A few days ago, after my successful execution of my first emergency dismount, I was feeling pretty happy with myself, and added that skill to my little toolbox.   But I guess my spill off Mads a couple weeks ago, coupled with Chester’s bolt, left me more shaken in the confidence department than I originally guessed.

I scampered out to the barn on Saturday, eager to ride Stephanie’s horse, Oliver, and for a make up lesson with Christy on Atlanta.  And I actually had my best ride to date on Oliver, getting more relaxation, stretching and bending from him than I’ve achieved in previous rides.   Mentally, I was OK while riding Oliver – maybe a little nervous but really, nothing too bad.

After putting Oliver away, I fetched Atlanta, tacked up, and joined Christy in the arena.  I got on Atlanta, who is a consummate pro — and started to melt down.

I don’t know why, I let things get to me on Saturday.  I heard the wind, I was tense because someone had let some dogs into the barn and they were making a racket — all little, routine things that frankly would have set Maddie off, but didn’t phase the extremely experienced and well-educated mare underneath me.

The fact that Atlanta was ignoring all of these little nuisances was of precious little comfort to me.  As I walked Atlanta on a long rein, with Christy along side me on Liam, I stopped chit-chatting as I felt my chest tightening and my heart rate increasing.

What was going on?

I tried to breathe, but could feel myself getting more and more upset.  Now I was feeling sick, now I wasn’t really breathing, now there were tears in my eyes.   Christy asked me what was wrong, and when I didn’t respond verbally she knew something was up.

Meanwhile, Atlanta plodded along, pretty much on the buckle and totally unconcerned.

Just to add fuel to the fire, I started getting upset with myself for getting upset.  My nerves were jangling, I was on red alert, noticing every little distraction and noise.  I felt like I had finely tuned, extra-sensory perception because I was hearing every little sound – and, inexplicably, everything was getting to me in a way I have never experienced.  As we continued plodding around the arena, I became totally consumed with fear. I had a huge lump in my throat, my chest was constricted and I was taking choking breaths and sobbing.

Atlanta and Liam continued to plod along, being good sports despite probably being bored out of their skulls.

I have no idea what happened to me on Saturday afternoon, or why.  Was it an anxiety attack, or panic? I have no clue.   I’ve never had anything like this happen to me – this came out of left field.   I was completely unprepared for this bout of fear, and I was stunned by my physical response – both the sheer scale of it, and the way it crept up involuntarily, and then seemed to snowball.

After walking around for God only knows how long, I started to regain my composure and asked Atlanta to trot.  I hovered in two point, doing my damnedest to keep panic at bay.  I posted a bit, I practiced standing to change my diagonals – it wasn’t brilliant riding by any stretch, but at least I was still on the horse.  After a few minutes of jogging around, Atlanta started moving bigger,  and I became very unsettled.  Things got ugly as I decided to abandon my carefully honed dressage posture and tried instead to curl into the fetal position.    With nonstop coaching from Christy, I was able to uncurl myself for a few short moments.  Shortly thereafter,  I called it a day.

Back in the aisle, as I untacked, I was angry and frustrated.  I freaked out while walking on one of the steadiest horses I’ll ever ride.  In addition to being very well trained, Atlanta also speaks English.  If I forget how to half-halt, sit my butt in the saddle or use the reins, I just need to peep “Whoa” in the direction of her ears and she stops.  I can’t emphasize enough how incongruous my fear was with respect to the ride I had on Saturday.


I was determined to ride today, but wasn’t enthusiastic about it.  Even at home, munching cereal and reading my new issue of Dressage Today, I was feeling trepidatious.   Once I arrived at the barn  I proceeded to procrastinate but eventually mind won out over stupidity and I brought Atlanta in.  I tacked up, and, for good measure, stuck my thigh blocks on Cathy’s saddle (she has a Bates Isabell, and my Wintec Isabell blocks work fine on her saddle) to give me some additional security, and hopped aboard.

I was feeling nervous and squirrelly, once again hearing every little crack, clank and rattle in the barn.  Once again, Atlanta was unconcerned.  Happily, I didn’t experience another mental and physiological freak out today, and I had a nice – albeit totally unchallenging – ride today.  We walked and trotted, did a little shoulder-fore, trotted some figure-8s and some 20m circles, spiraling in and out a little bit.  I didn’t ride the mare really forward, but it was more than her warm up jog.  I made a point of maintaining good posture, with my shoulders back, and posting hips-to-hands to accommodate Atlanta’s bigger gaits.

I still felt out of sorts – and frankly, I still do, even as I write this.  I’m headed out of town for a few days for work.  I hope I can return mentally refreshed, and ready to finally sit up and ride.

About Sarah Skerik
Sarah Skerik is an experienced digital business executive and strategist with a long track record of success in team leadership, employee development, marketing and business development.

5 Responses to Inexplicable

  1. dressage rider says:

    Sorry, the links got a little messed up. Click on the blue “and” above to read about my experience. In the comment section is Calm, Straight, Forward’s link and experience.

  2. I’m really sorry-fear suuuuucks, I know. When I’m feeling less than 100% confident, honestly, I take a break from riding. Not forever…maybe a week or so. I still go out to the barn and do groundwork and stuff, and before you know it I’m craving the saddle again. Just a thought…don’t pressure yourself! You’re a great rider and so many people go through something similar it’s ridiculous. Take care~

  3. There’s no accounting for our feelings. They are what they are. Not always rational but powerful none the less. Lee is right. It does seem to be something in the air. I remember reading both of those posts too.

    The only thing I can say to help at all is I know that being mad at yourself for such a reaction will not help. It will only add to the stress that caused this in the first place and you don’t want to be doing that. Less stress is what you need to get free of such reactions.

    While fear is a good thing in judicious amounts it can grab onto other things in our life and make stuff seem so much worse. We all must learn to manage our fear when we ride or people would never ride horses. Unfortunately our fear can get out of balance when some kind of incident happens and we’ve all been there. Getting the fear back into balance after that is a process, just like anything else related to horses. Good luck to you as you deal with this.

  4. Pingback: Unblocked « Collecting Thoroughbreds

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