It’s confession time: almost six years ago, I (partially) lost my nerve for the second time in my riding career, and I still haven’t fully recovered. I’ll start at the beginning, and write one-handed, so that I can type and clutch a lump of wood simultaneously.
Like many riders, I’ve fallen off so many times that I stopped counting before I hit the age of 10. I was almost 12 when I first lost my nerve, and didn’t properly articulate my feelings at the time. I navigated through the experience with the non-verbal assistance of my most trusted riding instructor, who allowed me to dictate the pace at which I worked. Progress was steady, though I couldn’t now tell you how long it took for me to return to being the rider I had been before. My feeling is that it wasn’t too long – perhaps six months.
I was nearly 21 when I lost my nerve for the second time and, at first, I wasn’t aware that it had happened. I’d gone through a spell of very few falls – Mum was furious when I fell off days after having a full spinal MRI prior to the surgery I was due to undergo aged 18, and phoned my consultant to make sure that the scan wouldn’t have to be re-done. I spent nine weeks out of the saddle that summer, and it wasn’t until six months after surgery that I jumped again, but following said fall, I didn’t hit the deck again for three years.
The thing about falls is that they’re inevitable. I doubt anyone looks forward to them, but I was particularly anxious about tumbling from the saddle for the first time post-surgery: the main long-term effect the procedure has had on me so far is that my lumbar spine is now almost completely solid, I have very little flexibility. This has a serious impact on my ability to fall, meaning it’s much more difficult to curl up and get out of the way. Of course, I needn’t have worried: falls happen so quickly that you don’t really have time to think – instinct takes over and your body does what it can.
On this particular occasion, I was on my feet almost as soon as I hit the ground – I was jumping, without my dreaded body protector, and knew I wasn’t injured – and ready to re-mount. Like all good un-injured riders, I hopped back on, jumped the fence again (without falling off this time) and continued participating in my lesson. I was stiff for two days afterwards, which was what initially saddened me more than anything else – it was a clear sign that falling off on a cold February evening is less than fun, and that I was no longer a four year old piece of elastic.
By co-incidence, I didn’t have the opportunity to jump again for several months, and thought little of the incident until almost a year later. I went for a riding lesson somewhere new and turned down the opportunity to jump. Alarm bells went off in my head – I know this part of my own mind well, and avoidance usually means fear. What didn’t worry me was my ability to recover: I drew on my previous experience and fully believed that it would just be a matter of time, that I could wait my brain out and slowly get there.
Six years later, I’m still not there, and I’ve started to think that waiting is no longer the answer. This has also happened to me before: the first time I jumped post-surgery was due to feeling a familiar itch, the desire to once again launch myself and a horse into the air and experience the euphoria of soaring without an engine or a pair of wings. And now I feel a similar sensation, but this time it’s accompanied by a strong desire to “get over it”.
One of the many things which could be holding me back this time is a lack of equine support system: following this fall, my horsey life has been very transient, and I have yet to settle into a routine and find an instructor and set of horses I know and trust. This could be the key to moving forward, but any ideas would be welcomed! I want to move on, I want to enjoy jumping again plus improve as a rider, and fitness isn’t an issue. This one is definitely going to be a case of mind over matter, but it’s also about untangling several years of waiting for the solution to become obvious.
The issue is specifically related to jumping, whereas the first time there was very little I would initially do – I was reluctant to even trot, choosing only to do so on very carefully selected horses and ponies. I have had no problems with flatwork this time, and will comfortably and confidently approach polework. The problem lies solely with fences themselves, and it’s time to do what all good jumpers do and put the previous fence where it belongs – behind me.
Does anyone have a good jumper I can borrow and the patience to help me out?