I was pondering my recent advances in riding on the way to work this week as a way to try to keep my brain from freezing - quite literally, as a matter of fact. I purchased a pair of riding pants last week - not breeches, as most of the horsey-readers would first thing, but actually motorcycle gear. So I broke them in this week in the barely 40 degree weather on my 45 minute commute to work, and it got me thinking.
I credit my motorcycle as a huge part of my recent boost in confidence. I have not been someone who has easily penetrated the "fear" issue in the past. As a matter of fact, I was a bit of a failure as a diver during my high school swim team days, because I had one really bad dive and never got over the mental block that resulted. I was on the precipice of doing the same thing in my riding, and even though we took a multitude of approaches, the fear was always creeping around the edges of my overly-neurotic brain. Until something completely unlikely happened that forever changed the way I approach things.
My husband bought a motorcycle.
I kicked. I screamed. I adamantly protested the dangers of riding a bike, and the inherent danger that accompanied such a reckless hobby. And then I went for a ride around a parking lot on the back. A few days later, I went for a ride around the block. Yet a few days after that, I went for a ride across town. And that was it - I was hooked. A week after we got his bike, I brought home my very own Kawasaki Ninja 250.
It started off slowly - circles around the parking lot at Indian Land High School. Then graduating to the roads inside our neighborhood. I dumped it three times before we finally got smart and lowered it, and I was fine after that. It was terrifying, yet exhilerating at the same time. I remember the first time I rode outside of the neighborhood, for a 1/4 mile stretch before turning back into the neighborhood. I remember thinking I was FLYING....then I looked down and realized the speedometer read 35 miles per hour. Sigh.....
But gradually, I progressed, and with every ride, the fear started to melt away, and I found myself becoming more and more secure. Before I knew it, the newfound confidence began to translate over to my riding. At this point, I still had Delilah, and the majority of our history together had been a hodgepodge of mistrust and doubt, and scary memories we couldn't seem to get past for good. I got my motorcycle in May, and in June started Delilah in training. Slowly, the changes began to take place. It was small things at first - the fact that I was confident enough to ride alone, something which was a rare occurence before. Then I started jumping alone. Then we tackled some small cross country fences. Little by little, my confidence began to grow in the arena of my riding. It wasn't an overnight transformation, but it was tiny pieces here and there. I would feel myself start to tense up with the same old nerves, and I would find myself reflecting on my first bike rides, and the fear I had felt when I had just started out. Simply knowing that I had overcome a fear gave me the reassurance that I could apply the same baby steps to my riding - and I continued to do so.
Then I made the difficult decision to sell Delilah and move on to April, and it gave me an even bigger boost. It was as if the slate was wiped clean, and I was free to start again and build a solid foundation. Now, believe me - it has not meant by any stretch that I intend to have perfect, confidence-blossoming rides from here on out. As a matter of fact, we already had the flatwork "episode" as I refer to it, and just last week, I got launched.
Yep, you got it - I have already fallen off my girl. Go figure, right? Confidence begins blossoming, and then my horse has a near-meltdown, then a few weeks later I have a pretty good fall. But here's the thing - it hasn't scared me. If anything, it has given me even more motivation to overcome and progress, because I am bound and determined to keep the clean slate, and to never be afraid of my horse again.
We were schooling a few cross-country jumps last Wednesday over at my instructor's farm. Robyn wasn't feeling great, so I hacked down to ride with Kelsey, and we started with big conditioning trot sets around the farm. Then Kelsey started schooling a few cross-country coops, and I couldn't possibly resist doing a few myself. We hopped the coop into the paddock, then hopped the little bank-coop going uphill - that was fun! April sprung over it very cat-like, but we took it smoothly and ended up skipping the idea of doing it downhill. We haven't graduated to a downhill bank with that degree of steepness yet! I walked back around and into the paddock, and that's where I made the wrong decision. I decided to try the skinny coop sitting right in the middle of the paddock. When I say skinny, I mean a pretty darn narrow coop, without a wing in sight. April has never refused anything I pointed her at, so I didn't figure there would be any issues whatsoever. We picked up a forward trot, took a nice, straight approach, and....runout. Ooops!!! I circled around again, concentrating on using a lot of leg to tunnel her to the fence without another runout and.... Runout. Again. This time it was so quick and dodgy, left-right, left-right, it really shocked me when she managed to dart out at the last second. At this point, Kelsey had noticed our struggling and came to assist, by having us walk to the base of the fence and halt on a perfect straight approach, then circle around at a trot and come again. April dodged, back and forth, left to right, all the way to the fence. I answered with the proper leg, each time she tried to run out, all the way to the fence, and then, she sprung into the air....in a BIG way. Not only did she leap the coop as if it were a four foot solid wall, she was still in the process of dodging around, so her takeoff was totally crooked, and I was thrown off-balance to the left. I briefly contemplated saving myself from falling, and quickly decided that bailing off would probably be less traumatizing to her than trying to haul myself back up on landing. That was all fine and dandy, and I landed on both feet, but given her crooked mid-air jump, she ended up landing crooked as well... As I looked up, I saw hindquarters swinging towards me and made the split decision to fall/roll out of harm's way, and 95% of my body obeyed that plan. My right leg, however, somehow seemed to plant itself firmly to the ground, and I ended up bending it in a direction that legs really shouldn't be bent.
Poor April. She ran around in circles for a minute or two, trying to sort out what the heck had happened. Seeing as how she came from a 2* rider before me, and a 4* rider before that, I can only imagine she is used to the humans staying ON her back and not flying off. **Sigh** I stood up to catch her, and my knee buckled underneath me. CRAP. I hopped one legged and caught my horse, and tried to walk it off. Somewhere between standing up and catching my mare, adrenaline kicked in, and I was able to put some weight on my knee again. I remounted and we enjoyed a relaxed hack back home to cool off, seeing as how my knee was not about to hold up to anymore jump schooling.
I had to take the next four days off - a combination of the busted knee, weather, and projects around the farm that demanded my attention. Monday evening rolled around, and I was dying to get back to riding again. I tacked up, mounted, and proceeded to have the most glorious flatwork school that we have ever had on our own without an instructor present. It was a phenomenal ride - relaxed, balanced, soft - everything I could possibly ask for. Before I knew it, I was headed towards a little vertical to get it under our belt, since I had gotten launched the last time we jumped. She picked up a steady canter, hopped the vertical, and landed in a soft, balanced, and relaxed canter. I was grinning all the way back to the barn.