I’ll never forget those warm summer days that my family and I spent on Bear Island, on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. My grandparents owned a small rustic cabin on the island where my family would gather frequently for weekends. Seeing how nobody owned iPhones, iPads, televisions, or anything remotely resembling an electronic device in the cabin, we found other ways to amuse ourselves and to pass time!
As children, my sisters and I literally could not wait to run over to the “mail dock” every morning where we would anxiously await the mail boat, which not brought us the boring and dull mail, but was fully stocked with ice cream and candy. We would purchase a delicious and gooey snack and we all participated in a long standing tradition only held on Bear Island.
Each kid would stake out their piling in preparation. Once everyone claimed their piling, they would either shimmy their way up the five foot pole, or ask for a leg up from a neighbor. After the candy and stamp purchases were complete, the boat would start backing up, but beyond the normal distance needed to back, in order to make a gigantic wave for the eager teens waiting to jump off, catapult, elegantly dive, or what have you, into the crisp lake.
Surprisingly, I was never concerned about diving into the lake after the boat passed. I was however pretty terrified of sitting on a piling with a diameter about as large as a basketball while I waited for the boat to move. I would crouch on the piling, while the boat gently knocked against the large pillars, giving me an uneasy feeling, considering there was at least a five foot drop with cement behind me.
I usually had my father stand behind me as he anchored me into a secure position. As a young kid, this was terrifying, and yet I kept going back for more. I was determined to experience the end result, even though the getting there was frightening.
Which brings to my next point. Eventing, at times seems terrifying, and yet we know what we are literally signing up for and we obviously want to partake in such a sport, otherwise we would not do it…right? And yet, inevitably there are going to be times where we are extremely scared, terrified, sort of nervous, and the list goes on.
Let’s be honest here, we all are afraid of a certain distance, or a certain jump, or a certain kind of horse, or a certain number of strides, or other related distances, or corners, or coffins. I don’t care if you have been around Rolex eight times, or you are just going novice for the first time, we all have fears. So, what do we do about it? How do we conquer certain fears? How do we get over specific phobias? How do we re-train ourselves and our minds?
In a recent jump lesson, I realized I am nervous, and anxious about jumping something off of a hard left turn, or angling a jump going to the left. At first I didn’t realize where this fear came from, which made me more insecure. But after a couple months now of intense winter homework and getting regular jumping instruction from an amazing mentor, I have come to realize that the right side of my body does not work as effectively as the left side of my body.
Consequently, making difficult left turns to jumps can be problematic when I have limited right side aids helping to guide and support my horse. Which ultimately boiled down to a lack of strength issue.
Almost immediately after this realization, not only did I practice these sort of turns in my flatwork, but I joined a gym to strengthen the right side of my body and to become a stronger, more agile and effective rider. Suddenly, my fears started to dissipate. I am not a fearless rider by any means, but I am willing to dig deep in order to understand my fears, where they originate from, and then grow from that experience.
We all have insecurities. Not a single rider in this world is completely fearless. We might know some arrogant individuals who come across as valiant, but deep down, there are some worries, some fears, some insecurities, which is completely acceptable in my book. Seriously, people…think about this.
Take some 130 pound female, galloping on her 1200 pound irish sport horse towards a table seven feet in width and four feet tall. Maybe 90% of the time they are spot on, and nail their distance and the horse jumps in perfect form. But what if that girl misses? Or what if that horse accidentally hangs a leg…or what if, what if, what if?
We are never going to be indestructible robots without emotion, or without some kind of fear. We are human after all and will make mistakes from time to time. I think the only way to get over fear is to practice what you are afraid of in varying degrees. Don’t scare yourself more by practicing something that seems out of your reach.
Practice something that seems doable and that you can succeed at. Once you have conquered the smaller steps, try raising the bar, just incrementally, and only when you and your horse are ready. We might not ever truly get over all of our fears, but we can set ourselves up for success by creating situations that seem scary, but that are actually doable. Over time, what may seem unattainable might actually become routine.