I wasn’t quite expecting to be writing my first blog from Kenya on fear… I was feeling confident I wouldn’t have to… but unfortunately the big F-E-A-R has reared its head and knocked my riding confidence.
I came to riding as an adult – five years ago to be precise, trying to snatch a lesson or a hack here and there when income and public transport dictated I could. I had a few falls, some quite comically spectacular ones, but never on a hack. I relished it when the slow cobs bolted out in Richmond Park. And that time bloody Todd took me into a thick branch at waist height knocking me backwards, causing me to drop the reins as my head hit his large behind and caused him to canter down a small slope with me lying on my back on his back? Found it quite hilarious once we were standing still again. That was the me, who fed up with a previous terrible job and London life signed up to volunteer at a horseback safari lodge in Kenya.
After said signing up – a 17.1hh ginger mare (I will never trust a chestnut mare entirely again) threw some spectacular shapes while hacking out in Richmond Park and had me off her back three times in an hour. On Christmas Eve. Merry, bloody Christmas to you too, Lily, you ginger giant menace. Anyway about January/February time I got accepted by the horseback safari lodge as a volunteer to join them in September. I had only had arena lessons between Christmas Eve and that point so didn’t think there was any problem with my riding confidence. I went on a hack soon after and I can’t begin to describe the anxiety, the sheer terror that suddenly enveloped my brain, physically gripped my body and made me want to curl up into a ball of safety thus causing me to lean forward stiffly onto poor Dublin’s neck. Precisely the opposite thing you should do if you actually want to stay safe on a horse and slow it down. I was shaking and on the verge of tears as we walked home.
I had essentially lost my confidence riding – not something that infrequently happens to equestrians.
Any sane person would have probably cancelled three months in Kenya at a horseback safari lodge. But I was determined and I strongly believe that we should face up to the things we are afraid of. I went on private hacks on confidence giving horses (I could write a whole paean to Bradley, no matter how strong he pulls I know he will always eventually stop because he’s a bit lazy, and no matter how stressy I must feel to him, he just marches ahead looking after me and rarely spooking at anything). In the safety of the arena and jumping lessons on my beloved grumpy mare Jemima, it was business as usual (she bites, she kicks, she will lunge for other horses, and likes to throw in the odd small buck, but she looks after her rider especially when there are jumps involved.)
I have now arrived in Kenya and I’m sad to say that the beautiful surroundings, the excellent food and the gorgeous dogs that come part and parcel of Olepangi Farm are being marred somewhat by that dark anxiety around riding outside an arena on a strange horserearing its head and boy have the horses picked up on it.
I can’t describe the mortification of explaining to someone yes I know my position is wrong and yes I do know what a diagonal is and that actually I was happily cantering around the steep dirt tracks of Portugal last Easter, but there is this big mental block causing my whole body to sieze up and forget the very basics of riding. I’m scared to tell a horse off when it’s being naughty in case it misinterprets the foot aid and bolts, I’m scared to pull too hard on the mouth to stop it when it does get fast and is cantering into the back of another horse because I don’t want to get shouted at for ruining its mouth.
Fear. It sucks.
But I’m here now. I conquered the fear of leaving a previous job I hated and approaching my new employer about hiring me to do a completely different job than the one I’m trained in. I conquered the fear about upping my life and getting on a plane to sub-Saharan Africa. I’m writing this looking out on a tremendous view and know I have the support of some fantastic people to cheer me up.
I can do this. Fingers crossed.
And all those other equestrians out there who have had a nasty fall or similar that has shaken their confidence – I know how you feel and have my fingers crossed for you too!