Confessions of a Timid Rider

Making Great Strides

Moving Forward with Confidence

When moving Ferrous to a new barn recently I sometimes wondered if the move would be worth the anxiety I felt preparing for change. I knew that I needed to step outside my comfort zone, that I had become complacent and too comfortable.

Rarely was I able to find someone to ride the trail system on my barn property with me. Our schedules were all out of whack. Those I did go out with on occasion preferred going even slower than I was used to, not that I minded a relaxing amble through the woods. But we never really pushed ourselves or did more than a brief trot. The need to get out on the property became such that Ferrous and I did venture a bit alone, never going more than a mile from home base. I had an invisible fence, a natural boundary in the stream that ran across the trailhead leading to the meadow and woods beyond. I put limitations on myself. I made excuses to only ride down to the stream and back by myself because Ferrous doesn’t like water and balks unless he’s with a group. Then, I didn’t want to create bad habits and let him stop at the stream so we began to venture even shorter distances. We became too comfortable in our little bubble, never going far or challenging ourselves.

Going out with friends was always a different story and we were both much braver.

A big reason I chose the new barn was its proximity to my home, the quiet and well kept space, and the access to a large number of trails. The ultimate clincher was knowing the bulk of the boarders all ride the trails every day. At my previous hunter/ jumper facility trail rides were saved for after horse shows or days too hot to work. Not so in the new barn.

Ferrous and his new herd mates.

I’ve been there just over a month now and we’re settling in nicely. Of course, Ferrous became comfortable quickly, make friends, and loves being out longer periods as well as the more relaxed atmosphere. As a left-brained introvert he tended to hold his tension inside and become quite grumpy and girthy when he’d hit his point. Yet, now he is much more supple and relaxed in every way. Sometimes too relaxed in the arena actually…

I’m finding my footing slowly. I’ve been meeting boarders here and there and have been invited to two different, slower rides as the barn owners and boarders understand that I am a bit more timid and my horse has anhidrosis. As such, he can’t overdo it in the heat and needs conditioning on the trails anyway since this is all new and exciting.

The Tenets of Timidity
Someone needs a little conditioning to reduce their belly fat…still handsome though!

The first trail, a new friend and equine massage client showed me her favorite loop that she rides solo. It was an easy walk and trot where I spent the majority of the time teaching Ferrous he was perfectly able to walk in the middle and not lead (something that has always been quite common with him).

The second trail out was with an entirely new group of riders for a still slow but extended ride in the cooling heat of evening. We descended rooted hills through the woods, trotted through sandy trails, and cantered up beautiful fields, crossing roads periodically in the public park. It was the first time Ferrous and I had worked up a sweat on the trails EVER. We had so much fun exploring and practiced being in the middle and the rear. Because of my pony’s penchant for leading I chose to keep him in the back and teach him he can still have fun without being first. I am aware that this was a slower ride for the others and appreciated them understanding that my horse and I were not in the same condition. We mostly walked punctuated with extended trots and short canters. We managed about 4 and a half miles before Ferrous began to tire and stumble, so we slowed towards home.

Sadly, the Huufe GPS had an error and didn’t register the speed or our route correctly.

Even after these two different rides I still had not seen a lot of the park and didn’t really know my way around. However, I’m generally good with directions. A few days later I was preparing for my most stressful time of the year- July- and really needed a relaxing ride to calm me.

My daughter Cameron has Cerebral Palsy. Every year for the entire month of July she attends an intensive summer camp designed for children with traumatic brain injuries to better use their weak hands and arms. Everything stops for this. We travel three to six hours a day driving to and from the camp, which is in New Jersey but not close. Sitting in traffic while three children whine is the opposite of fun. My twins tag along with me and I then keep them busy for six hours, five days a week. My work occurs in the evenings after everyone has gone to bed. It’s a real juggle and incredibly stressful. Last night, I may have slept four hours before getting up and getting everything done. But we’re lucky that my work is flexible and this one-of-a-kind camp is so close. There is no other like it in the world.

In advance of camp beginning and my life going into chaos I really just needed to ride on Sunday morning. Where two weeks before I had a panic attack (click to watch it in progress) thinking of taking Ferrous on a group trail ride for the first time in the new place, now I couldn’t find anyone else available so decided we were just going to go ourselves and see what happened. I brought a lead rope in case I needed to dismount and lead or lunge him, but I was determined.

Where had this sudden confidence come from? Likely a determination not to miss out on the very thing I need to relax because of other stressors in my life. Somehow, the thought of taking Ferrous out alone wasn’t as stressful as my pending month of chaos. I needed the time with him in the woods more than I was scared of the what-ifs.

So we did it. The previous week I had walked Ferrous up and down the driveway, acclimating him to the “home” area, statues, and road nearby. I went at his pace, which is damn slow when he is undecided and wondering if he should balk. I was confident after doing this twice that he would be okay, so off we went without looking back.

I still can't believe I put on my bold big girl pants and rode my horse in the woods alone @timidrider Click To Tweet

We walked up the driveway, crossed the road, and headed onto the trail system with nary a look, balk, or whinny. A huge grin split my face and I gave Ferrous a “good boy” and scratch for his bravery. If this was as far as we got, I would have been happy at our progress.

But no, we followed the trail with me trying to navigate with a nice, purposeful walk. A steady walk. We followed a path I vaguely remembered and then crossed a road to meet a few hikers coming up the hill. We stopped, because Ferrous was unsure and I let him relax while I talked to them and even had them offer him a treat so he would learn that people he met were nice. Don’t worry though I won’t let it be a habit! One woman was terrified of horses having worked as a hot walker for racing thoroughbreds for years. It only took her a few minutes before she decided Ferrous was a good boy and come introduce herself.

It seemed a busy trail and Ferrous did not love people coming out of the shadows. Rather than fight him, we turned to walk down the dirt road where we met a nice jogger who stopped to say hello as well. Finally, I found my way back onto the trails and the woods nearest the barn where we ran into some of the same hikers again who this time waved and said hello to my pony by name.

All of this was done at a walk. Ferrous either has a slow pace or a march, and somehow we found the ideal working walk that day. We met a puppy, trotted down some open trails, and then came to a fork when I heard a shout of “hello”. Two mountain bikers had slowed and were letting me know they were coming, incredibly polite they asked if they should dismount. I turned Ferrous to face them and he was incredibly wary but watchful as I chatted with them. He stayed calm yet observant. When they had passed out of site I turned him in the other direction to walk quietly away. No small feat as he was now over it.

He’d hit his limit and I could practically feel him reach it. Luckily we were headed home. I took a wrong turn or two, but nothing crazy and the good thing is I knew the general vicinity of where I was. Soon enough I saw some familiar downed logs and landmarks. But when we turned to go down the hill home, Ferrous stopped. He tried to turn around. He began to whinny and call for his friends.

Yup, there was that limit.

I was incredibly proud of us. We had done far more and introduced him to far more experiences than he’d ever done. So I calmly dismounted and guided him the last stretch home across the now busy road and down our new driveway.

We barely went over two miles in an hour and yet mentally my pony was exhausted. I could feel it. He gave me everything he had in trust and I honored that. Not only did we go on our first real trail ride together without a group, but we were incredibly successful at communicating with each other. That is all I’ve ever wanted for us.

After his bath I took him back to his paddock where he waited patiently for me to remove his halter, before wheeling to gallop off and finds his friends. He did and they greeted him gently. I can only imagine the stories he told.

Hi guys, I saw this thing on two wheels that makes a whirring sound…have you seen one? Does it eat horses?

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