A Stable Place: When anxiety strikes

You know how sometimes when you’re riding it feels like a bunch of fluttering butterflies have taken up residence in your tummy? Oh, yes, Stacie Rosenblatt can relate.

From Stacie:

There is a point in our lives where we all think we are weird, different, or just plain wrong, and then find out that we’re not alone at all. Sometimes this is a depressing fact (for example, my sister is convinced she said bootylicious before Beyoncé and is missing out on some royalty checks). Often though, it’s a good reminder that if other people got through something we can too.

I’ve noticed a trend in riders over my research, and attempts to make myself feel better, and that is that anxiety is not all that uncommon among horse people. Personally, I can say that I have stopped my horse in the middle of the arena and cried, with tears, gasping, and the disgusting runny nose because I did not want to canter in the enclosed area—despite jumping 3-foot or so about two days prior and getting on a green horse two days later. There was little rhyme, reason, or understanding to this phenomenon with me, but I figure there has to be one for the overall trend of horse people.

Broken down, riding is probably up there with base-jumping, spelunking, and traversing a glacier on one’s own, as things that just sound like a bad idea. I think that the same person that decided that taking an egg that had just come out of chicken and frying it seemed like it might be delicious, was also the person that decided that sitting on a flight driven prey animal was a good means of transportation. Innovative, but probably not the guy with the most friends, or a lot of friends standing around drinking a beer and waiting for it to go wrong.

Come to think of it, riding was actually smarter back then. Now, with cars, the fact that we do this for fun is even odder to explain, and yet, we all know this, and we all do it, and don’t regret it for at least 51% of the time.

I remember my first panic attack clearly: cantering a small gray horse a friend later bought and rode consistently at lower level shows, bomb proof, kid proof, and idiot proof. I somehow decided that there was not enough space between a jump standard and the rail and that I would crash into it. I was forgetting a few simple facts in this logical deduction.

One: I had ridden to the outside that standard for about 30 minutes so far.

Two: I had crashed into standards before and nothing all that life changing happened.

Three: I could have gone to the inside side of it.

All these things not considered I decided those were certainly about to be the last few moments of my life. I remember telling my trainer I was going to fall and die, though this had never been the outcome before, I was convinced. Shaking by the time I brought the horse down from what I thought was a dead gallop, and was really a very controlled canter looking back on it, I dutifully planned my lesson for the next week.

Since then and between, during, after, and before subsequent panic moments, after reading multiple books about fear and horses, how to understand it, and overcoming it, I decided that we do it for one very good (or I and the general “we” is in there to make me feel better) reason—Horseback riding is the most fear inducing and fear dissipating thing one can do. Riding is empowering, the ability to influence another animal any number of times our size, to jump high obstacles, or complete some complicated dressage move as if the legs moving under us are our own, gives us the feeling that we can do anything—and sometimes that feeling is even right. Horses are also reassure-ers in their own way. They rarely hold anything against us outside of extremes (though I definitely think one of the horses I ride has very negative feelings toward the cookie bag when it’s empty). Horses tell us, this isn’t smart, this isn’t easy, and if you are determined enough—well it’s going to work out anyway.

Short version, board, shoes, vet bills, and Band-Aids are expensive, but so is therapy so I think it equals out in the end.

Stacie is a twenty-three year old veterinary assistant and grad student. She used to ride in trying-to-get-out-of-showing-in-hunters, and currently rides in trying-to-get-out-of-showing-in-dressage, in Long Island, New York.

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