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Fear of showing after falling

Hi Franklin,

At my first show (in the hunter ring) I fell off and had to go to the hospital, after that, I moved to a different stable and trained under a different instructor. I have started showing again, but get very worked up at shows. My trainer tells me to relax, but I dont know how to in those situations. I still very much want to show, but I want it to be an enjoyable experience for me and my horse when were in the hunter ring. Any suggestions?

Thanks, Jessica

Hi Jessica,

Consider asking yourself this question; "What do I love most and where is my main interest? Is it 'showing' or do I have an interest my 'horse' itself?" There is a difference. What happens is that humans (and especially youngsters) get so involved in riding lessons and showing, that behavorial issues with horses and simply gaining knowledge about horses (their psychology, language, natural behaviors, training techniques, etc.) of their horses gets overshadowed in favor of going for that 'show.' Generally this is beacause riding instructors only teach riding (from the "show him you are the boss" school of horsemanship) and push showing to push more lessons. Often they do not teach anything about horses beyond maintenance, saddling and riding. It is MOST COMMON that the vast majority of young people with their own horses may be OK riders, but know NOTHING about their horses (beyond riding, saddling, grooming and maintenance). The same goes for many, many riding instructors. They never seem to teach 'horse' along with the human activity of riding. I think riding should be the last thing humans develop with horses. It should be the icing on the cake of a relationship with a horse and not the beginning. It is sad but a true fact.

Knowledge dispels fear. Your fears are based on self-preservation and that you had a fall. Not a bad thing to want to keep yourself safe and not want to become injured. This is certainly reasonable and to be expected. A healthy fear of not wanting physical harm is a good thing. What will help get you over your fears is, first off, gaining some good knowledge about horses, their psychology, language, training techniques, natural ways of being, their desire for leadership and how to provide that for your horse, their fear reactions to confusion, frustration or pain and what is to be expected in various situations with horses (like when their rider comes off). None of this has been taught you by any riding instructor you have had to date. Your current instructor doesn't seem to have a clue how to get you over a natural fear you have acquired from your fall. What a shame....

Showing in hunter-jumper classes is a thrill indeed. But as English riding has so many traditional aspects to it, some good and some not so good, those traditions often neglect a good and solid, mutually successful approach to communication with your horse. For them, it is all about 'taking control' and being in charge. That is about as far away from what should be happening as could be. You need to be in 'partnership' with your horse, like dance partners with you leading the dance. It is not about control. You will not be able to lead any dance with a horse until you gain knowledge about their psychological makeup and a few training techniques. An understanding about how and when to reward a horse for tries at compliance is essential. It is never taught by riding instructors. Please consider there is a world of the horse you have not even considered before and it does not include you riding the horse. I want you to ride and show again. I want you to gain your confidence back and overcome your fears. You will begin to do this by learning about horses. You can easily gain a lot of information by viewing a training dvd or two. Many good ones are found in the backs of all horse magazines. I have several in the shopping corral of my website that would prove very helpful to you. No matter whose you get, get several, watch them and learn about appropriate ways of being with and handling horses. Also, reading books on training techniques and equine psychology would help you a lot too. Learn some good information about horses and from that you will begin to understand how to make appropriate choices and requests, what to do when the horse shows fear and a whole lot more useful information. Next step would be for you to learn to play with your horse on the ground in real time and do it a lot. Way beyond lungeing for warm up, ground play and round pen 'at liberty' play is the greatest thing you can do to begin to really bond with your horse (I'll bet you think you have a bond. But real relationships with horses are formed on the ground through mutually successful action and interaction over a fair amount of time). A real bond with a horse is based upon mutual trust and respect. It must begin on the ground. Many of the 'traditional' English riders I come across discount any ground interaction more than lungeing a horse for warm up in favor of riding as soon as possible and showing the horse who is 'the boss.' If a rider falls, they don't have a clue about the real reason it happened and what they can do to help prevent that in the future. Most often the horse is blamed (reality is, 99% of the time it is human error). It is so easy not to take responsibility for the things that happen in our lives, the good and the bad. Horses are always innocent, like big children. Its important not to make them afraid (their first response to most anything). Most young riders are not prepared to 'show' before they are encouraged to do so by ambitious riding instructors and overly pushy and competative parents. This may not be your situation. But it is most common.

I can guarantee you that if you will take a month or two and focus on somehow gaining knowledge about the horse itself, learning to play on the ground with your horse, going back to the basics of your riding instruction with a new mind-set gained from your new knowledge of horses, you will DEFINATELY HAVE OVERCOMED THE MAJORITY OF YOUR FEARS. Any residual fear will be washed away through some practice over low jumps first and then jump courses you might encounter in shows. You will have gained a relationship of trust and respect with your horse that you do not have even an idea about what is possible at this time. You will have communication with your horse that is two-way, mutually successful, efficient and conscious all the time. You will not project on to your horse anything inappropriate (most always done by humans, all the time). You will be more self-aware as to how you are with your horse no matter on the ground or in the saddle. You will be more sensitive to how your horse is (feeling) at any moment and be able to respond appropriately as it's good leader. Please focus on helping your horse trust you through ground play and your wonderfully guided interaction that is mutually successful, where the horse is immediately rewarded for compliance. Your horse wants to give you it's best (because you are it's great leader). It wants the same effort from you (your best). How can you give your best to something when you don't really understand it or it's needs? Your best would be first learning something about them. Please consider the WORLD OF HORSES w/o the human riding them, just for a little while. This will help you heal tremendously and accelerate your equestrian and horsemanship abilities beyond your imagination. If you love horses and really care beyond the 'showing' and even 'riding' aspects of them, if you focus on gaining the knowledge and education for a little while, this will dramatically enhance and improve your life overall, not to mention your life with your horse. Developing mutual TRUST is the single most important thing you will ever do with your horse! Your horse, and all horses that come into your sphere, will be attracted to you, will want to comply with your requests and will want to share themselves with you if you really share yourself with them beginning with gaining knowledge about them. This is showing and sharing respect, maturity, wisdom and clarity and, most importantly, compassion for them and yourself. Please show this email to your folks and/or friends who care about you and horses for their feedback as well. I would love to hear any input that anyone has. Please keep me posted......

Sincerely, Franklin

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