The Whole Picture

It’s amazing to me how sometimes Seemingly Unrelated Things in your life may in fact be Super Related Things.

Back in February, I decided I was done moping around and making martyrish remarks about the fact that I had been out of the equestrian world for years. I contacted a local trainer/barn owner, and was able to take a lesson on a very kind and patient Trakehner gelding. It was the first time my butt had touched an Dressage saddle in about 5 years, and I was ecstatic.

I was also terrified.

Seems a little strange, doesn’t it? Horses have always been my one great passion in life. I have dedicated countless hours to pursuing knowledge and experience in the equine world. But, while my soul took a sigh of relief at the simple prospect of swinging up in to the tack, my imagination was suddenly running wild in the opposite direction.

At first, I tried to dismiss my anxiety, thinking that acknowledging it would only make things worse. I did my best to ignore my increased heart rate, sweaty palms, and upset stomach. Cowboy Up, right? My very first English riding instructor was a former cavalry officer, and riding lessons with him were an exercise in discipline and guts. I learned at a young age to stuff my feelings and put on my game face. Ignoring my sudden and unfamiliar anxiety wasn’t working, though, and things started to get worse.

The butterflies turned into killer bees, and I soon found myself standing on the mounting block and shaking with fear, unable to actually put a foot in the stirrup. When I would finally get on (after minutes of mentally berating myself for being a coward, mind you), I would be as rigid as a board and would have to stand at a halt for a few long minutes while I attempted to get control of my breathing.

My anxiety continued to worsen, and finally got so bad that one day I made the 40-minute drive to the barn only to turn around and drive right back home without even getting out of my car. I was physically ill, and was experiencing such pervasive nausea that I went so far as to take a home pregnancy test (it was negative, of course).

I started seeking advice from other horse people, spent hours reading online articles on fear, and took another lesson with my trainer that simply consisted of us riding together and talking. The lesson helped me considerably, mostly because continually talking meant my breathing was regulated, and it gave me something to focus on other than the all-consuming fear that had taken over my brain. I still wasn’t fully relaxed and confident, though, and the anxiety was back full force the next time I went riding. The nausea kept getting worse and worse, and had become a 24/7 symptom.

Since ignoring it didn’t work, and reading online articles didn’t fix anything, I attempted to “figure out” the root of my anxiety. The only thing I could logically come up with was my weight. Because I was 30 lbs heavier than the last time I seriously rode, I decided that it was my weight and fitness level that were causing me such distress. So, my new mantra became “I love myself where I’m at, and I’ll love myself where I’m at tomorrow.”

Something still wasn’t quite right, though. The nausea just wouldn’t go away. Some days I might be able to trot a circle, but other days I was still unable to simply walk without hyperventilating.

Then, at the end of March, I quit my job.

As abruptly as a power outage, all of the anxiety I was experiencing disappeared. The nausea stopped within minutes of my resignation – so abruptly that I was consciously aware of it. I went to the barn the next day and didn’t even bat an eye at the 40 mph wind gusts that were gracing the area. I didn’t stall out at the mounting block. I trotted all over the damn arena instead of staying on a safe 20m circle at one end. My horse spooked at some barrels that tipped over, and instead of panicking/getting off/avoiding that end of the arena, I simply laughed and walked him over to the barrels so he could investigate them to his heart’s content.

So, what the hell happened? Why did I suddenly go from Nervous Nellie to Xena, Warrior Princess?

It was my job.

See, my job situation had become uncomfortable, to put it lightly. My supervisor had said several inappropriate things to me, and there was a business trip was looming in the distance that I was dreading because it meant he and I would be alone together. Things got so bad that I made the decision to quit, even though I didn’t have a new job lined up.

Now, I’m not a psychologist. I can’t explain why my job anxiety decided to manifest as a fear of the thing I loved the most. All I know is that it did happen.

It’s funny, because many horse people seem to make a hobby out of looking for correlations, whether they make sense or not….

He hates me because all of his blankets are pink.”

She’s dull today, so she must’ve worn herself out in her paddock last night.

“He kicks out at the whip, so someone must’ve abused him before I bought him.”

Your horse is snarky all the time? Probably ulcers. Have you had him scoped?

Seriously, though.

Horse is fussy under saddle? We check teeth, saddle fit, bridle fit, bit fit, have the chiro out, evaluate feed and supplements, call the vet and ask about ulcers. When our horse colics, we wrack our brain trying to come up with a reason – too much feed, not enough feed, wrong kind of feed, poor hay, too good of hay, not enough turnout, turnout with the wrong pasture mates, barometric pressure, new horse on the property, old buddy left the property, the sun is out, the sun is hiding, it’s raining, it’s snowing….you all know what I mean.

I wonder, though, how many of us take the time to think about how our life away from the barn may be affecting our life at the barn. Riding takes a special blend of physical skill, mental prowess, and emotional stability. If just one of those is off-kilter, it’s like riding a tricycle with a flat tire. If more than one is causing you trouble? Better call AAA!

So, the next time you’re hitting a brick wall with your horse (metaphorically, I hope!) take a few seconds of reflection on your entire life. Is there something giving you trouble in another arena (pun intended)? It may not be logically/directly related to your horse, but chances are it could be impacting your riding in a very big way. The good news, though, is that once you’ve identified a problem, you can fix it! The old adage “Plan Your Ride & Ride Your Plan” works surprisingly well for situations of the saddle, too. 😉

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