Feb 12, 2012

“Cheatin” for Success




There are days when I really want to ride.  Today is one of them.  The ten day break when winter returned has got me hankering for some horse time.  But the idea of putting on all the winter gear and finding someplace where the footing is suitable takes the fun out of it for me.  The arena still has drifts of snow so I don't even have that option at the moment.  So I’ll wait a little longer. 


I follow a lot of blogs, list servs and other horse related items on the internet.  Some I read with gusto while other entries I just scan.  The following post by “Greg” (former jockey and self-proclaimed philosopher) on Heart in Your Hand Yahoo group caught my eye and with his permission, I am posting here.  Greg said:   


“The amount of fear you have depends on the amount of confidence you have.
They only way to increase your confidence is to test yourself incrementally.
When life is a constant process of testing your limits, you will find that you
have few. But as in all endeavors, the more you test yourself the better you
get at it. You acquire the ability to make up tests and have a good idea of the
likelihood of success. It's kinda like cheatin', you make a test you know you
can pass. But by doing the test, you prove to yourself an ability for which you
have evidence. Granted, it is necessary to fail some of the tests or they are
ALL meaningless. There again is where it's important to be good at testing
yourself. When you choose the circumstances for the test you should be able to
have an idea of several outcomes from the test and anticipate how you will deal
with the various outcomes. Even failing a test is useful, it gives you valuable
information about your limits. When you fail you know what you need to do to
give yourself the skills to pass the test next time. So success and failure are
both good, they give you valuable feedback on your ability to proceed. So
either you test yourself and become confident, or you don't test and remain a
quivering mass of inability and indecision. It's your choice.”


When I first met Greg years ago, online like so many of us meet, I was harboring a lot of fear.  I would only ride horses I knew very well and would not ride them outside my comfort zone.  I spent a lot of time yelling at John to slow down and do this or don’t do that; anything to lesson my worries.  My MO in the past was simply if a horse scared me, I didn’t ride it anymore; I’d move on.  Through a lot of online self-help, Horsetales mainly, to which Greg used to participate, I started to realize that everyone else doesn’t have this same problem.  I was starting to see that perhaps it wasn’t the horse’s fault.  Maybe it was me.  (Do you hear the bells going off?) 




I didn’t say I got braver but I did get a little smarter.  The first big change was to stop changing horses.  Windy was just a three-year-old then and I loved this horse from the day she was born.  I was determined we were going to make a team. 


Perfection doesn’t come overnight.  It might not ever come for me.  I can’t turn back time and will always be a middle-aged rider who is getting older.  Windy probably could have progressed more eloquently under a better rider but I know very well the now ten-year-old horse under me.  She has lessened my fears and I have become a more confident rider.  And yes, I did have the help of a trainer and I did take lessons.  But doing what Greg describes above was the key to my success.   


Photo Nov 07, 1 16 32 PM


Someone mentioned that Fancy sensed my lack of confidence, hence our undoing last month.  She may have but I didn’t go out that day feeling unsure of myself.  It would be a good segue into how confidence and trust are both important, but I’ll save that for another post.  I had been working Fancy in the fashion Greg describes every time I ride her; just like Windy before her.  This particular day, we simply came undone.  Was I fearful of riding her?  No.  Has the fear returned?  No. 


My reply to Greg’s post was as follows:


“You hit a home run with this post, Greg. Thank you. Can I steal it for my blog
sometime (with full credit of course?)

The "cheatin" you mention has been the tool I have used for the last few years to get me over the fear and has been successful for me. I have been using it with our new mare and with the horses that aren't ridden as much and have become barn sour. I call it breaking it down to my comfort level; going farther, stay longer... all that jazz.

Have I failed a few tests? Yep. Just a few weeks ago. I think my lack of skill probably got me in more trouble than my lack of confidence. A resistant horse, a herding dog, uneven footing, high anxiety from all mammals concerned.  My out is to bale and Mary Lou Retton I am not...

I have no doubt that this would have ended differently if John was riding or
some of you, but it happened to me and so as Greg said, I flunked that test. I
just have more homework to do is all. And yes, I have been back on her since;
even loping in the field. If I was leaving on a horse vacation tomorrow and
Windy came up lame, I would not hesitate to take this young mare in her place.

