“Save the bright spots. Save them against the dark days” My dad used to say that.
Hello, my name is Terri and I am a recovering anxiety junkie.
If you have followed my blog at all, you know my mind is a worse runaway than any horse I have ridden. Was. My horse is an anxiety junkie too.
Royal looks my way as I approach, eyes large and soft. I reach up, rub his neck in his favorite places, he stretches out in appreciation. I promised him back in May at Peter’s clinic in Archie, MO that I would never again drop him off a cliff. Never again abandon him in his fear, confusion and pain.
I have so far kept that promise.
Here and there, along the way I have seen bits and pieces of the horse I want to be riding.
At the Mother’s Day ride, on the way home when he finally settled and walked even with horses behind and ahead of us, disappearing and reappearing into view. (Blessed be, Concho. See you on the other side, sweet boy)
At the CTR, when I presented him to the judge, him working from the ground on a loose line, with me every step. Stopping at the Pulse and Respiration checks and him sanely sinking his head, relaxing, untroubled by the comings and goings of the other horses.
That ride a couple of weekends ago with my two great friends.
Golden moments. We have had them from the very start. From the horse who levitated six feet sideways over a shadow on the ground, there was a horse that stepped out bold and strong when his confidence was right.
My plan was to build on those moments until they became a minute, five, ten, an hour, us.
In that process I have had to release my addiction to fear and anxiety. Have had to develop processes to get my mind as soft, easy and in the moment as I want my horse to be.
Yesterday we played on obstacles at the saddle club arena trail course. As always, the obstacles are just another way to find relaxation, to control the footfall of a single step. It’s never about the obstacle.
I began on the ground, sending him through things, helping him not rush, supporting Royal while he figured things out. When the feet get fast, the confidence is gone and the mind shortly behind that.
When I mounted up, I took care to settle his feet before stepping into the saddle. Got him solidly balanced. Peter would shake his head. Of COURSE you get him settled, you get him READY.
Got dinged for not doing that very thing at the CTR. Let my worry become his and he walked off during my awkward offside mount. Had nothing to do with the difficulty of getting on from the side I avoid and everything in the world with my willingness to rush and disregard what I know I need to do to get where I want to go.
Horse stands like a rock. He is unconcerned because his mind is right and his body is balanced.
We work the course. When the anxiety grabs him and he rushes, I catch him. If I miss the timing and he blows through a thing, I don’t hammer on him. I don’t try to get through something bad to get to something good. I set us up, start over and we get it.
I discover he doesn’t want to back through the barrels. At all. At the horse show, I was thinking it was all about his buddy Ringo standing over there and him wanting to focus on that. I find out his claustrophobia sets in and he wants to get out from between the barrels fast, doesn’t want to relax and arc his body around them backward or forward.
Awesome! A fine place to work. We did the barrel game, on the ground, I watch his feet and when his butt skitters out, I set his feet and send him through again. I watch that his body is correct, when his nose points out awkwardly none of the rest is likely to work at all. This part is easier to deal with in the saddle though, keeping a spur handy on that outside.
I play a game, riding his outside front foot. I concentrate on that foot, picking it up and setting it down in such a way that the inside hind comes in and sets down where I want it instead of him shifting his weight to the outside hind and running off with it.
Doesn’t always work, but when it does, he and I both feel it. There is a moment, done with that, we are back to backing and as we come between the barrels to figure eight around the other one, I shift the weight in my hips to set his body up to arc the other way. He instantly shifts with me and is ready. It was sexy. A gorgeous moment. I had to sit there for a moment and absorb the bliss.
Here’s a couple little blips of the stuff we did. Colleen was working the rescue horses in her care as head trainer at the Nebraska Humane society. She put a first ride on a young filly right out there in the obstacle horse. No round pen, no arena and no need for one when you set them up right like she does.
Colleen helped me work on our buddy sour issues, taking her horse away and not bringing her back in til Royal was calm. We still have a very long way to go for that to be completely in place but he stayed manageable and not airborne! Progress!
I look up, and I am a better horseman, friend, wife, mother . . . maybe than I have been in my entire life. I wish I would have found this spot back when my kids were small and could have better benefitted but I am where I am and nothing to be gained by regret except losing the value of the moment. I will be for them now what I couldn’t, back then.
Journey is far from complete. That’s okay, we are going to enjoy the ride, one day at a time and when it gets bumpy, we will find our golden moments and build from there.