A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fear Friday!

We've all felt it.  We've all tried to ignore it.  And here we've talked about it some.  Fear. It doesn't listen to logic, it doesn't make any sense, and it's so hard to get over! 

It's that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, the raise in heart rate, the shortness of breath, and the trembling of your hands.  You know it when you feel it, and it drives away your desires.  It's a monster, and one that threatens so many of us.

But how to get over it?  You can't just rush headlong into it, and say "move over buddy, coming through!".  While that's what everyone tells us to do, it doesn't work like that.  The reactions we feel as fear, are the same reactions that prevent that type of action.  How do you try when your body screams to run away?

I've always had fear.  I personally think that anyone who doesn't it lying, or broken.  In the past, my fear was minor, and never stopped me.  Sure, I knew that climbing on a green horse could have a bad end, but it was worth it to me.  I knew I could get bucked off, broken, permanently injured, or what ever, but I could control the physical reactions, and still move forward.  Since my accident, I haven't been nearly as successful.

For me, my fear has been all about being under a horse's hooves.  It doesn't matter if it makes sense, but if my mind can make the leap to me some how ending up under the horse, the fear comes out.  Riding Boo on a windy day can trigger it.  I know he's stable and a safe ride, but I know that windy days tend to make horses spook more, and that's all my little brain needs.  It starts ticking away, out of control:

It's windy, you'll get to the back side of the arena, and the long grass will blow, and he will spook.  He'll spin, dropping you on the ground, and then bolt right over you, and there's nothing you'll be able to do to stop him.  Just stay off of him, because it WILL happen.  You will die, shattered into a thousand pieces under the hooves of your beloved horse, with your family sitting there watching, forever traumatized.

Yes, that is how my fear gets to me.  Boo is a saint of a horse.  He can take a joke, and keep on going, and he rarely spooks.  When he DOES, he never bolts.  So what makes me think that will happen?  Maybe because I know it COULD?  I honestly don't know.

Courage is fear that has said its prayers.
Dorothy Bernard

I had a friend tell me that I should stop saying I am afraid.  I am not sure that I agree with this.  Her thinking is that if I say I am afraid, then I will be afraid.  My thinking is that I am already freaked out, so why hide it?

Oh sure, I could fake it.  Sometimes I feel like that is what I should be doing, just suck it up, and get back on the horse!  But trying to do that, and finding that I was unable to, left me in tears.  The harder I tried, and the less I was able to do, the more I felt like a failure.

Feeling like a failure saps my self confidence. The less confidence I have, the less I am able to progress, so instead of battling my fear, I try to battle my confidence.  I do what I can, and always try to add in one thing that is "new" or that causes me a small amount of anxiety.  But does she have a point?  Does saying "I'm afraid" make me more afraid?

Does ignoring it make me more brave?

What is bravery anyways?  Is it overcoming your fear, or is it never having felt it in the first place?

So what is fear, and when is it really ok to say it's fear?  For me, it starts with butterflies in my stomach, my heart rate increases, and my breathing gets shallow.  If I try to push it, I feel the tingling in the back of my throat, and my hands shake.  I want to leave,  I want to do something else, ANYthing else, so long as I'm not doing THAT.  I start to feel the desire to cry - and I'm not a weepy person by nature - and then I feel shame at being so weak.  The more I push, the more it builds on itsself, and the worse I feel about who I am.  Things that shouldn't matter become bigger then they are.

It may start with feeling fear of the canter, and end up with being sure that I can't care for my horses at all properly, and should just give them all away.  The harder I push at my fear, the harder it pushes back at me.  If I let it, it seeps into everything, eating away at my pride, and my feelings that I can do something, ANYTHING right.

But when I face it head on, and say "Yeah, I'm afraid of doing that...... but it's ok to be afraid" then it loses power.  Fear is a monster that wants to eat away at us, but if you starve it, it dies off.  At least for me.  I simply don't do what I am afraid to do.  I don't try to battle it head on, but instead work around the problem, and I find that I make more progress.

