Back In The Saddle Again: The Road To Building Confidence After A Fall
About 6 years ago, I took a terrible fall from one of my horses that rocked me to the core. It took over six months before i could walk without significant pain in my pelvis. But more than the physical damage, the damage to my confidence is still not fully recovered. It's hard to convey to someone that hasn't experienced that the terrible fear which overcomes you at the thought of getting back in the saddle. Guarding your confidence is fully as important in your horsemanship journey as building your ground or riding skills with your horse.
When I had my accident, I did something totally stupid and that when looking back on it now I new better and should have seen the warning signs. I was cocky and broke one of the cardinal rules of natural horsemanship…Parelli Principle #2 – Don't make or teach assumptions. Just because your horse is normally left brained about most things doesn't mean it will always be. Horse's can turn right brained very quickly and any horse can have right-brained moments. It is VERY important to pay attention to your horse's thresholds and do your pre-flight checks. Spending that extra 5 minutes to take your horse through some exercises while you are still safely on the ground can mean the difference between having a great ride with your horse or ending up in the emergency room – NOT a great way to spend your day!
It's OK To Ask For Help!
Once my physical wounds had healed, the road to full recovery was really only beginning. I also had to win back my horse's trust in my leadership abilities and learn to trust him again. I spent the next 4 years trying to accomplish that! The release of the Parelli Horseanality profiles was invaluable to me in figuring out how to help build my horse's confidence back, as well as my confidence in my own abilities. It took me a while to finally figure out that my horse was actually very right brained under saddle rather than the left brained horse that I was treating him as. Again with the Principle #2!!! With the insight and help of both my Parelli Instructor, Christi Rains, and my horse trainer, Chris Ruthven, I was able to recognize our underlying issues and develop a strategy to address them and move forward. Don't ever be afraid to ask for help! Getting the help of professionals to guide you can keep you from beating your head against a brick wall.
One Step At A Time
After spending years building my horse's and my confidence on the ground, it was time to put my foot in the stirrup. OMG! Just doing that simple thing, which I had for years just done without thinking, was absolutely terrifying! My heart would literally pound in my chest just at the thought. At this point in the journey to getting back in the saddle, it's important to remember to take baby steps. I gave myself permission to NOT get on the horse…"Just put your foot in the stirrup and then take it out! You don't have to get on the horse". I was putting so much pressure on myself to get on. It was very empowering to know that I didn't have to do anything I wasn't ready for. My horse was ready, but I was not. Again, it was time to enlist the help of a professional. My horse needed a confident rider to move ahead under saddle again. That wasn't me! Sometimes, no matter how much you want to do something yourself, it just isn't possible and you need to ask for help. Don't ever let anyone pressure you into doing something you are not ready for. That is how people get hurt.
Horse trainer Dale Kahl was kind enough to take on my horse as a project and started riding him nearly every day. I watched as my horse got more and more confident with a rider and Dale talked me through what he was doing so I could be prepared when it was my turn to get on him. My Parelli Instructor helped me build back my riding skills with the help of one of her calm and experienced horses while Dale worked with my horse. Parelli Principle #7 tells us "Riders teach horses and horses teach riders." This principle is invaluable when it comes to safeguarding your confidence. If you are not a good rider, you certainly wouldn't want someone to put you on a young, inexperienced or very challenging horse! You want the old dead-broke horse that's "been there, done that". Even so, it can be nerve racking the first few rides as you work through that initial fear of being back in the saddle.
Back In The Saddle
Over a period of several months, watching Dale ride my horse confidently and seeing how calm my horse was in all kinds of different situations, I was less and less fearful of getting on his back. We started in the round pen with Dale just walking us around the pen for about 5 minutes. I was a bit nervous, but knowing that Dale had been riding him safely for months was a huge boost for my confidence and trust level in my horse. That first ride after so many years of being afraid was so emotional. I can't even describe the emotions that were running through me. I just remember feeling completely overwhelmed by them when I got off. I broke down and cried. It was like a huge weight had been lifted from me. I had taken a huge step in overcoming my fear, a fear that had been with me for over 5 years. It was a great feeling!
Gradually building on this foundation, we moved to the arena and then on short trail rides. Our crowning achievement was participating in a Trail Clinic at Christi Rains' where we rode all over, up and down ravines, down the river trail and over obstacles. That was the most amazing experience for me. I don't think I stopped smiling the entire clinic! It was definitely worth the wait to feel safe and secure with my horse, knowing I had taken the time it takes to get to that ultimate goal.
While the entire process provided me with a huge learning experience and I'm a much better horsewoman for going through the process, I would definitely not recommend the "school of hard knocks" as the method of choice for learning! Take your time with building your skill level, get help when needed and don't let pride push you into doing things you and/or your horse are not properly prepared to do. Happy trails! Come over to my Facebook page and tell me one fear that you have had to overcome. http://www.facebook.com/HeavenlyGaitsEquineMassage.
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the "whole horse".
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Lisa, the conventional wisdom is that "when you fall off a bike, get yourself back on right away." That may be fine for bicycles but, in the case of your accident, there were two living beings involved. So the complexity is that much greater. Congratulations on seeing the process through … for both of you!
Thanks Sharon! You are so right. I hear people say all the time, get back up on that horse and face your fear! Your horse can sense what you are feeling and in the end you make the entire situation worse…scaring your horse because they feel your lack of leadership and intensifying your own fear and making it all that much hard to get back on the next time. Baby steps:)
I am struggling with this myself. My horse stumbled in August, and we both went down. He wasn't hurt, thank God, but I tore all the ligaments in my left shoulder. Even though I was able to ride again in two weeks, I am afraid to try cantering patterns again, and cannot seem to get past it. At 66, things don't heal so well as when I was younger. My horse is an Arabian, aged 21, and still hotter than a two dollar pistol. He has lovely manners, but a lot of energy – way more than I.
Oh dear! I’m glad that you were able to heal quickly and your horse wasn’t hurt Elizabeth!!! And yes, the ground seems to get further away and much harder with every passing year unfortunately. It’s amazing how our confidence can be set back so much. I still am not comfortable cantering even after 7 years. It will always be a work in progress I guess, but each year I feel I make a little more progress. Good luck to you and thank you for sharing your story with me!!