After Marty returned from Anna’s, it occurred to me that it wasn’t enough just to try and alter his way of thinking. I had, of course, studied Anna’s way of working, asked many annoying questions, and done my best to learn and understand where I was going wrong and where I was going right – but there was a mental block that I felt stopped us from reaching our full potential. Not to mention that I didn’t want to carry my concerns and worries over to Xato – how disappointing it would be if my anxieties from Marty caused problems with Xato!
The fallout from a riding accident over a decade ago had been simmering away beneath the surface, had then been warmed up again by a bolting incident with an employer’s horse two years ago, and – for weird, convoluted reasons – during three years of owning Marty, the fear was dragged up to boiling point once again. I couldn’t explain why I found myself nervous of handling Marty when the previous incidents had involved ridden horses, but I knew it was all interlinked and I knew that I needed to fix it.
I had tried countless self-help techniques. At a Jeff Sanders clinic earlier this year, Jeff spoke about fear as a rider and taught us a useful breathing exercise that we could do. It worked – but only if I remembered to do it before my panic kicked in.
Last September I also booked a visit with a Trust Technique practitioner. Although I didn’t find the method conducive to my training, learning to be mindful certainly helped me remain calm in fearful situations … but only if I remembered to do it before my panic kicked in.
So, as you can see, I was beginning to recognise a pattern. Trying to overcome my nerves on my own was not going to be possible; I needed to learn how to make these methods automatic, rather than manual.
Ben spends his weekends teaching various people in the local area, and earlier this year he began working in conjunction with a lady named Jenni Winter in order to help a nervous rider. Jenni is a confidence coach, and the more I heard and found out about her, the more it seemed like this might be what I was looking for.
I booked myself on a four session course, which wasn’t cheap, but as this is something I’d been dealing with for over 10 years it seemed to me that it was well worth the cost if I could at least make some headway towards controlling it.
I am a fairly shy person but Jenni was extremely friendly and I felt able to relax with her immediately, which I’m sure helped! The first session involved pinpointing the exact moment that the worry started – for me, it was knowing that I was going into the field to catch him – and then learning to replace the bad feeling with a better feeling. I was asked to think of a time when I felt perfectly content and safe, and then to give it a shape and a colour; the “golden bubble” from the title. Even the phrase “golden bubble” sounds safe and cheerful, don’t you think? When I ducked under the fence, I imagined myself rising up into it like some kind of 19th century scuba diver. The mental image of me bobbing gently around in a shining gold diving suit was hugely entertaining, and I’ve no doubt it helped the process.
The next session was especially helpful, as Jenni had me recreating the feelings of panic and calmness and then slowing them down, down, down until I was able to understand exactly what was happening. I realised that when I felt calm, the sensation started in my belly and then washed up and over my chest and divided around my collarbone; I pictured it like a particularly ornate breastplate. After that I had only to think “breastplate!” and the panic would be swept away.
The third session was the funniest so far, as Jenni helped me unravel my fear until I found its origin and then ‘play’ it on a big screen that I visualised at the end of the field.
“You know how, at weddings, there’s always that one cheesy song that everyone gets up and dances to?” Jenni said.
“Er, yeh,” I replied, wondering where this was going.
“What song are you thinking of?”
“Alright. That’s your soundtrack.”
And that is the story of how I watched myself performing a perfect somersault with a Shire horse, all to the tune of Aqua’s finest song.
The final session is saved for after Xato’s arrival, so that we can focus on how he and I work together.
On my own, I don’t think these techniques would have stuck. The sessions obviously involved more detail then I have recounted here, and having Jenni on hand to talk me through, step by step, was incredibly helpful. It was exactly what I needed and I am so glad I took the plunge and committed! My nerves are by no means cured, but I finally have ways of dealing with them that don’t involve me screaming and going fetal. Now I can stride into battle, bubble-headed, clad in armour, and shouting my warcry that life in plastic is fantastic.