How to get brave and stay brave

I am 85% brave. I still have my moments when I’m super scared in the saddle, and many times when I revert to my bad habit of leaning forward and becoming a passenger instead of a rider. See exhibit A from a hunter pace last year. I was trying to brave but going into my natural panic position. I’m in the middle, tipping forward like a mad woman.

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So that is my go to. Before all this Covid Lockdown shit I had some excellent lessons with Julie Clark where I got some great tools for my tool bag. I had been at the barn in between Krystal Point and Cedar Peaks and although the arena was lovely, it could be echoey and there was always snow prepared to fall off the roof. Knowing this put me on edge immediately and I always started out my rides nervous. My lessons with Julie at that barn were helpful, I got jumping and cantering tiny jumps again but I needed hand holding and adult supervision to have a successful ride.

While I was at that barn, in between Julie lessons, I got some adult supervision from another amazing coach. I finally asked her to get on Cisco when I had a mini melt down. She got on and wasn’t afraid to give Cisco a what-for. Essentially Cisco was giving me the middle finger and instead of being a good 20 year old been there done that girl, she was going sideways (albeit slowly) and refusing to trot and flipping her head. A few kicks and a tail swish from Cisco and she moved out and forward like she can. Note to self, have pro get on your horse every now and then.

When we moved into Cedar Peaks, Julie got on her to give her a tour of the new arena. She had never been on Cisco before even though we’d had several lessons, and it was so interesting to watch Cisco react for another pro riding her. It also gave Julie the opportunity to feel what Cisco does and allows her to coach me through the sass better. There was only a tiny bit. Sissy didn’t dare.

Julie got on Cisco to give her a positive and professional experience before I got on the first time in a new arena.

Julie went away to the World Equestrian Centre in March and left me with some homework, including “watch videos of Charlotte Dujardin and channel her posture and try to ride like her!” It works! Julie also videoed some of my lessons and just seeing what I was doing was such a big help. In one canter lesson she tried about twenty different ways of saying shoulder back, or sit tall, and none of them seemed to get the right reaction. Finally she said “flat back, like you’re holding a plank”. Click. That worked! Sometimes it just takes the right way of phrasing something to make things click.

Short video of Julie coaching me cantering and using a new phrase that made me keep my shoulders back.

I had a saddle fitter out. I know her sass is not because of pain, though a new, better fitting saddle is on its way and will improve our riding all around. I promise I’ll have a list to go with the title of how to be brave and stay brave in a minute. Now it’s just a collection of stories. Stick with me. Top up your gin.

Since my two back to back lessons with Julie in March before she went to WEC and then we had a shut down of the barn, we have had minimal to 0 sass in our rides. I should qualify and say I was riding regularly until the barn closed without adult supervision, as Julie was in isolation after returning from Ohio and wasn’t coming out to teach. Then with the barn only open to staff, I work at the barn Saturdays and one night check each week so I do take the chance to ride those days. I don’t go any other time, but since I’m already there, why wouldn’t I keep my horse a bit fit?

So going back to minimal to 0 sass: she’s still got some. She’s still a princess. Mostly when I try to hack her down the hill away from her friends, or out to the outdoor ring and all her friends are inside. She gives me a bit of grief about going near a big bag of dirt that will apparently eat her, or reminds of some evil, oversized shavings bag. I’ve hand walked her past it, let her touch it, made her touch it, etc etc, and she still wants to part of it. So she hasn’t given up all sass, but I make sure to win even if I have to get off, lead her past and get back on and ride back in the other direction.

My journey to being a brave rider is still tested regularly. When Cisco looks at something, when there is a loud noise, when I’m riding outside and away from her friends. But I have some tips that I have gathered over the years and put into practice to help me go from perched on a saddle and terrified to walk, to finishing a baby horse trial, to riding outside walk-trot-canter, and doing it well, on our first try to wanting to jump instead of saying, naw, let’s leave it there.


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