Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trail Training Newsletter #120 - Arena Success with Cole

Arena Success with Cole
I wrote last month about the trouble I had riding Cole on the scary end of the arena. Cole was fine. The problem was me. We had so many reasons to stay away from the scary end when I first started to ride him, that now I was petrified to go there. He no longer spooked there anymore than any other place, but every time I tried to ride him over there, I got that panicked feeling in my stomach and couldn’t breathe.

This state of affairs bothered me so much. I wasn’t afraid to take him on the trail—we have trotted and cantered out there with great success. Just walking full laps around the arena was scarier than driving on a snowy street—something I do a lot this time of year. I couldn’t even imagine trotting. In my head, I pictured him bolting once he got around the corner and running to our barn door.


I knew I could handle his arena spooks. I have had plenty of experience with them, and I can get him to stop right away. I love to trot—particularly fast. If he decided to trot fast on that end, what would be the big deal? I have lounged and led him there, plenty, and he now gave me very little trouble. What was the problem? Irrational fear. I was frustrated with myself.

When I started this month, I could ride him at a walk if Kevin was by my side. A few evenings when I rode, I did wander over there by myself for a minute or two. I was so proud of myself.

I practiced in my head what I wanted to do, and when I would mount up, all those awful feelings would come back. I would use any excuse I could find to stay on the safe side. This had to end.

Now, there is something odd that happens to me at times. When horses intimidate me, I will say to myself that I won’t try whatever it is that I am afraid to do, and then in the next minute, I find myself doing it.

I am like my cat, Thunder, when I put something scary on the floor, he doesn’t want to investigate it, but can’t resist. He stretches his neck out but braces his body so he could jump back in a moment’s notice. That was me—but that is no way to ride a horse! A horse needs a confident rider, or he will want to jump back at a moment’s notice, too.

One evening, I decided ahead of time that I would mount right up and ride to the scary side and do my walking warm up, there. I made it three quarters to the end, circled back and made it all the way there! I then did large and small circles for about 5 minutes. This was a major breakthrough! I then did all my trotting on the safe side.

The next day I was at the barn, the weather was lovely for December, so I decided to take him for a walk on the hill. Even though I lounged him first, he was awful. When I got back, I was able to turn him outside to romp around. He ran and bucked and ran for several minutes. Then he was happy. I brought him in. No wonder he was bad on the hill—he had an excess of energy to burn off.

I brought him in and hung around talking to Kevin. I then had an inspiration—I would ride! He would be settled down from his running, and the arena was empty. They would be starting the afternoon feeding, soon, so I didn’t know how much time I would have, but I would at least get to warm up on the scary end, again.

I mounted and went straight over, rode some circles at a walk and felt pretty good. I went back to the safe end and started my trotting. Even with all the distractions from the people that were in the barn, he did pretty well. In fact, he started to do great for such a green horse.

I decided to see how far along the wall I could get to the scary end before stopping. We made it past the three quarter mark. I then walked the rest of the way back to safety. We trotted about, some more, and then I decided to try it again. I knew how far I could make it, so I decided to push to the corner and if I wanted, I could stop there. I made it to the corner, and decided to keep going to the center of the wall on that end. Three strides later, I was there—and decided to keep going to then next corner. He was fine, so I didn’t stop. I went around the corner, figuring I could stop there. Well, I didn’t. I just kept going. I made a whole lap. At that point, I decided to try it again—using the same plan. In the end, I did three and a half laps. I only stopped when Cole decided to stop on the scary end on his own—and didn’t want to go any further. I gently convinced him that he needed to go on, and we got back to the safe end. We walked a little more and then quit for the day.

I felt so great. I knew that, though I would still have to battle the fear for a little while longer, I had a new starting point. I felt as good as I did the first day we went on the trail, the first day we trotted and the first day we cantered on the trail. This was a big first day—I trotted laps. Soon, we will be going around and around, and I won’t give it a second thought.

Fear may be irrational, but it doesn’t have to be permanent.

1 comment:

achieve1dream said...

I suffer from a couple of irrational fears (they may even be phobias) so I understand how you were feeling. Congrats on facing your fear and pushing through!