Quick Home Search

Facing Fear in Riding

Do the thing you fear the most and the death of fear is assured.  – Eleanor Roosevelt

Having fears can cripple us.  Fears are nothing to hold on to or live with.  In order to be the best version of ourselves, we have to face our fears in all parts of life and take action toward them.  Step into them in a healthy way.  Recently in my own life, I had a fairly significant fall aka unplanned dismount, while competing my horse cross country jumping.  I actually flew into the jump at about 15-20 mph with my head and cracked my helmet.  Fortunately, I was wearing all of the gear required in competition such as a helmet and body protector and was mainly just sore with a little whiplash. 

Two weeks later I had another competition coming up.  Those two weeks were full of “mental gymnastics” and fear and the desire to find some excuse not to go, but I knew that is all it was and I had to take action and get my mindset right to not let those fears grow.  I knew that if I did not push into it, it would be very detrimental to my confidence and for that matter, the best version of myself. 

There is a healthy fear that comes with working with an animal that is ten times your size.  If you say you are not afraid of horses, you may want to rethink that.  Non-horse people often tell me that horses scare them and my answer is, that’s okay, they scare me too!  But, if horses are your passion, you accept that risk and working with a large animal that has their own ideas, just like we accept risk when we walk out our door everyday, but that is part of really living.  We cannot live in fear of the “what ifs”.

First, take action.  Break down the fear into what you are afraid of.  Is it a real fear and what can you do to minimize that risk.  Everybody feels fear.  The most accomplished riders feel fear.  I don’t know any competitive riders who don’t have butterflies and nerves at a competition.  Often they learn to turn that adrenaline into an advantage of a sharp mind and reflexes that produces an excellent performance.   

When we take action on fear, we come out of it with confidence. True quiet confidence comes from, I felt this fear and these emotions, I didn’t give into them.  I took action in the midst of it.  Fear cannot win out.  John Wooden wisely stated, “The greatest failure of all is the failure to act when action is needed.”

Keep your confidence bank replenished.  If you have been riding long, you have had bad rides and bad falls.  Confidence is fragile.  It is built up over many rides and the passage of time and experience, but one fall or scare can destroy that confidence in a second.  Not only do we need to protect our bodies, we need to protect our minds.  Surround yourself with people who encourage you and push you at the same time.  Give yourself credit for a good ride, an excellent lesson and a successful competition.  Just like we thank others for a good job, thank yourself!  Change your self-talk from “that is too hard for me to do” to “I am working hard to be able to do that”.  Phrase your self-talk in a positive way. 

Most importantly, Have the right mindset.  Choose courage over comfort.  Courage is nothing more than taking one step more than you think you can take.  Holding onto fear only keeps us from being the best version of ourselves.  Turning and facing any fear in life is the only way to grow and become more confident.  As General Patton said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the action taken in the midst of fear.” 

Two weeks later, I faced my fear and I am now safely past that next competition and my confidence is healing.  My goal for the competition was to ride well and not even think about where I was in the placings.  That should be my goal every time, right?!  But competing and learning your mindset in different situations and the pressures we put on ourselves, it affects our performance.  I am learning the balance between putting all my horse and I have learned together into play in the moments at a competition and at the same time slowing my brain down when I have the added adrenaline that comes with competition.  Are you struggling with fear?  It is time to take action!  Email me if I can help you figure out the next step – heather@mtnhomes4horses.com.

The adversity we face in life is the making of us.  It is a test, dig in and dig in hard. – Brian Buffini

Heather McWilliams © 2020

A Way Forward in the Horse World

One of the popular memes going around right now for horse people is that daily life does not look much different pre or post COVID-19.  It is just the norm that some professional and amateur riders spend most of their days alone with their horses riding and training anyway.  Some have had a breather in their work schedules allowing extra time to spend with their horses and riding.  With the Stay at Home order lifted this month, what does that mean for horse people?  What do any kind of horse gatherings look like – in the near future at least?  How do we do all that we can to promote the best possible outcome for continuing to have the “freedom” to take our horses to competitions and the other gatherings that we would typically be enjoying by now?

It doesn’t matter if we agree with or not all of the restrictions and protocol that we have been living with and the new ones that will be added.  In order to do all we can to move forward and be able to start and sustain trail rides, competitions, rodeos, horse shows, gymkhanas, events and more, we just absolutely have to do our absolute best to follow the protocol. 

Equestrian Sports Productions President Michael Stone stated, “The most important thing we have to realize is we just have one chance to get it right,” he said. “When we kick off, we have to do it correctly.”