If I'm scared to pick a horse's feet, then I have some one else do it.  If I watch, and can SEE that it is ok, then I will try.  Sure, the horse's feet are clean now, but that isn't my goal.  Rather, I simply want to see if I can really pick up that hind foot.  When I do, I feel proud.  I feel like I made a step, and I feel like I am in control.

What do you think?  Is it better to tackle fear head on?  Does it work for you to sneak up on it?  Or is it better yet to completely avoid it all together?  What makes you afraid, and how have you been coping with it?

And what do those around you think about how you are trying to cope with it?

Every Friday is going to be dedicated to fear issues.  Many of my own, and any one who is willing to put theirs out there.  Have a problem with something, ask in the comments, and I might make it the subject of next week's Fear Friday (Because it can't be all about me!).  Post anonymously if you'd like.  I know there are a lot of us who are dealing with this, and for me, having the support of those around me, both real and virtual, has been so helpful. By coming together, maybe we can all conquer our fears together.


  1. Brava! You totally outdid yourself for your first edition of Fear Friday. Seriously!

    You spoke to my heart. You managed to put all those crazy, frustrating, overwhelming, terrifying emotions all into words. And I thank you for that.

    As you know, I have not ridden my horse since she started kicking me and threatening to kick me last summer. Like you and your fear of being trampled underneath a horse, no one can truly understand what type of fear you are experiencing until they also go through it, too.
    My fear is being kicked in the head again by a horse. Like you, I am lucky to be alive...and know it, too. I am always aware of how quickly a situation with a horse can head south with a trip to the emergency room in the end.
    Before I owned my horse I never knew anyone who had been injured or killed by a horse....now I know far too many. And that is part of the fuel that helps my fear burn.

    I liken horseback riding and handling horses to skydiving. Both are risky, life-threatening, and dangerous. You're placing your entire trust on something that you hope will be reliable, work properly, and not cause you to become injured or killed. But in the back of your mind you are fully aware that it has a mind of it's own and can often malfunction.

    It goes like this:

    You watch people sky dive every day and never see or hear about anyone getting injured or killed. So you yearn to skydive, too.

    Or, on the other hand, you do hear of "other people" who have gotten hurt and killed and believe that won't happen to you because you are always safe and you have lots of experience and would never get hurt or killed.

    So then, one day, while skydiving, you get hurt and end up in the hospital.

    A little seed of fear and apprehension takes hold in your heart and you question if you should continue skydiving. You continue anyway feeling just a little anxious, but excited about the thrill and the rush that skydiving gives you. And after a few dives, your equipment malfunctions and you are injured again....close to death the doctors tell you.

    Now you're really afraid and questioning your love of skydiving. You're worry about death and leaving behind those who love and need you. Then you start to hear of other folks who have gotten seriously injured and even killed, when skydiving....and then you are frozen in fear, because you know it can happen to you...because it has.

    You start to question your reasons for loving skydiving so much and wonder if your passion is a selfish pastime. You start to wonder if you have an unhealthy obsession. Why would you put yourself in mortal danger each time just for fun?
    Other people try to convince you that you are acting silly and must remember that you could get hurt crossing the street or driving a car.
    But you listen to reason and know that driving a car or crossing the street still has better odds than skydiving.
    You can't answer all your questions, so you languish in confusion and frustration while the fear controls you because you can't make any sense of the situation.

    Yeah, I probably over-think thing just a tad. But seriously. Like you said fear is irrational. You know why you have the fear, but you have no control of it. It's like getting burned or touching poison ivy. Your body goes through the pain and it remembers, and there is nothing you can do to convince your mind that ever touching poison ivy or an open flame again is in your best interest. Even thinking about touching them makes your heart speed up and fills your mind with negative feelings. Your brain is protecting you from getting hurt again.
    So, forcing your body to go ahead and touch that flame or poison ivy leaf is illogical to your mind.
    It's a crazy, out-of-control circle.

