This is a pretty personal post so please be gentle. I’ve been feeling a winter riding funk lately. Perhaps it’s the post-holiday let down, although, I was looking forward to a little quiet after the chaos. The cold and rain is not helping. Is it bad that I wish for snow instead of this bleak grey?
I think it started when I hurt my back about a month ago. I don’t even know how I hurt myself. I could barely walk or sit comfortably much less go riding, although I still did of course (with a lot of groaning). I felt much better after some Walk/Trot. Unfortunately I had to ask my trainer to spot me so I could dismount safely from Delight (a 16.3 OTTB)! I did NOT trust myself not to make things worse. Even healthy, it’s a long way down for me when I’m only 5 feet tall.
Luckily, I make a sore muscle rub for my animal clients that happens to work wonders on people too. In addition, my husband showed me some of his exercise tools (foam roller and ball) that helped me perform sports massage on myself. The combination did the trick but I was very slow to ride without shooting nerve pains.
I go through periods as a rider where I plateau or even backslide. It usually is sparked by something minor (like hurting my back mysteriously) and I get in my head and feel like I'm not very good. It's not that I don't want to ride, but that I'm feeling less confident in my abilities. My trainer is the one who pushes me through the rut and is so patient with me. She alternates between holding my hand and pushing me forward. It helps that the horse I ride is amazing and I'm in love with his personality. Delight is young (5 years) but he's consistent, level headed, and makes me laugh. The problem is definitely me and my lack of confidence.
Some people choose to take a step back and take time away from what is causing their anxiety. I did that many years ago and always regretted it. For more on that read my first blog post, My MIddle-Aged Equestrian Reinvention. The problem with taking a step back is you never face what is making you nervous. And that would mean I wouldn’t ride and that is NOT an option. So what is my plan to get out of this rut?
1). I have to own up to what is causing my anxiety. I need to be okay with making mistakes and bounce back. I talk to my trainer, Robin Brennan, and tell her what is in my head. She is not only my trainer but my friend and often, therapist. And her response was perfect, “Get over it.” Because she’s right. I have to go into each lesson and ride with a blank slate. I can’t set myself up for failure. I need to live in the moment. She's the first person to tell me my lack of confidence is the only thing holding me back.
2). I need to ride MORE. Sadly family, work, and finances are often obstacles to that. Winter and its prevalent germs mean that I get a call from the school nurse at minimum once a week. I don't have my own horse (YET), but my goal is to double the time I’m in the saddle over the next few weeks or months. How I’m going to do that I’ve yet to determine.
3). Finally I’m going to focus on the positive. I need to concentrate on how quickly I am able to get Delight off his forehand and on his correct lead, or how good it feels to take a breath and look at the amazing view into the valley. I usually feel better after I ride, and I need to hold on to that feeling.
I am thankful that I get to spend my free time on horseback and do something I love, even if I have some hard days. It's a cliche but it's true: there really never is a bad day on the back of a horse. I hope that some of you can benefit from my diatribe, or at least relate it to something you are going through. Me? I have no doubt I am on my way out of this rut. But winter and rain? I’m over it.
Have you ever had a riding funk? If so, comment below with your methods of getting through it.
Heather Wallace is an Equissage-certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist (ESMT), Certified Canine Massage Therapist (CCMT), and Aromatherapist. She is also the writer and editor for our blog, Bridle & Bone. When she is not spending time with her family or working, Heather can be found playing with her two rescue dogs or helping out at the barn. The best thing that she can imagine is having a career improving the quality of life for horses and dogs alike.