The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) is the major governing body over many disciplines including Olympic disciplines who will have mandatory and recommended best practices outlined in the USEF COVID-19 action plan.  While many of our local competitions are not at this level, the USEF has put a lot of thought into the plan and it is a way for many of us to move forward within our disciplines, even if it is trail riding, as there is excellent protocol to follow.  Some of the key elements of the plan include risk assessment; temperature monitoring of volunteers, officials and staff (upon arrival); social distancing; banning spectators from competitions; limiting the number of entrances and exits; requiring all entries to be completed online; and using posted orders of go and published ride times to prevent groups from accumulating at the arenas. Participants will have to sign a revised waiver and release of liability and assumption of risk and indemnity agreement. Not to mention, individuals can be removed from the grounds for failing to adhere to the requirements by the organization or officials.

Some other ideas for competitions are text messaging apps to send out a mass text in case of a storm, where it could be recommended that people shelter in their car rather than the barns or public areas.  In addition, final scores, placings and scoresheets could also be delivered via text or email.  Larger horse events plan to build in buffers, like an empty stall, between participants, not to mention foregoing any kind of parties or gatherings.

USEF team physician Dr. Mark Hart addressed the most basic question of all: Is it even safe to consider going back to competitions? His answer: yes and no.  “Equestrian sports are inherently safer than some other sports because we don’t have contact with other people,” he said. “In equestrian sports—barring a couple of our disciplines such as vaulting and para—we can maintain social distancing. Do we overwhelm a local medical system with our sport? We’re not showing that we’re impacting the local medical providers that way.”

It boils down to personal responsibility and remembering the big picture.  We are blessed and fortunate to be spending time with our horses and friends by now.  We may be enjoying a beautiful sunny day in Colorado while other parts of the world are under tremendous stress.  We need to be sensitive to that so that we are not a burden or hurt our “new freedoms”.  Horse people are already used to putting others first as we strive to put our horses needs above our own.  On a practical level, good practices should begin at home, at the barn and continue at the horse event of whatever kind.

As John Madden stated about his own barn at the onset of COVID-19, “We’re already wearing masks, social distancing, cleaning things,” he said. “It’s important to develop good habits of disinfecting. Go through your day and think about what happens. Who’s going to feed the horses? Who’s opening the stall door? Where will I put disinfecting devices? Are we going to keep the air moving in different places? Do I need to buy extra equipment so I can keep everything separate?”

A life of solitude and horses sounds pretty ideal most of the time, but every now and then it is good to get together with our horse friends or work on our riding and competition goals to make us better for our horses.  So strap on those masks, hand sanitizer in tow, 6 feet apart and stay home if you are sick horse folks and help escort this renegade virus out of town.  Of course, don’t forget to wash your hands!

COVID action plan and waiver is available on the USEF website, as well as many other resources.  www.usef.org/media/coronavirus-resources.  Heather McWilliams © 2020

Rider Confidence – Can I really do this?

May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears.  – Nelson Mandela

Horse goals for each of us can vary greatly.  For some it may be to just get on and feel safe, to trail ride around the block, to rope a calf, to correctly complete a barrel pattern, to remember the drill team routine, to make it to one show to just be in the warm up arena, to qualify for a national competition, or even the Olympics.  Break the big goal down into smaller steps and goals and then get started.  No matter the goal, the first step is courage.

Being courageous is not the absence of fear, but in the face of fear, choosing to act with courage anyway.  Throughout history, monumental moments happened because a person, a group or a country chose to ignore the odds, push past their doubts and fears and charge ahead anyway – think the movie Bravehart!

Maybe we are not defending our country and our freedoms, but sometimes our fears can seem that big.  With horses, our fears are not just about being judged or making a fool of ourselves, but they also apply to our health and safety.  Here is the disclaimer; we need the equine partner who is the right fit for us.  There are always stories that make exceptions to the rule, but have a professional horse person help you evaluate that you have the right horse to be safe and accomplish your goal, no matter what it is.  If not, there is a better partner out there for both of you.

With fears, we can stall and overthink.  But we have to have the courage to act.  The longer we wait, the more power fear has.  What you resist, persists, but what you step into dissipates.  The only way to conquer your fears is to step into them.  Avoiding them just makes them stronger and scarier.

As Les Brown said, what you think about is what you are.  Be intentional about what you put in your brain.

I recently was at the threshold of a big goal this year.  Rain delayed part of the goal by a day and my brain was racing with “what ifs”.   I needed to recall quotes and encouragements in my brain, I needed my husband, sons and friends to encourage me, I listened to music that gave me warrior-like confidence, I took lots of deep breaths and when the moment arrived I said, “I am going to be the best I can be for my horse and make it fun for her”.