    Thanks again for your Fear Friday post and for getting the subject out there to talk about.


    ps I hope you don't mind if I share a link on my blog to your post. I think others could benefit, too.

  2. That first picture puts fear in me, look at those eyes! I have broken my leg and had a concussion coming off a horse, so there is that fear of it happening again, but I still like to ride but i dont go past what i am comfortable with.

  3. In most cases, I think, fear isn't generalized - it's specific to one type of situation, and as in your case and Lisa's (and mine after Dawn kicked me in the Jaw several years ago), it's a perfectly natural response to remembering a specific situation that resulted in pain/injury. The only way I've found to deal with it is: 1) time (and more time and more time . . .), and 2) working at it from around the edges - if I couldn't pick Dawn's back feet, I picked a front or just groomed, and only increased what I did as I felt comfortable, and 3) and making sure that if I needed to make changes I made them - either in how I handled a horse or by building my knowledge/experience base to build my confidence - if a rider/handler is inexperienced good supervision/mentoring makes a huge difference. And caution is different from fear - everyone should be cautious (in fact a lot of bad things, like Dawn kicking me, happen because someone's in a hurry or complacent) but true fear can be disabling - just think of a horse running in panic.

    Great topic and great idea to do these posts.

  4. I have a fear of riding even since I had my fall nearly 3 years ago and I have NOT been back on a horse yet. I have permanent nerve damage in my back, which extends to my feet, which now tingle 24/7. I would love to ride again, but haven't found a horse to climb up on and NONE of mine are saddle broke...someday i WILL get back on a horse, but I'm much more wary with all of mine now, even though it wasn't one of them who I fell from (it was a friend's horse). My back surgeon told me I'd NEVER ride again and I intend to prove him wrong, but the fear factor IS still there. Wonderful post and something for a lot of us to read and deal with.

  5. Please feel free to share away. I figure if talking about it helps anyone then we should talk about it.

    I think Kate is right, our fears tend to be specific. What I wonder is, for someone who was thrown from a horse and gained a fear, what is the fear of? Reactive horse that might toss you? The act of falling? Something more vague, or more specific?

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  7. In most cases, I think, fear isn't generalized - it's specific to one type of situation, and as in your case and Lisa's (and mine after Dawn kicked me in the Jaw several years ago), it's a perfectly natural response to remembering a specific situation that resulted in pain/injury. The only way I've found to deal with it is: 1) time (and more time and more time . . .), and 2) working at it from around the edges - if I couldn't pick Dawn's back feet, I picked a front or just groomed, and only increased what I did as I felt comfortable, and 3) and making sure that if I needed to make changes I made them - either in how I handled a horse or by building my knowledge/experience base to build my confidence - if a rider/handler is inexperienced good supervision/mentoring makes a huge difference. And caution is different from fear - everyone should be cautious (in fact a lot of bad things, like Dawn kicking me, happen because someone's in a hurry or complacent) but true fear can be disabling - just think of a horse running in panic.

    Great topic and great idea to do these posts.

  8. Thanks Lisa, for letting me know I'm not crazy with my perception of it all.

    I think you have a point about the sky diving analogy, but at the same time, I disagree. I mean, my gut says that it's not selfish to love something as much as I love horses. Just because I have fear, doesn't mean I should give up, and it doesn't stop me from throwing my heart into it.

    I mean, how many of us have been burned in love? And yet we eventually get back up and try again, assuming that the next time it will be different. If we learn from our mistakes, we can keep from being hurt either physically or emotionally. Isn't that really what we're doing with the horses?

  9. Laughing Orca RanchJune 24, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    I think the selfish side of it for me comes from my own personal experiences after being seriously injured by horses several times which required my family to cater to all my needs after surgery when I was unable to walk, bathe myself, prepare my own food and bring it up to my bedroom on the second floor when I was bedridden, even make it to the bathroom on my own. My husband had to miss a lot of work driving me back and forth to the hospital, physical therapy and doctor appts.....not to mention the insane amounts of money he had to work overtime to pay for cost for the surgery, physical therapy, prescriptions, medical equipment, gas to get back and forth to the city for all my appts and surgery. After my first fall and surgery I was in so much pain for several weeks, that I was absolutely miserable and my family had to deal with seeing me like that and listening to me complain and be grouchy and depressed and I know it broke their hearts and made their lives very difficult.

