Saturday 16th of November 2019
The Urban Equestrian

Fixing the fear of flying (off the damn horse)

I had so many new Instagram accounts to follow after my first TUE instalment that I basically ditched TV, and did my favourite thing – watching your videos. Good grief, you lot can jump HOUSES! Please prepare to go, “Aaaw, bless the tragic crosspole child” when I get around to posting my efforts.

August 2016

My husband bought me a Go Pro for Christmas so I could join in with the riding videos, but the hunt I’ve been going out with don’t allow them, and nor does my riding school, so I was a bit worried that it was going to die a wiltingly abandoned death in a drawer, as the likelihood of me getting my own horse is tiny.

With staggering lack of regard for the fact I’m writing a blog about riding in the city, Easter weekend saw me heading to Pembrokeshire, where I went for hacking with my sister-in-law at Nolton Stables. And luckily, they were quite up for a bit of Go Pro action. The countryside around Nolton is ridiculously beautiful, and I was practically weeping by the time we were cantering along the fields by Nolton Haven and then humming the Black Beauty theme tune as we pounded through the waves on Druidstone Beach. But alas, H and I had positioned the Go Pro too high, so before the battery died, all we could see was a lot of sky and the top of the horse in front. You’re welcome.

Luckily, Nolton does a fine line in souvenir photos, and even though I was wearing exactly the same outfit as I did when I first visited in August, I couldn’t resist another. And looking at the two of them got me thinking how much has changed in eight months.

1. I’ve definitely got fatter. 
2. I basically had no idea what light seat was, which is why I’m bent over like a coathanger.
3. I feel so much more confident admitting what I don’t know than I did back then.

When that first picture was taken, I’d been riding again for nearly a year, and I thought I knew everything. All I wanted to do was gallop, go fast, and jump, ideally in a field. Eventually, I realised that this wasn’t because I was the second coming of the Pullein-Thompson sisters, but because I was terrified. It had been a good 17 years since I was regularly on board with horses, and during that time, I’d got a career, and with it, a terrible pride that meant I couldn’t stand being bad at something or worse: not good “enough”.

Easter 2017

“Enough” was an ever-stretching finish line that lingered miles from wherever I was at the time. If I couldn’t do a task, figure out a drop noseband, or keep my horse’s back end from floating out from the track like a poorly-steered barge, I would beat myself up horribly. Yet the idea of doing something like BHS Stage 1 felt beneath me. Of course I knew all this stuff! I was 33! I owned chaps! Why should I do a “beginner’s” course? Admitting I really was a low-level novice and out of my depth was something I just couldn’t do. 

I was also in the first months of my new job and trying to sell my flat, all of which combined into diamond levels of pressure. Shortly after that first photo was taken, I was bursting into tears of frustration and shame almost every week. 

My instructor took me to one side and said gently, “You know, it’s supposed to be fun. Don’t overthink it so much.”

Instead of going “Yeah, fair point,” I thought, “God, Kat – you can’t even do having fun right!”

After this saga had bored on for even more time, my instructor mentioned very delicately that she’d had some hypnotherapy when she’d been stressed out about her exams, and maybe it would help me.

Given my only experiences of shame involved being onstage at an Edinburgh Festival midnight show pretending to be a car, I wasn’t madly convinced. Still, I booked up a rider confidence course at the Centre for Horseback Combat (it was so awesome that it will get a post in itself), and tracked down a riding specialist who – miracle of miracles – practised out of Highgate once a week. I had four sessions with Sara Howard and, barring one terrible week when I emerged calm and relaxed to a hysterical call from my estate agent wanting to know where £25,000 worth of costs had just appeared from, it was fantastic. 

Rider Confidence Course at the Centre for Horseback Combat

I learned how to set an “anchor”; a really great memory that I could trigger just by pinching the skin near my wrist bones – I chose my first prep to jump lesson, where I was so surprised at going over a fence that I involuntarily yelled “I did a jump!”. We did vision work in which I’d mentally ride round one of my bugbears, a huge school the sides of which I’d become frightened of riding down; and other sessions where I’d be sitting through shies, bucks, and pullings-away, and getting the memories of having endured and survived them, rather than going into shock mode and crouching forward like a frozen deckchair while shrieking.

All these things sound so minor, but when they’re going on all at once, they really hinder you from getting on. And the one thing I was clear about was that I really did want to get on. I wanted to enjoy myself! And I was, when I wasn’t freaking out.

I finished my sessions in December – and happily, sold the flat and moved to a lovely new part of south London. And the effect of both these things has really made a difference to my attitude. I still get frustrated when I’m not “enough”, and that is something I need to work on as much as my balance and leg. But in one way, that new photo from Nolton speaks volumes: I’m now ready to admit what I don’t know, and to get on with my learning.

Back in London, I’ve started doing a bit of yoga – and I’ve signed up to do my BHS Stage 1. This time, I’m ready. Wish me luck!

Follow Kat on Twitter @katbrown82 and on Instagram @katbrown

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