I believe all riders struggle with confidence (as you can see, I certainly do), all people do for that matter, but here we are talking about riders.  The first step to confidence is commitment.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
― Winston S. Churchill

We have to be committed to the goal we want to achieve.  We have to have the motive to stick with the goal.  Darren Hardy defined commitment as, doing the thing you said you were going to do long after to mood you were in when you originally said it has left you.  Lack of consistency is the subtle killer of dreams and goals.  Have the grit to show up even when it is hard.

Once you are committed to the goal, next is courage.  Courage is doing what is uncomfortable, stretching yourself and stepping into the unknown.   To build courage, we need to be foolish.  Steve Jobs said, “don’t fear failure.”  True courage is risky and our egos are fragile, but true personal growth only happens when we stretch our current limits and comfort zone.  The size of the problem you take on determines the size for the results.

That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do it has increased. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Once we have stepped into the unknown with courage and continue to persist and strive toward our goal, our capabilities improve.  As Emerson stated, our task becomes easier and our ability to do it increases.  The repetition and time spent moves us past our fears and we develop new capabilities and skills we did not have before.

Don’t keep re-reading the last chapter – believe in yourself & the ability to write your own story. 

Down the line of your commitment, courage and new capabilities you will find yourself at confidence!  You didn’t start with confidence, it was a process to get there.  We do what we want to do, admit it.  You have to want it.  Commit to a goal and the steps to accomplish that goal.  Maybe your goal is big.  Maybe you want to go to the Olympics, the Nationals or the Futurity and not just go, but win.  The bigger the dream, the more important the team – find help through friends and family to encourage and support you and professionals to help you keep learning to be a better partner for your horse.

What will your goals be for 2019?  Dream big!  Heather McWilliams © 2018

Winter riding in the Foothills – What do your horse neighbors do?

Being a horse owner in the Colorado Foothills offers different dynamics to riding in the different seasons.  We have a plethora of amazing trails within an hour of our door.  Our spring, summer and fall weather offers many days of beautiful outdoor riding weather, with few days lost to precipitation.  But living in an arid climate, we take what moisture we can get!

The Rocky Mountains are just that, rocky – the ground is hard and abrasive on horse hooves.  There are very few horses that can take all of our trails barefoot.  The majority of riders have their horses shod for the main riding months, at least in front or use some kind of trail boots when riding in hard or rocky terrain.

This year, fall and early winter have allowed for some beautiful cool weather riding, but we all know the snow will soon fall and the mountains and valleys will fill their stores of moisture for the coming year.

Indoor arenas are more the exception in our community, but are a great way to carry on with riding and training no matter the weather.  Some people choose to board their horses at a nearby indoor facility during the winter or even head south for a month or so to facilities such as in Arizona that offer Roping, Team Penning and Ranch Sorting during the winter months.  Some head to California or Florida in the early spring to start getting geared up for the summer show season.  No matter the discipline, the local events slow down significantly or come to a winter hiatus.  What do we do to keep our horses active and fit?

Here are some winter activity ideas from your local horse neighbors on what they do in the winter months when the trails get icy and the outdoor arenas are hard and crusty.

  1. Barb G. in Evergreen

Activities – Trail riding in neighborhood, local fields and fox hunting, but only when the footing is good. I am a safety freak!  I have had my horse and I slip and fall and I want to avoid this again!

Arena – Outdoor freezes, sometimes trailer to Jeffco Fairgrounds Indoor Arena.  I have heard there is a brand of magnesium chloride that is environmentally safe you can mix with outdoor arena sand to keep it thawed out.

Turnout – Always, no matter the weather.

Time off – Not by choice, but just inevitable sometimes.

Winter boarding – Thought about it, but turnout is limited and I won’t give up giving them my special attention and care.

Feet – Borium and snow pads – tried pulling shoes in the winter, but mine come up lame.  Tried Easy boots – but just simpler to shoe.

Clipping – Partial clip.

  1. Nicole K. at Mount Falcon Equestrian Center in Indian Hills

Activities – We ride around our property all the time unless it’s terribly icy and love riding in the snow. When our outdoor arena becomes snowy – I pull a sled behind my horse!  This winter I am planning on pulling skiers behind me for some skijoring. Otherwise I haul down to Chatfield Park and other parks as long as it’s not icy.

Arena – We have an indoor arena and a heated barn so that makes the coldest of months bearable. Still many of my clients don’t ride much during the holiday season in December if it’s too cold. I encourage everyone to at least lunge their horses and give them a mash after workout to keep them hydrated and help prevent impaction colic. If we don’t get too much snow our outdoor arena stays alright.

