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.