    And then just 4 months later, I was injured again by my horse pulling back when tied, which broke the weld on the pipe rail fence. The pipe rail fence slammed into me and threw me onto the ground which caused me to have a compound fracture on the same knee I had just had the ACL surgery.

    Another 8 weeks on crutches and me falling even deeper in depression because of all I was putting my family through to take care of me. They never complained, not even my 3 kids who weren't able to attend their summer camps, take their guitar lessons, or visit with friends. They pretty much stayed home and took care of me for over 1/2 of a year, because I wasn't to drive and crutches were awkward to use. But I knew I put them through a lot and I feel guilty about that.

    After I was kicked in the face and suffered a broken eye socket, and my husband wasn't home so my kids had to call 911 and watch me with blood pouring down my ripped open face, while they helped the ambulance take me away to the hospital....not knowing if I would live or die....well I think you can understand a little why I wonder if my interest in handling and riding horses is a bit selfish.


  10. Well done, my friend. and very well said Lisa and Kate. Having battled my own fear issues after my rodeo incident — when was that now? — I totally GET IT. It's always in the back of my mind that I can't take another fall like the one I took off Poco in Heather's arena. I guess it's more accurate to say that I will do everything I can to lessen the chances it will happen. And that included passing Poco along to a more competent rider.

    Heather, I always remember what you said to me about Poco in those first days: Only do what you are comfortable doing. If that's just grooming, so be it. No guilt. It's like I said to Nita the other day: I'll canter when I'm ready. Or not. I refuse to stress myself out and ruin my own experience by forcing myself to do something I am not completely confident in doing. Now, I'm VERY lucky: I have Jaz, and he WILL take care of me. But I'm not even going to ask until I'm ready to follow through on my end.

    I say admit your fear and continue to move forward. As Clint Eastwood once said, "A man (or woman!) has got to know his (/her) limitations." You may not want to say out loud that you are afraid, but you don't have to. The horses know it.

  11. i'm proud of you for talking about it, even though i don't know you that well. take it at your own pace. you know & love your horses and you need to trust that you know that. it'll come back to you ...don't force it. get help when you need it. i fell off a horse that was 22 hands and it was because he reared, caught me up in the reins and he fell over backwards on top of me. then wriggled around to stand up as i lay on the ground w/ the wind knocked outta me. he finally found his footing and stood up... on my hair...2 inches from my right ear. i can understand 'fear of under horses' hooves' you can do it. just go slow and trust that you know your horses. believe in yourself is so cliche but if you don't believe that you know them, trust your instincts, then it'll all be for naught.

    Kelly McGill

  12. Fantastyk VoyagerJune 24, 2011 at 10:41 PM

    I get knocked down, I get up again, No one's ever gonna keep me down. . .

    I have been hurt multiple times by horses and sometimes I have my heart in my throat as I push myself beyond my fears to do what I love. Tonight for example, I rode my beloved 28 year old mare, Nadia. She is old, but not beyond misbehaving or being accident prone. I am just starting to ride again since my broken ankle and I thought she would be a "safe" ride for me. I rode around the neighborhood and out to the main highway. Earlier, a firetruck and other vehicles whizzed past as we neared the highway and turned back towards home and she didn't even bat an eyelash. In the past, I have ridden her along the highway in a terrible thunderstorm with VERY heavy traffic so I trust that she is safe. I have also had her nearly fall walking down a steep muddy embankment.

