Saturday, January 9, 2010

Readers Write Saturday--Claudia McCreedy

A big EI welcome to Claudia McCreedy. Claudia joins us this week with a post about overcoming fear. Thanks so much for taking the time to write something for us, Claudia.

Please send your posts for Readers Write Saturday to We'd love to feature you with a story about yourself, your horse, or anything else that pertains to this blog.

I had a few riding lessons about 20 years ago. Then life got in the way. When my daughter was about 7 she started taking riding lessons. I watched with ill concealed envy for about three years. Then I started taking lessons. Shortly after that my husband got sick, he who had not missed a day of work in 27 years. He was sick, in the hospital, sick, over Christmas. What is significant about that was that when he got out he wanted to get a horse. We had never really considered getting a horse before that. We ended up with Tonka, a PMU draft colt that was about 9 months old. Next I found my dream horse – knew he was the one (don't know how) – at a Dept. of Agriculture action of seized horses. I didn't even know what he looked like until we went to the auction. Rohann is Percheron TB cross. He was two and had already been gelded.

So there we were green on green on green. We found a place to keep them and eventually I sent Rohann off for horse boot camp. That was about four years ago. Keep in mind caution has always been my middle name. I have gotten lessons from all sorts of people that I have come into contact with at the barn. I read about and tried to follow different training approaches mostly of the natural horsemanship type. Rohann is a big guy, drafty in build and a very, very easy keeper. Of our two horses he is the leader. He has much more whoa than go, which is fine by me. I have learned a great deal about confidence, leadership, and persistence with Rohann. I have been so lucky that he has a great laid back temperament.

Early on, on a trail ride he tripped going down hill and went down and I came off. He stepped on the inside of my lower leg to pushing off to jump up out of the little gully we were in. Luckily he didn't break my leg because of the soft sand we were in. He did whinny for me for me after he got up. I was able to get back on and ride out. A couple of years later (in a hurry on a windy day trying to get ready to go on a trail ride – invites were rare) while picking his hoof Rohann (who I would not classify as a spooky horse) spooked, big. He spooked in place, but the hoof I had been holding came down on my foot (concrete under us) and I had a break/crush injury.

The following has been explained to by me by my then 11 year old daughter as I do not have memories of the event. Three months after the foot incident my daughter and I were riding in the upper pasture, which to me is quite hilly. Rohann took off from the upper section (not liking being away form the herd) he bucked three times and I came off going down hill. My husband and I had ridden our horses up here before and were fine. The only thing different is that my daughter was with me and on a different horse but one who was in the gelding herd. I was wearing a helmet. My memories resumed from the hospital bed. But aside from a pretty sore shoulder I was physically fine.

Mentally, fear was raging. I first noticed it when I was looking at a horse catalog in the saddle section and felt nervous like you do when you are about to go into the job interview. I got on a few times after that but was shaking with nerves when I did. I just could not give up though. I worked with a girl on natural horsemanship (Parelli) stuff on the ground for the better part of the year. His ground manners improved a great deal. It was a good move on my part. I then set a goal of one hundred five minute rides in the arena. I had about thirty or so rides under my belt when I found someone who understood the whole working your way back thing. She got me interested in the Mary Wanless riding philosophy. Maybe it is how my mind works, but I love it. There are a thousand things to be thinking about when riding but not one of them is fear. I feel so much more confident when I am on horseback now. I have a better understanding what a “good seat” is. He can offer an unasked for trot and that is fine, I can deal with it. All of our work since the accident has been in the arena, with one exception. I am thrilled to say that we have trailered out with some of the other boarders at our barn to some very nice trails and had a successful ride.

We are not yet cantering, but now I feel like I am working on having a much more solid foundation for it when the time comes. It has been a couple of years since the accident. I have just kept at it. It is like the “How do you eat an elephant?” question. One bite at a time. I just can’t give up. I have taken the endurance approach (just keeping at it) to over coming fear rather than by trying to take big brave leaps and bounds.

The most amazing thing for me to realize is how all of this has translated into “real” life. Now when I am in a difficult situation I can resist the “must curl up in the fetal position” reaction and correct my posture bring up my resolve and say “I am going to ride this pony!”

Claudia McCreedy


Laura Crum said...

I think most all of us can relate to the fear issue, Claudia. Despite all that I have done with horses in my past, and the fact that I haven't come off in a long, long time (knock on wood), I still "fight my head" sometimes, worrying that my son or I will get hurt while riding. I applaud your 100 five minute rides idea. That's a very sensible thought. I also find that giving myself permission not to ride when I feel fearful about it often helps me to notice when I actively do want to ride. And, like you, I give myself permission to have a short relaxing arena ride sometimes...just to take the pressure off.

Yesterday my son and I rode on the beach, which is always fun, but can be, well, interesting. It was a sligthtly stormy day and I was feeling tense. Just as we set out we met a string of dude horses, loping, more or less out of control, along. Our steady horses are good, but are not proof against just a little excitement at such an encounter. My son's horse, Henry (the "lazy horse") began to prance and got very up, for him. My son was nervous. This made me nervous. I fantasized about a wreck and my son being scared or worse, hurt...well, you know the mind game. I had to take a deep breath, gather myself, say a silent thank you to Sunny, who was still very calm, and make a simple, safe choice. I put Henry on the pony rope for the next mile, until he was settled. I resisted my son's desire to lope until Henry was his usual relaxed self. In the end, we had a pleasant trouble free ride and much fun was had by all. As we walked back on a lovely trail through the sand dunes with a big view of the stormy bay beyond, I felt peaceful and said a grateful thank you to our two good little horses, who came through again. One more victory over fear.

But I still have to deal with fear...I don't suppose there will ever be a time when it won't arise at certain moments. I can totally relate your battle with fear.

stilllearning said...

Good for you, Claudia, for not letting fear (and some bad incidents) make you quit. I really love the "100 five minute rides" technique. What a good idea to break things down into tiny pieces (altho I'll bet the first few of those rides took a lot of nerve and didn't feel so tiny)! You can only truly be brave when you know fear, and you are doing an amazing job of facing it down.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story - it's a great illustration of how important it is to take one small step at a time - congratulations on our progress!

Susan said...

I am also working on fear issues from a string of accidents where I was never badly hurt, just scared.
A year ago, when it was time to trail our cattle home, we figure it's about six miles, I was terrified almost to the point of being petrified. It's not a good feeling. I worked on myself mentally as we trailored our horses up, but my mare, Mellie, was the hero in my eyes. Not only did she give me an exceptional ride, she was the best behaved horse as we drove our cattle home. She did everything I asked, even though she was the greenest horse there. You can't tell me horses aren't tuned into their riders. She just knew and was willing to help me out. The picture of me is from that ride. What a confidence booster!