Last weekend, I had what I think was my first, honest to goodness, anxiety attack. It was a strange experience. It hit me during the first day of the Hawley Bennett clinic. I had watched most of the morning and knew what to expect, but when it came time for me to tackle the early exercises, I found myself in an unfamiliar headspace. I was hesitant, off center and lacking confidence.
There was no logical reason for this. These were all exercises I was capable of in the arena I ride in every day, jumps I’ve jumped before, surrounded by friends and under the guidance of a clinician who’s experience I value and trust. In hindsight, I can see it wasn’t about anything going on in the ring. It was all due to external, non-barn related stuff. Some big and some small: deadlines at work, an unexpected visit from the in-laws, knowing I needed to get an oil change but not knowing when I could find time to make that happen and ohmygodwhatifmycarblowsuponthewayhomeandandand — cue a cloud of uncomfortable awkwardness clinging to my psyche like burrs in polo wraps. To my surprise, I made it through without any great tragedies; no falls or tears.
That night at the barn, a few of us went through the day’s photos. I was surprised by what I saw of myself. The moments in time that had been captured told a vastly different story when compared to what it had felt like. I had not expected to see that my position has shifted considerably for the better since the last time I really sat down and looked with an analytical eye. Earl, Jen and Hawley pointed out that I don’t jump ahead as much as I think I do. I have started to figure out how to give through my elbow a bit more. Overall, I am consistent.
Once at home, I shared the photos with my husband. In one of the pictures, I am pulling a terrible face. You can read my expression loud and clear. It was an awkward distance, and I am convinced of my impending doom. Having a laugh and making fun of myself, I quoted the car crash scene in Talledega Nights when Will Ferrell’s character Ricky Bobby is appealing to all things holy to save him. I pulled up the scene on YouTube and had a realization.
That scene is exactly where I was in my mind during my mini freak out, except without the whole stripping down to underwear and a helmet bit. Absolutely nothing was wrong; I was riding well and I probably seemed insane. I was surrounded by people who could see that I was, in fact, not on fire.
The kicker for me was when Cal, Ricky’s teammate and BFF, comes charging up the track to save Ricky. I had forgotten about that part since I last watched the movie. Stupidly enough, while watching the scene again, I had a realization. Over the last 20 years, my BFF Stephanie and I have traded off on playing Ricky and Cal roles. That’s the essence of someone who has your back, no matter what’s going on. This time, in addition to Stephanie, I had a whole team of Cals there to help me put the invisible fire out while we went through the photos.
The next day of the clinic featured more challenging exercises, including ones that called back to the skinny chevrons that had been the trigger for the previous day’s angst. The anxiety of the previous day threatened to bubble to the surface, but I was able to keep it in check, and I felt like I was riding a thousand times better.
The final course included a tricky coffin series, ending on a skinny chevron — something I had been intermittently worrying about. When we turned toward it, I felt my stomach tighten. I stretched taller and whispered to myself: “Tom Cruise, use your witchcraft to get me through this line.”
In that instant, the looming dread gave over to a smirk. Even with an awkward distance in, my mare sailed through it without any hesitation. There would be no invisible flames today.
Go Team DF. Go Ricky Bobby. Go Eventing.