The F Word

No, not THAT F word! Or that one either! The one I am referring to is the F word that can end a riding career, ruin a good rider, sell a perfectly good horse, even deem a great horse “unrideable.” I’m talking about FEAR. All encompassing, paralyzing, heart-pounding FEAR.

It is neither logical nor rational. It cannot simply be wished away. Once it has taken hold, you cannot simply wake up and decide NOT to be afraid. No, fear in its most lethal form is harder to get rid of than mosquitoes on a bayou. It locks on, digs in, and just when you think it has finally been vanquished, it reappears in all its panicky glory.

As riders, and especially as eventers, we deal with dangerous, sometimes scary situations probably more than we would like to admit. Let’s face it, there is a reason why the Eventing Nation slogan is “Red on right, white on the left, and insanity in the middle!” It takes a little bit of crazy and a whole lot of guts to do what we eventers do, no matter what level you are riding.

Our four-legged, flight instinct, 1200-pound partners have wills and minds of their own. It is exactly that uncertainty that makes eventing the high adrenaline sport that it is. As a popular meme reminds us, the “ball” in our sport could at any moment decide to do its own thing, be it take off running, throw a bucking fit or simply refuse a jump.

Whether or not you come off the horse, any or all of these elements can produce fear. If the unthinkable happens and an injury occurs, well, that’s just another opportunity for the F word to come calling. Hopefully you dust yourself off, get back on and live to ride another day. However, there is no logic to how or when the fear will surface. It does not follow the rules. Once it attacks, it is extremely difficult to conquer.

I have ridden for the majority of my life starting as a very young child. I was always the brave kid. It did not matter how big the horse was or how fast he could run away. I jumped bareback with nothing but a halter, shorts and tennis shoes in a public park. (Kids, don’t try this at home!) Dare me to do something, and I’d probably do it. Fear was NOT in my vocabulary.

Coming back to riding as an adult after some time off to graduate from college, get married, etc, was a completely different story. Suddenly I was timid. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go mach 10 with my pants on fire, or even mach 1 for that matter! The 18 inch X-rails looked like six-foot stone walls.  I was (gasp!) afraid!

Somehow I managed to soldier on. I did some competing, not very successfully or bravely, but I did it. The fear was always there. Eventually,  I leased a horse, and one day the fear got the better of me, and I got hurt. Hurt enough that it required surgery and a lot of time off.

I hated not riding. HATED IT! After I made the decision that I was ready to ride again, I thought I wouldn’t jump or event anymore; I would just do dressage. I was OK with that. I just wanted to ride. Sometimes just a forward, lengthened trot was scary. It sounds like such a cliché, but some days really were good, and some days really were bad. Occasionally I would think the fear was gone. When I least expected it to come back, it would. Still I continued to ride. Still the fear was there.

I bought a horse. My love story with that wonderful horse named Syd is a story for another time. This story is about fear. Even at my most venerable, Syd stood with me. As fabulous as he is, I still rode with fear, until … until I found a remarkable trainer. A trainer I clicked with who believed in me and my horse enough for me to start to believe in myself.

She knew just how much pushing I could take and when I was truly panicking versus just being a little wimpy. She helped me vanquish the fear. We did it slowly, surely, and without being in a hurry. Our only goal was to overcome my fear. It did not happen immediately; it took time, and it took patience, and it took a lot of sweaty saddle pads. But I did it! I won the battle over my fear.

Today I am a completely different rider. I am not the fearless, stupid, reckless rider I was when I was a child. I am also not the fearful, timid, backward rider I started out to be as an adult. Today I am a confident, going places, safe rider. I am able to learn and grow because I am not always worried. I am able to focus on how I am riding instead of always looking to hit the ground.

A great trainer and a great horse made all the difference for me. I kept pushing and kept working until gradually my relationship with the F word became a thing of the past. I am hoping it will stay that way for the rest of my riding career.