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Tales of Taco the Wonder Horse and his ammy rider on their way to a Training Three Day

Monday, March 1, 2010

Let the Fear Make You Smarter

I've been planning this blog entry for a long time, and have just been waiting for a chance to write it.  I had been planning to write about Taco's monthly can't-catch-me game (inflicted on a poor, unsuspecting friend of mine), and our last lesson, in which I struggled with my galloping and jumping position.  I also was planning to incorporate insights about galloping and jumping gained from watching upper-level riders over the weekend, because I made my annual trip to the Wilsons' lovely Pine Top Farm to volunteer for some of the nicest and best organizers in the eventing business.

But yesterday, cross-country day, was one of the toughest I have ever experienced with horses.  I witnessed not one, but two, serious falls at the fences I was judging.  These falls were horse falls which, as common sense would dictate, are more dangerous than falls in which only the rider meets the ground.  Worse, they were what are known as "rotational" falls, where the horse does not gain enough altitude in the takeoff and hits the fence somewhere on the forearm, causing it to somersault over the fence.  These thankfully rare falls are the most dangerous kind, to both horses and riders.  Luckily, both horses in the incidents that I saw seemed unhurt and were led off the course.  The riders, however, were seriously hurt and taken to the hospital in an ambulance.  I do not know their current conditions, but I am praying for them both to heal well and quickly.

I was very shaken.  I have been present at events where serious falls have happened, and have known someone who was paralyzed in a rotational fall.  But I had never witnessed one in person, let alone been standing next to the fence at which the fall occurred, or been all by myself with an injured rider at my feet, or helped the EMT carefully reposition that rider so she could be transported on a backboard.  And I hope I never ever have the chance to repeat it.

Under the circumstances, it seems incredibly selfish to worry about how I will maintain my confidence in my own riding.  But reality is that I have an event coming up in two weeks, and unless I scratch, which I believe would be detrimental, I will need to get back on the horse and figure out a way to ride through the fear.  So I list some pertinent information here.
  1. The risk of horse falls per number of starters at Training is very low, and rotational falls are very, very rare.  This is because the fences are low enough that the horse is far less likely to catch his forearms on the fence.  I can live with this quite small level of risk.  And I have a very savvy and experienced horse, plus an extremely capable instructor.
  2. Given that I choose to live with this level of risk, what I can do now is to mitigate my risk as much as possible.  This means that, in addition to having a wonderful horse and instructor, I can work on my own physical and mental fitness.  I need to continue my workouts on the rowing machine and my core exercises, even though work and household tasks constantly intrude.  I also will be using the services of Carol, the Team Taco resident sports psychologist.
On this last point, sports psychology, I received a wonderful gift yesterday from John Staples, a former international eventer and a current member of the USEF Safety Committee.  He shared an experience with me that he'd had at Rolex, in which a close friend of his had fallen badly, very shortly before John himself was due to leave the start box.  It was very difficult to summon the courage to head out on course, but the conclusion that he drew was that he was going to be as smart and sharp as possible as he jumped around cross country that day.  He let the fear make him a smarter rider.

So I will end with that insight.  Let your fear make you smarter.


Lauren said...

GREAT post, Stacy.

Megan Corbett said...

did you read this?

I thought this was important, "As fear is mentally and physically paralysing your performance will be adversely effected to some degree, making you less safe."

We have to face the fear and come to agreements with it or it WILL create problems.

Becky said...

Nice post, Stacy.

I agree; fear can be paralyzing (Micklem is wise!).

I am still working with my fear of Weldon's wall, because of the two falls I've seen (and one I've experienced) at this fence. I don't have a personal Carol (don't I wish!), but I've been listening to NPR tapes, and I THINK it's helping.

Kick on!

Becky said...

HA! I meant NLP. Wonder what THAT Freudian slip means?

Anastasia said...

Thanks, guys. Megan, that was a really interesting article. Becky-- I had to look up NLP! I thought you really did mean NPR...

Melissa-ParadigmFarms said...

Excellent post!