next time the trail got steep he did it again. Again, very luckily, neither were hurt. She realized at this point that she had been picturing this wreck so she was leaning towards the upper side of the trail and therefore she pushed him off balance and it caused him to fall. It was her fear of the situation that created the situation.

I have seen this happen myself with my daughter starting the pony more than once. (It is much easier to see in others than in ourselves.) The pony is fairly fast, and so sometimes when she breaks into a lope it is fast and my little girl imagines she is going to run away. Well, because of this fear, one day when the pony broke into her speedy lope my girl panicked and tried to one rein stop her. In her panic she didn?t choke up on the rein and leaned off to the side. On this little round backed pony it caused the saddle to slip. At this point the pony was still loping but mildly confused and I told my girl to stop her. Again rather than just pull back on the reins her fear caused her to try to one rein stop her which caused the saddle to slip the rest of the way, the pony to finally panic herself and really run away, and me to tell my girl to fall off. Neither the pony or the girl was hurt. However, it was her fear that created the situation.

I guess that what I am trying to say is that often our fear is the culprit. I understand this completely as I am a very anxious person. It is difficult to control, but if you try and give the horse the chance to do things right before you allow yourself the fear it is very likely that nothing will go wrong with your steady school mare.
You know, I've thought about that a lot and I came to a conclusion that it might not be entirely correct. Maybe we are fearing something because our brain detected an actual possibility but we can't rationally explain what it is that we are seeing.

Maybe the lady with the falling horse from your example felt that the horse isn't paying enough attention.

I was scared of going on steep downhills on one particular mare. Other horses I had no problem with on that same trail. One day the saddle slipped forward on that mare and I fell off. As if my brain felt the saddle being unstable without it being obvious. This is a situation that I clearly couldn't influence with my anxiety, it was purely mechanical.

As silly as it sounds, if horses can pick up on our moods and insecurities it would make sense that we pick up on theirs as well. And that we can pick up on unsafe environments, footings and tack. We are animals as well, after all.
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post #7 of 16 Old 11-14-2017, 09:47 PM
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@Horsef I agree with what you?re saying in a case like yours. There are times our fears are protecting us, but there are times our fears hinder us. Maybe when our fear is constant and a story it is when it is an issue. I know my girl created the situation because I watched, and the woman on the two-year-old also knew she did because once she sat straight the horse never again had an issue (of course you could say he learned his lesson lol). However, your fear was just a nagging type fear of something you did not usually fear and could not explain.
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Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you? - Balaam’s Donkey
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post #8 of 16 Old 11-14-2017, 09:54 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks guys. I appreciate the supportive words and commiseration. I talked to my coach today and we're going to do a lesson ASAP so I can hopefully get my focus back.

I'm definitely feeling like a bit of a mess. I mean, there's knowing somewhere in the back of your brain that something could happen during a ride and you always need to be mindful. But then there's the dread of something terrible being imminent and the tension and distraction it causes that can completely throw off your ability to ride effectively and to actually enjoy the ride. This latter state is not a nice state. I need to get myself out of it.

Happy to report that the mare got over her colic episode quickly and is cleared to return to work!
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post #9 of 16 Old 11-14-2017, 10:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SteadyOn View Post
Thanks guys. I appreciate the supportive words and commiseration. I talked to my coach today and we're going to do a lesson ASAP so I can hopefully get my focus back.

I'm definitely feeling like a bit of a mess. I mean, there's knowing somewhere in the back of your brain that something could happen during a ride and you always need to be mindful. But then there's the dread of something terrible being imminent and the tension and distraction it causes that can completely throw off your ability to ride effectively and to actually enjoy the ride. This latter state is not a nice state. I need to get myself out of it.

Happy to report that the mare got over her colic episode quickly and is cleared to return to work!
I know that state well. Don't push yourself for a resolution. It will only make it worse. On top of the dread you will also feel like a failure. I doubt you are heading for the upcoming Olympics - I'm sure you would have mentioned it :) So, there is no rush at all.

I am not kidding about going back on the lunge line. Treat yourself like a beginner and you will get there faster. Also, lunge line lessons aren't a waste of time - Spanish school of riding uses them extensively even for their top riders.

I'm glad the mare is ok :)
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post #10 of 16 Old 11-14-2017, 10:02 PM
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@Horsef I agree! When my mare Kodak spooked the first two times I fell off her, I was not expecting it at all, therefore, could not possibly have caused it. The first time, I was sitting on her, chatting with another rider while we were standing still! I could not have been more relaxed. The second time, we were just walking along when she lost it. She spooked a few more times, but I manged to stay on. Then one day, she spooked badly (she spins and bolts) and I went flying. By that time, I probably WAS anxious. But really, I'd be stupid not to be a little nervous! We are working on it...

OP, sorry you're having a string of bad luck. Tonight, I was working on my gelding's bow trick, gave him a treat, and he bit one of my fingers bad enough to make it bleed. Stupid me... he's grabby with food, I should probably put treats in his feed bucket instead. The thing about horses is that they're unpredictable. I don't like that part of it, yet I keep coming back for more. Not sure why...

But it does sound like you had a rough time. There will be better days. What has helped me with my spooky mare is Liberty work. We have an amazing bond now, and I have fallen in love with her all over again. She trusts me now, but also sees me as a leader. And the nice thing about Liberty work is that she can leave anytime. So low risk for me. Yet somehow, she doesn't leave me, in fact, she looks forward to our sessions, and loves learning new things. That said, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if she decided one day that she didn't like the way the branches were sitting on a particular tree she sees every day, and knocked me over. So yeah... be careful, assume they will act like idiots, and be thankful when they don't. Horses are not for the faint of heart. But when things go well, it is so worth it.
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