Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Learning to Co-Exist with Anxiety and Riding

I haven't been able to ride much the last two weeks (a grand total of twice, to be exact), due to inclement weather and insane work hours. The horses are enjoying the break, I think, and I've been able to do more ground-work related things with Annie that I may have been skimping over in the last few months.

It's been kind of eye-opening in a way, to start piecing together different parts of the puzzle that don't necessarily apply undersaddle. I still have a lot to learn and still have a lot of patience to give to Annie and her learning abilities.

And growing abilities?
It can be a pretty bumpy road tho, especially when things don't go to plan or you find yourself falling a few steps back.

My readers and friends will know I am a chronic worrier. It's just who I am and who I will always be. Anxiety disorder and PTSD are something I live with and it affects not only my working life, but it also affects my riding and training.

Some will remember how borderline obsessive I became with the whole trailer incident debacle and how I immediately labeled myself as inept to bring along Annie and expand her training.

It's unfortunate and it isn't a progressive way of thinking.

"Those voices in your head? They crazy."
I have been blessed to have a lot of wonderful friends who listen to me rant and ramble about things that are affecting me and in a way, I am shocked none of them have grabbed me by the shoulders and told me to calm the f down.

There has been some developments on the Annie front (some not necessarily new) that have left me both  curious and a bit flustered. The thing is, though, that the measurement of a horse's behavior doesn't always directly reflect the handler. Horses are horses, and even the most well schooled and trained can have "off" days or little annoying issues.

Riding Buddy is the direct receiver of all my unfortunate tirades and anxiety-fueled meltdowns and during a standard "Calm your shit" reply, she brought something to light that I really resonated with. She basically said that there are all these little things that Annie has that are "issues", but the difference between me and someone else who has a horse that won't stand at the trailer or pulls back when tied is that I am currently addressing the issue to potentially eradicate it from Annie's behavior.

This lady on left has been a large source of inspiration for me - she
is mine and Annie's biggest cheerleader and has been on the
perpetual receiving end of my worries about ruining the horse since Day 1.
The unfortunate part of that is that behavior can only be changed through lots of repetition. It won't magically be cured after three days, or even three months. And add stress into the factor and you may have a horse that reverts back to it's old behavior. It's a cycle and it will slowly work out in the wash - wet saddle pads, good preparation, and repetition are the only things a young horse needs.

I feel incredibly lucky that I have a pretty chill horse - for as young as she is, and as inexperienced as she is.

I put a bareback ride on her a week ago after we had finished with some desensitization stuff (tarps, flying whips... all the fun stuff) and she was lovely. We worked on sidepassing and yielding her haunches - she got a bit sticky a few times in the sidepass and instead of moving over, would throw her head up and stiffen a bit. I just took my time, opened my rein to direct her nose to where I wanted her to go and asked her to move over. One step here... one step there... reward and walk off. It was a good thinking ride, especially since we were in the back paddock where the ground is uneven. We were able to put in some great trot work, which included her actually moving off my legs during the circle (sometimes our circles still look like potatoes).

And yesterday, I put a ride on her after snapping some photos for a saddle fitter and I found she reverted back to her old tactic of bolting  (bolting really isn't the right word for it... but she kind of leaps? rushes? braces into?) forwards and trying to jig down the driveway. She is a interesting one though, because she waited for me to adjust my stirrups, adjust Spud's leadrope, watched a dog and owner walk by and waited for the exact moment I squeezed to ask her to go and then BOOM. Lurching forwards, back tense, head up, jigging all the way. I let her go a few steps before asking her to slow down with a squeeze of the rein and she immediately slammed on the brakes. I asked her to walk on and she repeated herself. It's hard when ponying tho, because it left me unable to really sort it out on a higher level.

Striking a pose.
Actually, she enjoyed the stretch I gave her
that she held it for a few seconds. What a weirdo.

I'm sure a lot of it can be attributed to lack of riding, fresh Spring weather, the increased wildlife activity (a young boy stopped me on my ride and told me a bear had just wandered down the next street), and just the fact it's a bit of an old habit (here , here too...)

The thing about the behavior is that it will die down into the ride and she won't necessarily keep jigging after a few steps. She just kind of settles into this super fast walk. As we went about our ride, I started to slow her down with my seat and kind of laughed at how annoyed she got, because she noticed she was slowing down and wasn't sure how to get past it since I wasn't using the reins.

She didn't really mellow out much on the ride. She was walking, which was good, but still felt really "up" and bracey in my hands. So, I figured we'd walk back to the barn and drop off Spud. So I dismounted, chucked him into the paddock and went back to remount.


Wouldn't you know it.

Good lady.
She walked off like a trail pony - calm and quiet. She was a bit behind the leg because, "We were just home... didn't we just finish??" but complied with walking up and down the streets, leg yielding across the road and halting at the end of the driveway and waited until I told her she could go again. All without questioning and all without resistance.

This ride kind of highlighted to me just how much riding a young horse can vary - within the same ride I had two very different horses and I had to almost sigh and laugh at the whole thing.

She's a good baby horse. The waves will come and as they do, I've just got to learn to ride them out and not take them so damn personally.

Horses, am I right?


  1. Babies are the worst...and the best :) It's so, so hard to trust in yourself and be patient when they're trying out all the wrong answers repeatedly. You're doing great with her, she's well on her way to being a super solid citizen!

    1. It can be so tough to have that level of self-esteem in training a young horse when you don't have a consistent coach or access to an arena, etc. But, the obstacles we face aren't things that will prevent us from succeeding, they are just things we have to climb over and overcome :)

  2. Yes you are right. Horses live in the moment and babies even more so.

  3. Anxiety. ugh, can I ever relate. I have had some pretty high waves over here lately. But it is passing and luckily my horse is awesome and puts up with my nervous riding. As long as the carrots keep coming, she is happy to do the thing. Annie sounds pretty darn awesome too!

    1. Right?! It's such a bother!
      *hugs* It's funny how sometimes the horse can be the source of our anxiety, but also the immediate relief from it <3

  4. Absolutely. Living with PTSD is not easy, but I find the horses help big time.

  5. A baby horse is enough to give everyone some anxiety! So, I'm sure it's hitting you doubly hard. I think Annie is just right for you, though :)

    1. Half the time, my friends are like, "Uh... it's just her being a baby." And I'm like... oh.