    There had been no traffic for some time so we crossed the road. Immediately cars showed up coming in each direction and met up right at the spot where we were. (Isn't that Murphy's Law- you always meet a bicyclist at the exact point there is oncoming traffic?) Fortunately, we were able to step off the highway into a driveway. I had fleeting moments of panic- she's going to spook and throw me and run right back to the barn. I'm going to rebreak my ankle and not be able to walk the quarter mile back home. I sat her back as calmly and quietly as I could. Nothing happened. Panic attacks happen to all of us. On another horse, I might have caused a reaction and my worst fears could have come true. But, how do you stop your brain from thinking bad thoughts, imagining the worst?

  13. Several years ago, I broke my knee in a horseback riding accident that, like Laughing Orca, left me totally dependent on my family for everything. It took me 3 years to get back on that horse. Then a couple of years ago I was riding another horse and suddenly found myself flat on my back looking up at the sky. I broke 5 ribs and had a huge hematoma. Right now I'm not riding because my riding horse has a slow healing injury and the other horse is a baby. Both have issues that I'm working from the ground for now.
    I was lucky enough to find a fabulous instructor who helped me tons. She got me to release my death grip off the reins and riding is much more fun now. But still, I want to hurl at the thought of putting a foot in the stirrup and swinging a leg over, so I use a ladder to get on the horse.
    I don't fear getting hurt as much as I fear being helpless and dependent. Having young children who depend on you makes it harder. I've often thought of getting out of horses completely, but I'm happiest when I'm on horseback and I'm not willing to let that go.
    This is a great topic, and I'm looking forward to reading the discussions every Friday.

  14. I hear you on this, and Lisa, I agree that when you have kids there's a level of concern about being selfish or worse, leaving them without a parent.

    I am only doing what I'm comfortable with right now, testing the edges very gradually. If all i do is ride close to home, well, it may have to do. If i take a year to venture out again, well, its my year.

    My mind has taken me on the exact same path you describe, and for now I just want to push through this beast so it doesn't get bigger than it already is ...

  15. For me, there are different ways of dealing with fear, depending on the situation.. I came up with a pretty cool analogy (pun intended).. It's like getting into the cold water of a pool.. you do one of a few things.. 1. you can stay on the deck saying "huh-uh.. Not going in.." 2. You can get splashed by kids playing in the water.. Getting exposed to it, even though you really don't want to be.. but finding out Heh, it's not so bad.. 3. you can wade in, gradually getting used to the cold on your own terms.. or 4.say To Heck with it all and get it all over with in one fell swoop by doing a cannonball, or diving head first in the deep end..

    Scenario #1. I'm not crazy about motorcycles.. I am afraid of them, particularly because one of my childhood friends was killed in an accident on one and I vowed I would never ride one. My hubby has wanted me to ride with him..but I've already made it clear that there's no way in Hades that would ever happen. (and the weird thing is-I was the one who talked him into buying his bike in the first place..)

    Scenario #2: I was TERRIFIED of storms for the longest time.. I would bury my head in my pillow when loud crashes of thunder would hit, but basically would curl up in a ball, and cry.. My neighborhood was hit by a tornado when I was a teenager, and I've had plenty of nightmares throughout my childhood that my house was going to be blown away. You really can't control when storms are going to hit.. you just have to endure it.. like the kids splashing water at you.. When I lived in Japan, we had to deal with typhoons on a regular basis, and well here in TX tornado warnings are pretty regular... I've found that my fear of storms is still there... I don't like them.. but I'm not as petrified as I used to be.. I can function when there's a storm warning..

    Scenario #3: I guess the best example of easing into things would be my fear of big bad stallions.. This fear stems from when I was about 8 and my cousin's hot headed Arab stud trying to breed to the mare I was riding when we were on the trail. Kinda scarred me, and for the longest time, I've been leery of being around stallions because they're always mean, and can't think. Being around Heather's boys has helped immensely, hanging out with Scorch.. Bathing and clipping Rico... They're good... Some actually have manners.. O intimidated me when he was at Iron Ridge for breeding.. but I'm kinda excited about trying to ride Scorch sometime.