Feet – Barefoot horses stay barefoot in winter. For horses that I shoe, I add snow pads. I truly believe horses here in Colorado need some sort of hoof protection while being ridden – hoof boots or shoes. The ground is just not forgiving and very abrasive – even in winter – riding that much more on the sandy surface of the indoor, still files their toes plus they don’t grow much horn in winter.

  1. Amy H. in South Evergreen

Activities – Love loping in deep fresh snow in the pasture, or for slick days, ground and liberty work!

  1. Chris S. in Evergreen

Activities – I seem to do more training in the winter because the icy trails (especially in the shade) aren’t safe.

Favorite Activity – One year a friend and I trailered down to Chatfield Park.  We bundled up as it was about 20 degrees F.  There was snow on the ground, but we just walked and stayed on the dirt service roads.  It was sunny and beautiful and one of my favorite rides ever.  The horses really seemed to enjoy it too.

Arena – My outdoor arena stays pretty good until January, but then gets too frozen and hard. Then I go down to Jeffco indoor arena 1-3 times a week.  It costs $5 and is usually open Monday thru Thursday, but you do need to call to make sure it hasn’t been rented.

Feet – My horses wear rubber boots when I trail ride so I feel a little better about riding the hard roads, but do tend to spend more time in arenas.

Clip – No

  1. Mary T. in Conifer

Activities – I still try to ride at least 5 times a week—and continue with lessons– regardless of the wind or the cold.   Only if it is below 25 degrees do I not ride or ride a much more easy routine for the sake of our horses.

Arena – I board at Red Hawk Ranch in Conifer which has both an outdoor and a lighted indoor arena (although unheated) my riding changes very little with the seasons.    Our outdoor gets good sun and is generally clear but when not, we use the indoor.

Feet – We pull shoes in the winter since we are generally only riding in the arena so generally do not trail ride.  We typically do not do shows in the winter.

Clip – No

  1. Heather B. in Conifer

Activities – I love riding in the snow, and my horses love it as well.  Of course I work on big turns, or collection (I used to get wonderful passage on my dressage horse in the deep snow!) and transitions, we go on trail rides, either up here or down the hill, depending on the footing.

Arena – I try and get in some work in an indoor just to keep the training from falling too far backwards!

Feet – Shoes with snow pads

  1. Dan L. in Evergreen

Activities – Fox hunting and trail riding.  Fox hunting is a winter sport because originally hunts ran over farmer’s fields, which are fallow only in the late fall and winter. If I have two operational horses, I will hunt twice a week during the October through April season. Although the Arapahoe Hunt is very fast, it is also quite relaxed about riders who want to go at a more sedate pace on any kind of sensible horse. If you want to ride right up with the hounds, you need a fast, well conditioned horse, normally a calm thoroughbred or cross (yes, hard to find).  I do ride in the “first flight”, so I have to start conditioning on the local trails in August, and then exercise once or twice a week during the season. Fortunately, there are some good people who enjoy helping me out with the exercise program. Hunt season also means lots of grooming, tack cleaning, trailering and all the special care that goes into keeping a horse in top condition for seven months. Fox hunting is the only horse sport that is non-competitive where you get the thrill of a five mile gallop across the Colorado high plains.  Check out the Arapahoe Hunt website at http://arapahoehunt.com/ or call Dan at 303-674-3834 for more information.

Feet – Shoes with borium.

  1. Heather M. in Evergreen

Activities – Riding in fields, fox hunting, riding in outdoor as weather allows, trailering to Jeffco Fairgrounds when the other activities are not possible.  Spring Gulch Equestrian Area in Highlands Ranch can be a great place to trailer to in the winter.

Turnout – always with shelter options.

Time off – I like my horses to get breaks and that happens naturally in the winter months when I cannot ride as often.

Winter boarding – Have tried and may again depending on goals, but I miss my horses and caring for them!

Arena – If ground is good and it is above ~25 degrees F, yes!  If too cold, don’t want my horse to get too wet and chilled.  I only have run in barns.

Feet – Depending on job, two are barefoot for winter and have trail boots if needed, one has shoes with snow pads and holes for studs.

Clip – The fit horse that gets ridden the most is partially clipped and blanketed as appropriate.  Others in light work, au natural.

What are your plans this winter?  Email me with more ideas to share – heather@mtnhomes4horses.com.

Indoor or outdoor arenas:

Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Golden, 303-271-6600

Indiana Indoor Equestrian Center in Arvada, 720-394-0191

Parks close down the hill with good sun and trails for winter:

Spring Gulch Equestrian Area, Chatfield State Park, Bear Creek Lake Park.