I just wanted to say that the tracks you mention in your post, Greg, have moved
me beyond fear (the unreasonable kind) and has helped me build confidence over the years. I may never be as skilled as some riders, but I am no longer a
"quivering mass of inability and indecision" that some of you may remember. ;) I
know I'm improving and I am still having fun.

You articulated what I have been doing and while you may not totally endorse it,
you see its value. Thank you for that. The only thing I would add is if you
don't try (through whatever method) you aren't giving yourself the opportunity
to succeed.”


big canyon 09 130


“I knew when you roared to the top of the hill you were ok. Wasn't it an
incredible view?”


Yes, Greg.   It certainly was.




  1. What a wonderful post with so many good points. I agree with everything Greg had to say. I can see how it would be helpful advice for everyone. Thanks for reprinting it, I'll have to check out his blog.

  2. (*applause*)
    I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said, both Tammy and Greg. I'm still not a very brave rider, but I'm oh so much better than the quivering mass I was at Calamus those years back. This is a good reminder to keep on testing my limits little by little and not be satisfied with staying in my safety zone forever and ever. I'm thinking my latest tests have to do with these 'high and sightly' trails I'm encountering here in CA. Yikes. Remember the sandhill I couldn't bring myself to ride down? lol

  3. I'm so glad I found this blog... It's nice to know I'm not alone in dealing with fear and trying to figure out a way to move past it. I hadn't been able to figure out exactly why I became so afraid. I never had a bad accident happen, not even a close call... It started when my horse Majic died of old age. I had him for 15 years and rode him almost exclusively for the last 12 of those years. Now that he's gone, and that trust and bond isn't there, I'm having trouble riding without going into an anxiety attack, even though I had been an avid trail rider for 30 years. I recently started using this same method with my horse. I ride her as far as I can within both of our comfort zones... then I make us go just a bit farther. It's slow, but it's working safely for both of us. I miss the days when I was invincible though. LOL

  4. Laura, thanks for stopping by. In my case, my fear started when I read a story about a middle aged woman who had a bad wreck & it was like a little bell went off in my head that "OMG I AM GOING TO DIE!" And it took a lot to get over that. I still have some anxiety and I have to remind myself that I am so much farther than I was 10 years ago; I know my horse, trust my horse, trust me... all that BS that we tell others! LOL!

    Sounds like you had a great bond with Majic. They have big hoof prints to fill, don't they?

    Someday when season gets closer, I will pick your brain about some MO vacation spots. Would love to go back there in the fall sometime. _Tammy

  5. I seldom stop to comment, but I thought this was a thought provoking post. I'll think on this on many levels for days I'm sure. Greg always throws some nugget into the mix, and I always appreciate his wisdom.

  6. Excellent post! I, too, am a MARWIGO (middle-aged rider who is getting older ... hmmm ... sounds like the name of a good blog!) and am working on my confidence. This certainly is good food for thought.

  7. Beautiful blog. I have also regained my confidence through this very method and continue to expand my horizons, just like so.

    Well put, G, and nicely handle, TV

  8. Wow, that's my MO! My fear started when I bought a horse who was a bucker. Every time we loped, he bucked. He never got me off but he put the fear into me. And then I think just age. The older I get and the more experiences I have or hear about, the more fearful I become. I'm smarter. I know what can happen! They're dangerous animals. But like the book, "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway," I just keep trudging on and I notice that the more I ride, the more confident I become. I'm also big on safety nowadays. I wear a helmet now. I'm looking forward to buying a set of emergency-release stirrups. And if a horse scares me, like you used to do, I move on. I'm not doing this to be scared. I'm doing it to have fun.

  9. I've started recently to seriously consider a helmet. There was a time I used to say "If I have to die, I hope I die doing what I love - trail riding...." Now, I've gotten to the age where, I just don't want to die... LOL LOL LOL My horse Cassie still scares me at times when I try to ride her away from her pasture mate Lucky. They're buddy sour and she can get very upset. Anytime they're together though, I'm not afraid of her at all. I'm trying to work on our trust in each other and work her past that. I agree though... For the most part, I don't want the "excitement" or fear of a green-broke or spoiled horse anymore. I ride to have fun and relax, not worry. Tammy - anytime you want to ride here, just let me know and I'll give you all the info I can. I love talking "trail" and love our trails here. ;-)


I am so glad you stopped by and look forward to hearing from you! Do come again.