Ok so I got chucked off Amber twice in the warm up at Somerford and broke my ankle. Turned out her saddle air bag had deflated and the saddle was jabbing her in the back, so fair enough. But in the meantime I have had 7 weeks of not riding her while she was sent to bootcamp.
I spent a fair chunk of those 7 weeks replaying the falls – or more to the point the ‘what the hell is happening’ moments before the falls when Amber behaved totally out of character. I have had her for 3 years and logic would dictate that 3 years of non-bronccing Amber would outweigh a few seconds of bronccing Amber – especially as there was a reason. But there was an unavoidable psychological phenomenon at play called the recency effect. Which basically means that the most recent thing to happen is given more weight and importance in our minds than older information/experiences. A reason why ‘finishing on a good note’ is just as important for riders as it is for horses and why the ‘good note’ should be a good FEELING not just a correct response.
Anyway the recency effect has meant that everytime I have thought about riding Amber I have experienced anxiety which has led to another unavoidable psychological phenomenon of ‘mood congruent memory’. Basically when we are sad we remember other sad things, when we are angry we remember all the other things that have wound us up. And when we are anxious about riding our horses we remember all the other times we have felt anxious on a horse.
So anxious feelings lead to anxiety provoking memories which lead to more anxious feelings etc etc. And far too much time for that all to play out.
Into this unhelpful mix was added the feedback from the trainer which was essentially that Amber is very difficult to ride, headstrong, overly brave, opinionated, very sensitive and really not suited to an amateur at all.
Now this is not really news. I realized a long time ago that Amber is talented, brave, strong, opinionated and ginger! So I needed to seriously up my game if I was going to keep her. And a long time ago I made the choice that for better or for worse, she is my horse, I love her and I am going to stick with her. I just need to learn to ride her.
But that conversation in that frame of mind left me 90% convinced that it was time to sell on. For both our sakes. Only every time I considered actually putting her up for sale I’d start crying! Plus I was aware of the recency effect and realised that now is not the time to make decisions. I needed to get back on her and see how things felt once we were back out there having fun together.
And today I rode! I used an old Mark Rashid mantra: turn your fear into gratitude. I focused on how incredible it is that strong, athletic, powerful horses let us climb up onto them and ask them to do things for us that are of no benefit to them. And that mostly they co-operate. I also used Tik Maynard’s philosophy of approaching your horse with softness and politeness, always ask nicely and saying thank-you. Mental approaches that – along with mindfulness and breathing – allowed me to feel confident getting on her. And once I was up there it was like I’d never been away. She was relaxed, she was listening, she was obedient. For flatwork anyway. Jumping was another matter…… But we have sorted that out before and can again.
The most important thing is I now have a new ‘most recent ride’ and it was one that left me happy. And brought back all those other happy memories of happy times on my amazing horse. Onwards and upwards…..