Getting Past Trauma
I started taking Saddleseat lessons in 2012. Before that, I was self-taught, pointers from friends and had taken a few lessons from someone with my horse. The lessons had NOT been helpful to me, because the trainer had put fear into me.
Fear is one of those things that you hear about people overcoming. There are movies and books about it. They all make it sound so easy and so simple. But it’s not easy for everyone.
Mental disorders are common place in today’s society. I think that awareness for Depression is greater than it was 25 years ago, but Anxiety does not quite have the press that Depression has. People fear Depression and with every right. But Anxiety is a beast of its own.
Anxiety will take fear and amplify it. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is probably one of the more well known Anxiety disorders. It is disorder that affects a lot of people and not just Veterans.
People go through this thing called Life and things happen, or Life happens. Things happen to people that may be traumatic to them, but not to others. No one person can say what is or is not traumatic for someone else. Trauma is special to each person. The thing that makes PTSD so bad is the flashbacks that it caries with it.
The not so helpful trainer that gave me fear, gave me trauma. The trainer told me that he/she was afraid that my horse was going to hurt me. Up until that point, I had never been afraid of any horse and I had done some crazy things. But when he/she told me about his/her fear it rocked my world. I guess I should say my world was not rocked, it was broken.
Fear had been instilled into me and I was afraid of my horse, a horse I had owned for 6 years. A horse I had fearlessly trail ridden on multiple trail rides that were not on my home turf. A horse that I fell off of the first time I got him to canter, because I was not paying attention. When I fell off, he stopped and came over to me where I laid on the ground and put his head down to me to check on me. A horse that was afraid to get on the trailer, because he didn’t want to smoosh me (my friend watched his behavior and noticed that he was truly afraid of hurting me).
This person had made me afraid of an animal that I had been so close to and bonded so well with, that it did not wish me any harm.
I still wanted to show my horse, so I decided to find a barn that had a trainer that would work with me and had a big enough arena to work in.
That was when I found Rocking S Farm and Suzanne Schnetzler.
Suzanne took the time to help me get over my fear of my horse. Then she pushed me to do more… She asked me to ride another horse. I cried my eyes out while she, another trainer, and kids walked with me. The other trainer got my talking and before I knew it I was relaxing and riding.
When I picked up my fear, I became afraid to ride other horses. I used to be able to ride any horse, barn sour or not on a trail ride. I could work them out. But after that fear set in, I couldn’t even ride my best friend.
Suzanne helped me find my way back. She built me up and taught me new things. The best part of learning the new things is when they click.
When I was working on getting over my fear, I did a summer camp with Suzanne. She had another trainer come in and they decided I should try Saddleseat on my horse. Suzanne said I should use a twisted snaffle and a running martingale for my horse.
I had owned a running martingale that I had been using as a “training fork” like another old trainer at my last barn had showed me. The lady had to taught me to use it to put pressure on the reins to get my horse to lower his head. It worked when I’d bump him with it and he drop his head. It got him to where his head would drop in a walk. I never quite completely figured out how to pull it off in a trot to keep him from stopping, and stopping quick is in his gene pool.
I have health problems that have set me back in the last few years. I was diagnosed with an Arrhythmia and after I started medication my world opened up. I could do things and my heart rate wouldn’t sky rocket. I rode more, I did more, and at night my feet would swell and throb.
My cardiologist had my legs scanned and discovered I had veinous insufficiency. Which meant that blood was pumping into my legs, but not out. I went to a vascular surgeon for a second opinion, after I had been wearing compression stockings for about 6 months. He reviewed my case and set me up for an ablation.
After the ablation there was some relief, but his ultrasound technician detected a problem with the illac vein. So, I was scheduled for an IVIS procedure and became the proud recepiant of a stent in my Illac Vein.
The swelling got better for a while, but I still swell. The swelling is painful and mornings are unbearable. I wake up with pain in my feet and I don’t want to move.
In August I mentioned my problems to my general practitioner (GP), when I went in for a sinus infection. I mentioned that I went to a prominent Allergy ashtma doctor that said I did not have asthma and asked if I had an autoimmune disease. I mentioned that I had been to an orthopedic surgeon who has asked if I had an autoimmune disease. Then, I told her how both doctors had let me fall to the way side.
This caused my GP concern, so she and I discussed some things and she sent my blood off. My blood cells back with my rheumatoids off and that I needed to see a Rheumatologist. That has been the hard part. They either didn’t take my insurance or couldn’t get me in. So, I have a had a very future dated appointment and I don’t know what is wrong with me.
In the interim, I wake up with pain. I leave work in pain. I’m living with pain. I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and it doesn’t take much for the pain depression, as I call it, it take hold.
About a month ago, my swelling took a new turn when I ate too much salt. This led to swelling in my arms. Which led to a visit with my cardiologist who talked with me about everything. He made me feel better, but I’m still waiting to see the Rheumatologist. Which means I am going to have to push through it all and work it out.
