There have been two distinct positives of this experience as far as my horses are concerned.
The first is that I am a better, more relaxed rider than I have been for some years, because I'm not so worried about my own safety now. I know that I should be because the farm depends on me alone now, but I'm just not. This isn't as dodgy as it sounds because I'm very worried about my horses safety and very concerned about their confidence and happiness, but I can now relax, go with the flow and react only to what's actually happening beneath me, rather than worrying about what might happen, as I did sometimes before.
I also have more empathy with horses because I have become intimately acquainted with fear. I know what it's like to live with constant, often non specific and irrational, all consuming fear.
It began when I got a phone call in the middle of the night when David nearly died four days before he did die. I knew it was going to be bad as soon as I heard the phone ring and could only manage a small, hoarse voice to answer it with.
After he had died the fear stayed with me and my shame and disappointment because of it knew no bounds. The worst had happened so the fear could only be for myself and became so great that the knot of it in my stomach prevented me from eating almost entirely for the first week and forcing food down stayed very difficult until very recently. That has now become another positive as I have lost 22 pounds and am now thin and really fit for the first time in my life, which cheers me up immensely.
Thanks to the guide on the Merry Widow website I now understand that fear comes with the territory of what I've been through, along with losing my identity and having to find out who I am now.
Horses, who survive by being nervous anyway, must often live with this same sort of intense fear, especially in times of change or in new situations when they have little or no control over what happens to them. I will never again blame a horse for being afraid of something, familiar or unfamiliar, even when it was confident before, because I've been there myself.
This was a very bad time for me to try and learn to do something completely new and challenging like learning to drive, and after the first lesson I came home almost paralysed with fear and disappointment in myself because of it, but no doubt that was a useful lesson too. If my instructor and my friends had not been sympathetic and encouraging I would not have been able to continue. As it is my confidence has grown in leaps and bounds, along with my self esteem.
I also found with my driving lessons that I remembered and dwelt on every last thing I did wrong and instantly forgot anything I did right. I thought when I was riding Grace the other day that I have done the same many times when riding - remembered each and every time the horse was fearful of something I, in my arrogance, thought unreasonable, and forgot or didn't even notice all the times the horse made an effort to be brave and do his best. I suppose this is almost inevitable if a fearful reaction on the part of the horse leads to a fall - it's hard not to dwell on that when you have the bruises to remind you - but it still seems a very unfair way of thinking to me now and one I hope to avoid in the future. It seems to me that anxious horses could often be trying very, very hard to do the right thing 99% of the time and get little or no credit for it because of the one time they just can't. I hope I can avoid falling into that trap with my horses now.
I said in my other blog that Grace was frightened of high sided vehicles on narrow roads. Well, she is still not completely relaxed with them but since the new me began riding her she can face up to them and stand her ground. This is partly due to my more relaxed attitude to her nervousness and partly due to the fact that I now treat her in the way that someone has treated me whenever I am frightened or upset. I adopt the same attitude of concentrated concern and empathy combined with gentle, affectionate humour and reassurance and it works every time. She knows I'm there for her, thoughtful of her feelings and helping her through without thinking about myself at all, and it's all she needs to comfort and reassure her.
It gives her the confidence and strength to be brave. It worked for me too!
This is my new blog to continue my journey with my Dales Ponies. It will also be the story of my building a new life for myself, alone now, except for my friends, horses and dogs, since my partner died in March 2009. We had lived and worked together, mostly twenty four hours a day, for nearly 28 years and I have never lived alone before. It is a tribute to my wonderful friends that I am still here, still sane(ish) and ready to re-invent myself. I love them all more than words can ever say and can never thank them enough for all they have done and are still doing. It is also a tribute to Alexandra Kurland and 'The Click That Teaches' that I know how to save myself now. To new beginnings.......