I look like such a good, calm little girl!
Since I ended up making yet another crash landing last night (no harm done apart from a sore foot - I'm getting better at falling on my feet) and Marina made me "provoke" Starbuck into spooking to practice getting her back under control for nearly the entire lesson I decided it would be a good time to revisit my musings on that four-letter-word which is the bane of equestrians worldwide. Nope, it's not "poop" nor "cash" (although those are pretty baneful), but "fear". Insidious and contagious, it worms itself into your consciousness and slowly eats away at the joy and freedom that drew us to riding in the first place and bit by bit converts "passion" and "fun" into "hobby" and then "obligation".
Obviously in the past two and a half years I have had to overcome some major fear issues just to be able to start and keep riding my crazy little filly, but I still have lots of mental and emotional work to do, especially since my reactions to fear nearly always make things worse instead of better. I would love to be one of these people who are galvanized by fright into efficient clarity of mind, but I'm not. Instead of whipping into heroic action and doing just the right thing at just the right time, I freeze and tense up and get shaky hands and snap at people.
Coincidentally however, just yesterday I read this article and had jotted down my thoughts shortly before the lesson, so I was able to be much more philosophical than usual about last night's spooks and Marina's impromptu instructions. The instructions, by the way, were to ride on the scary side of the arena keeping close to the fence and when she shies, trot with purpose back to where we were at before the spook and circle Starbuck in place there until she calms down and then let her rest for 30 seconds before going right back to what we were doing before all of this. The first time I was worried that she might trip or freak out even more but she did fine and calmed down quicker than I expected to. And even better, after the third spook+circlecirclecircle cycle, she licked her lips and dropped her head - hopefully a surefire sign that she was starting to get the picture. And in fact she spooked very little after that, and without having to run halfway across the arena.
At any rate, without further ado here are my notes on the "10-step-deal-with-your-fears" program:
STEP 1: IDENTIFY FEARFUL SITUATIONS.
* Riding outside stable grounds
* Riding on scary side of the arena
STEP 2: IDENTIFY FEARED OUTCOMES.
* Starbuck might run into traffic
* I might fall off and Starbuck run away
* Starbuck might slip or rear and fall on top of me
* Starbuck might get out of control and hurt someone or destroy someone's property
* We might cause another rider's horse to throw them
STEP 3: DO A REALITY CHECK.
* Starbuck might run into traffic - if she had a bad spook, I think this is possible, especially since she's not particularly scared of cars. This is a legitimate concern.
* I might fall off and Starbuck run away - When I fall off in the arena, she stays with me. And since we always trail ride with other horses, I'm pretty sure she would stay with them instead of run away. Not a legitimate concern.
* Starbuck might slip or rear and fall on top of me - This isn't likely to happen at a walk or trot, and I'm not likely to canter on a slippery surface, but both of us are pretty clumsy and I wouldn't put it past her to take off at a gallop after a spook. This is unlikely but a legitimate concern.
* Starbuck might get out of control and hurt someone or destroy someone's property - As I think she would stay close if I fell off, this isn't very likely. Not a legitimate concern.
* We might cause another rider's horse to throw them - This hasn't happened yet and in any case depends on the other riders - in theory non-expert riders will be on dependable horses and horses more likely to be influenced by one of Starbuck's spooks will be ridden by people who know how to ride and accept the risk. While it could theoretically happen I honestly don't think it's my responsability and thus is not a legitimate concern.
STEP 4: IDENTIFY YOUR "FEAR WORSENERS".
* Riding with spooky horses nearby
* Riding on slippery footing
* Riding in traffic, crowds or closed spaces
STEP 5: IDENTIFY "FEAR REDUCERS".
* Seeing Starbuck is calm
* Being near other calm horses I know will not spook
* Getting Starbuck's attention
STEP 6: IDENTIFY "SELF-CARE" MEASURES.
* "Practice" getting spooks under control (circling, posture and body relaxation, shoulder-in)
* Practice having correct posture at all times (open knees, dropped heels, shoulders back, hips forward, butt tucked)
* Breathing exercises before and during ride
* Call "the scary side" something else, like "the side they serve booze on" or "the lovely historic mallorcan farmhouse side" or just "the left side"
STEP 7: IDENTIFY EARLY WARNING SIGNS OF FEAR.
* Body gets tense
* Hands shake
* Heart pounding
STEP 8: STATE YOUR LONG-TERM GOAL.
* My goal is to calmly maintain control of and enjoy riding Starbuck outside the stable grounds and on the scary side of the arena.
STEP 9: STATE YOUR SHORT-TERM GOALS.
1.- Breathing exercises - at tying post, after mounting and when I feel myself getting tense.
2.- Practice techniques for spook control without spooky horses in the arena.
3.- Spend time desensitizing Starbuck on scary side of arena.
4.- Cool down after lessons riding in parking lot and roads right outside the stable grounds.
5.- Go on short trail rides with only calm, dependable horses.
STEP 10: PUT IT ALL TOGETHER.
Honestly after putting my thoughts in order in this way, I really do feel more capable of dealing with our current "fear plateau" and am excited have some good goals to work on in the next few weeks. I'll keep you updated.