Getting back in the saddle

Do not let fear stop you from doing what you love!

How it all began….

Anyone who knows me, follows my posts or sells me carrots in the supermarket will be fully aware that in my midlife years I am fulfilling my childhood dream and finally have my very own pony who I love with all my soppy heart, I will share my love and enthusiasm with anyone who dares to listen.

Honestly it is a little embarrassing as even when buying carrots I pointlessly explain with a goofy grin ‘these are for my horse’.  It has been 3 years and I still beam with excitement as I pull on my jodhpurs but I never take it for granted as the nervousness has not been forgotten.

Anyone seeing my photos would be forgiven for not knowing the back story, I know that there are many of you reading this that can relate to when fear takes over and stops you from doing what you love and how hair pulling and frustrating it can be but I am here to tell you that needn’t be the case.

My only interest as a child was horses, I lived for the weekends when I would be dropped off at the riding school by 8am as a keen and free worker and would be picked up when it got dark, the later the better.

My wonderful parents supported my passion but could not afford to buy me a pony (they cost all your money and some) so I would eagerly ride all the naughty ones at the riding school that others were not safe or brave enough to go near.  I was fearless and a little clueless, the bigger the challenge the more fun it would be.

When I was 17 years old I had the brilliant opportunity to exercise Polo Ponies and I have never been so fast, scared and full of adrenaline in all my life.  Sadly my fearless nature did not last forever as whilst riding these horses I had a serious fall which left a dramatic dent in my confidence.  I continued to ride but I soon became very selective and a solid reliable dobbin was my horse of choice.

I rode for a few more years but then I found excuses, it was no longer enjoyable, I was confused, fearful and shameful at losing my ability to do the one thing that I was brilliant at so I hung up my reins and riding became just something that I once did, a lost dream.

Confronting my fear

Working with visual boards is hugely successful and a turning point with my clients as the power of what you focus on is what you get amazes me as I joyfully listen to reports of their achievements.  It was time that I stopped playing and to work some of that magic on me.  So I innocently put a picture of a horse on my board with the intent to just be around and sniff horses again.

My husband now regularly checks my visual board to ensure there are no more pictures of animals as 2 dogs, 2 cats and a horse is enough, apparently!

A holiday in Cornwall was the perfect opportunity to start, I dragged my son horse riding as I had to put my plan into action.  The instructor noticed that I was a competent rider and said ‘fancy going faster’?  I reluctantly nodded and off we galloped across the beach with no time for nerves to stop me. The thrill, I just knew in an instant that I needed this back in my life, this was what had been missing.  I felt vibrant and alive, I ached for several days but my heart skipped and I had just the biggest smile.

On return from holiday I was on a mission whilst I still had the enthusiasm.  My intention was to go for a regular hack on a reliable horse but deep down I knew I wanted the old me back.

Seize the day!

Whilst investigating riding schools a Polo Pony rehoming charity popped up, bloody perfect.  So off I trotted to volunteer my help, just to be around horses again was just what I had been yearning for ohh that smell.  Now if you are not a horsey person I have probably lost your attention already but if you are from a similar mould you will know exactly what I mean.

My instincts took over and with no logical thought I met Cholula with the intentions of being her new adopted owner.  It was not love at first sight, I am not even sure if we liked each other, we were strangers and I was clueless and she knew it.  There was something deep inside that said ‘you have this opportunity, your dream, do not lose it, there are no second chances, it’s now or never’.  Patient Cholula had no choice in the matter and I bumbled along into the unknown.

The brain does not forget and mine was cleverly pattern matching; horses + polo + fall = panic.  The big link was that Cholula is a sports horse, a retired polo pony, I was nervous on the riding school pony for sure but with Cholula I felt an over whelming fear, my brain would go into overdrive.  She was my dream pony everything about her was perfect but she was also exactly like the horse that I had fallen from.  My brain would not let me forget, I forgive as logically I knew it was just doing it’s job, I needed to retrain my fight or flight response and it would require patience.

I have little interest in competing, I just wanted to be a happy hacker but how could it be a happy experience if I was full of anxiety?

Why was I putting myself through this?  I really do not know the answer but I was absolutely determined that fear was not going to stop me.  I had to use all the tools I teach and make them work for me otherwise how could I help my clients if could not help myself.

I still remember walking across the yard, I did the maths ‘I’ve been out of the saddle for 25 years what the bloody hell am I doing?  How did I get this old’?  For the first 6 weeks I would visit everyday, drag her from the field and groom her trying to convince myself this was a great idea, she would eyeball me and see that I was full of self doubt.  My brain was confused, is this really for me, who am I kidding, I felt like a fraud, all the gear and no idea.

Let love conquer fear

It was 6 weeks before I dared to get on and ride, for my benefit it was in the school and like a 5 year old I was on a lead rein, my brain was on over drive and it was one of those head and heart moments, they were at war.  I then progressed as I would take her regularly into the school and we cluelessly walked around.  Just to sit on my very own pony was enough to make me glow with happiness and motivate me but I also knew this was not enough we both deserved more.

It would have been so easy to make excuses, create distractions and not get on her but I dug deep and carried on regardless as otherwise it meant giving up and she would be a very pretty but expensive field ornament.  I made her a promise to care for her, to offer her a kind and loving retirement home and I wasn’t going to let my failings let her down.

Being with horses is a connection like no other, they are majestic, they communicate and will act as a mirror and reflect back to you your emotions.  So if you arrive at the field angry they will retreat, if you are fearful they will retreat.  If you are confused and unclear they will probably be the same as they look to you for their guidance, this was my biggest lesson to learn.

On the outside you can pretend, wear the mask but horses read your energy, your intentions and there are no hiding places, they see you, they feel you and when you get it right the reward is outstanding but they do not suffer fools lightly.

Basically my lesson was not about Cholula but instead it was about me.

Time to practice what I preach

As a privileged and trusted Therapeutic Life Coach I help my clients to overcome their fear whether that be driving following an accident, giving a successful presentation after a failure, accepting divorce and riding with confidence following a fall.

I have the tools to help you manage your anxiety, to take control so please do not let fear stop you from feeling alive and successful, there are solutions and I hope me sharing my story might inspire you to try.

After 4 months I could not put it off any longer and we went out hacking, after 6 months we were cantering around the fields and at 9 months we had a gallop, the adrenaline was breathtaking.  We tend to stick to walking and a little canter and this is enough for us both.  Our bond is unbreakable and to have this special relationship is priceless and worth every rain, snow, windy and fly swatting trip into the field with a feed bucket.

Now 3 years on, I never take our relationship for granted, we are happy hackers, I feel safe, we trust each other and when I ride her I feel as if I have come home.  My reward is the love she now gives me, when she wraps herself around me for a cuddle, when she lowers her head for a kiss, when she looks me in the eye and when she protects me from another horse saying hello my heart beats like a drum.

So if you see me grinning whilst buying carrots you will appreciate Cholula is not just a horse she is my therapist, my teacher, my confidence, my inspiration and if I had not met her I just would not be me!

Turn your fear into your maker!

#fear #confidence #overcomefear #liveyourlife

Karen Bennett Photography