    Scenario #4: I REALLY don't like open heights.. You know.. getting up on ladders, climbing trees, getting up on a roof, going up in skyscrapers.. When I went to Paris, I refused to go up in the Eiffel tower, because my friends were taking the stairs up the the observation deck.. I said NO WAY! I've regretted it ever since.. I test myself from time to time.. I LOVE going on rollercoasters.. the higher and faster the better... When went to St. Louis.. I went up in the Arch.. I stayed in the middle of the walkway and didn't look over the edge.. I just said "Oh that's nice, I did it, can we go back down now?" I tested my fear.. didn't like it.. but I said to heck with it and went up..

  16. This is a great idea. I was looking for like a blog badge to put on my blog that links to these posts?

    While I ride my horses almost every single day, and I've been riding, handling horses since I was a young child, I notice now that when I'm driving to the barn, the closer I get the more anxious I am. Once I get there and get to work, so to speak, I settle right down. I really have no idea why I do this.

    My riding fear... The only time *I* spook (not either of my horses) is when they trip. Rosie fell with me on her last summer and now, every little trip and my pea brain said "You're going down, BAIL !" it's enough to make me shake, and cling to her like baby monkey to it's mother and want to stop.

    Not sure how to get past all this, but can tell you that the older I get the worse the fear responses are

  17. I completely understand what you mean by being selfish. And I'm so sorry all of that happened to you!

  18. Thanks Leah! I'm trying hard to follow my own advice, and while I push myself a bit, I push myself within my "almost" comfort zone. If I'm too scared to do it, then I'll do nothing more then set the horse off and make sure that my paranoia becomes a reality.

    So far, I'm happy with my progress. Could it be faster? Well SURE! But I could also get myself hurt again by doing it in a way that I'm not comfortable with.

  19. I don't know about the blog badge, yet. I will look into that though, and see if I can find something. I'm not the most technically savy person out there (and I'm pretty pleased that I figured out how to add in a reply option!) but when I get it, I will let y'all know.

    Have you tried looking into why your horse trips? Watching someone else on her to see what she's doing so that you have a ground view of it? Sometimes when the only time you experience something is from the horse's back, it feels so much worse then it looks. Not sure it would help, but trying to think outside the regular box for ya.

  20. I have been back into horses for a decade now, having rediscovered them around my 40th birthday. The first month was great, then after reading about someone's accident, I froze. I would ride to the end of our driveway and get off. I finally found a horse that I believed I could trust and started fresh from there. Of course a horse safe enough for me was safe for the kids so it seemed I always was riding a different one, but it did help.

    I am on my 7th season with my OWN horse, one I raised & started as a 3 yr old. Silly of me because of my own issues, but I think I can safely say "we made it!" She now gives me that coming home feeling I used to only get from my gelding. Oh, there are still times my heart is in my throat. I think as we age, we get more fearful, self-preservation kicks in. Besides the normal "heart skip a beat" occasional incidents, I think the only thing I am really afraid of now is riding near the highway. I have had my mare in parades; its not her - its me. That vision of semi and the horse on The Horse Whisperer is hard to shake. We've done it, but I just don't like it.

    I don't ride the unknown or other people's horses that I don't trust. I have even had moments with some of our other horses where I just didn't think it a good idea on a particular day to throw my leg over the saddle. "Good fear", "little voices" - call it what you want, but its kept me safe.

    I know riding is risky. But I also knew that only by riding, would I continue to improve and gain more confidence. And its worked for me. I also have a big circle of friends whom I ride with and we challenge each other to be better horsewomen while accepting that not all of us are in that comfort zone yet. Its been a great support group and gives me plenty of horse time.

    As a "recovering fear rider", I know that switch in my brain could easily be turned to the "off" position like it was in those early days. I have to be careful to stay in my comfort zone and I do. I hope your blog helps others who are fearful but still want to ride grow in their resolve.

    PS: After I broke my ankle, I was really fearful on the ground & around the horses hooves. It's gotten better, but can appreciate their size and what one hoof can do to a size 9 foot!