Thursday I was feeling better and hauled myself to the barn. Lessons were going well and I double checked Suzanne didn’t want me to ride any of her horses before I grabbed Old Bo.
I walked into the pasture and Bo saw me. I started talking to him, like I normally do, and he took off at a canter passing me. He went through the gate behind a pasture mate that was on its way to hay and stopped. Standing there he turned his head back looking at me, inviting me to join him.
I started walking over to him asking him what he was doing in baby talk. He stood there watching and waiting. I passed his pasture buddies and stopped at him. I readied the haulter and he popped his nose in.
We slowly trudged out of the pasture, he stopped from time to time to say, “nope” but I encouraged him on. After we cleared the feed lot and the gate, he was quite happy to eat the clover. I latched the gate and took him to the barn for a grooming.
I had been debating what I was going to do, but when I got there I decided on a Saddleseat ride on the old boy. I cleaned his feet, checked his shoes, ran a shedding blade and a metal curry over his coat. I fussed with a knot in his name and then I tracked him up.
I put one my running martingale, my saddle pad, my saddle, a found he could wear my 42″ Saddleseat girth, and went about looking for my bridle. I looked all over the tack room and a younger girl helped me looked. We checked where the trainer suggested, but we just could not find the bridle. So, I improvised.
I grabbed my show bridle I have been using on Fleetwood and swapped the bit for an extra twisted snaffle bit I had. I borrowed some flat reins and after adjusting the cavison, my Quater Horse was looking ready for a Saddleseat show.
I took him to the arena and to the mounting block. He stood next to the block until I gathered up the reins to get on, then he side stepped his back legs away from the block. I moved the block. He did it again, so I moved him to the block. Bo looked at me when I did this and heaved a sigh of “you win”.
Finally mounted, I took the reins into my hands and contemplated collection. Collection is as Hercule Poriot would say part what is needed to “achieve facial symmetry”, or in this case body symmetry.
Balance and symmetry are both important. Both are achieved by the horse with it’s head. The head affects how the horse engages it’s hind quarters (read it in a book) and keeps it’s balance. Knowing that reining horses, werstern pleasure horses, English pleasure horses… Basically, Quater Horses… Need a low head to achieve their symmetry and balance to do some of the wonderful things they do. Reining horses spin in fast circles, if their head was up they would loose their balance.
I took up my reins and collected as much rein as I could. When we walked he didn’t fight it much and dropped his head, but when I asked for more there was some resistance. He didn’t want to trot collected and threw his head about in defiance. I took his defiance and used it to keep on down the rail.
Returning to a walk from the trot with him collected, I could feel that he wanted to canter. Something that I’m not used to with him. Walk is his favorite speed. I could feel the collection had him gathered up beneath me, so I decided to give it a whirl.
I turned him to the rail and in that instant, when I saw his eye, there was a flicker of defiance against the collection. That flicker cause the years of riding other horses and lessons to click. The lightbulb went off and I got it all.
I got what Craig Cameron says, I got the things I’d read in books, the things Julie Goodnight says, and then things I’d been taught. It all suddenly made sense.
I lifted his left shoulder (as Craig Cameron says to do), I opened his left side wide open taking my leg off, I gave his head a slight turn to the right, my calf to his right side, a shift of my seat bones to the right, and the verbal command “canter”. Off we went, on the correct diagonal and no look of defiance of the collection.
I kept the session short and got good canters and trots in. I started in on our cool down exercises. This week we walked serpentine patterns on the straight aways, circled the ends and worked on backing up.
Backing up is something that has been something that we have not quite hammered out to this point. He backs up and wants to whirl around in circles. I think he does the circles because he wants to see where he’s going.
I started on the second direction. I thought about an article I had read where it said to use a dressage whip to work on lateral movements. The whip is longer and allows the rider to cue up the hinde quarters of need be. I looked at the whip, which was not a long dressage whip. I decided to compensate for it’s lack of length I would let my reins out so it could reach the hind quarters.
Then it happened. Everything started like normal the circles. I put my inside leg on him to try and keep him on the rail. I steadied the pressure on my bit and added a tap on the hind quarters from the whip.
The tap sent him into reining horse reverse and we went straight on back down the side of arena at a pace I am not accustomed to. I released the pressure and urged him forward as I patted him letting him know he’d done a good job. A very good job.
We reversed with a circle and I started the first direction reverse, but quickly found that the right side still needed the whip and leg. I lightly tapped the reins and with my leg and whip we did yet another reining horse reverse. I patted him and said that was enough backing up for the night.
I’m sure with practice all things will get easier and better for us, but the collection helped. I could feel him drawn up under me like I’ve heard or read about in books. I finally understand what it all means.
I’ve purchased a longue tool that will aid me in helping him balance and collection.
I got it because it was cheaper than buying the Surcingle and the breeching with the lines separately.
I like how the lines are designed and I’m anxious to field test it. I’ll let you all know how it it goes.