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, July 8, 2011

Fear Friday! - Me and My Ego

Sometimes it's all about believing in yourself.
There are many parts to riding, from our ability to put a leg on either side of the horse, to our knowledge of how and why we do what we do, and our confidence in our selves to do what we know how to do.  So basically, I see it as 3 parts: Physical Ability, Knowledge, and Ego.

We often hear about the first two, but the confidence and ego so often get overlooked.  But lets think about this!  Don't you need to feel like you can do it, before you put your heart into it? Well, since my accident, I've realized that 90% of my problem is my confidence.  I've always said that the worst part of a fall was the bruise to my ego, and I think I may have been a little too right.

Just stop and think about one of the first things you said to yourself when your fear first hit you.  I'm going to bet I know how it started:

"I can't..."

It stops us in our tracks, and we honestly believe that we no longer CAN do something because at one time we failed.  And lets be a bit honest here, our accidents are something that we as individuals think of as failures, even if they really aren't.  It doesn't matter that we've done that thing a million times before, or may have even done it many times since.  Our mind still says that we failed and can no longer do it.

Confidence helps us feel good about trying the hard things
This is because fear is not logical.  No rational thinking can change how we deal with the jitters, the nausea, the urge to run away and cry.  Knowing that we have the Physical Ability and the Knowledge doesn't help our ego at all.

I think my accident has been a great example of this.  I got kicked in the head while standing on the ground brushing a horse.  Diva got jealous about me giving attention to Sweetie (her arch nemesis in herd rank) and decided to run off Sweetie so I would pay attention to her.  Logically it makes sense.  In horsey minds, the dominant mare has the right to move other horses around by force, and only a more dominant horse can stop her.  Well, Diva went to move Sweetie, and I suddenly "disappeared" (uh, knocked into the dirt at their feet) and didn't stop her.  In Diva's mind, this means that she was allowed to act this way.

Logically, this is easy to work around.  If Diva comes up while I'm messing with Sweetie, simply move Diva away before she gets it in her head to act up.  Totally not a big deal, right?

Even if we know we can, we also have to FEEL that we can
And yet, I found that I could barely sit on a horse, let alone work with a green horse.  My ground accident prevented me from riding!  I didn't lose my physical ability to put a leg on either side of the horse.  It was my face that got thrashed, and we don't use our faces a lot in riding!  My knowledge of what to do when riding is still there.  I got a concussion, but I can still remember what I need to know to work with horses.  So this means it was my ego that took the bruising.

As I have been working my way back to "normal" I realized that what has helped me the most is putting myself in situations that allow me to feel like I will succeed.  Most horse people have figured out that if you start off thinking it will go bad, then usually your find yourself in the middle of a train wreck.  This is so true in so many ways.

Want to load a horse in a trailer?  Just think that the horse will walk in, and it usually does.  Give yourself hours to deal with a refusal and the horse won't.  If you think the horse will balk, then most times, you will fight that horse for hours trying to prove that the trailer really is a safe place, only to have some one else walk up with confidence and put the horse right in like there's no problem.

Some riding takes more then just know-how
So, doesn't this apply to our riding as well?  Think that the horse will be easy, and you have a good ride.  Assume that the horse is about to spook out from under you, and the horse naturally obliges!  The reason for this is what I call "Horsey ESP".  No, they don't really have mental powers, but instead, the horse picks up on the tension.  Your legs are tighter around them, your hands are tense, you brace in the saddle.... all of those little things tip the horse off that "there's a predator out there about to eat us!".  Of course, being prey animals, horses know how to deal with that!

They flip out.

For me, I have been doing only those things I feel I can do well.  As I "win" at each thing, it gives me the confidence boost to try something else.  I'm still working my way back up to what I "used to be able to do" but I feel like I am coming along pretty quickly.

And that gives me more confidence!

Each step I take, whether it is watching some one else do something, or trying something that used to be "easy" to me, it all adds up.  But the big one for me, is taking away the bruising to my ego.

Think about it.  When you are terrified to do something, and too proud to admit you're scared, then having to tell someone that you feel fear is just one more blow to you.  We never seem to think badly of another rider who says "I don't feel good about trying that right now" or something even more specific like "jumping terrifies me".  And how many of us have a friend that isn't ready to canter yet because they are scared?  When they say "I am scared to canter" you don't laugh at them!  Most of us sympathize instead.  Because we have BEEN THERE!

You have to be able to trust yourself, and your horse
And now, we're there again.

By admiting to myself, and my friends and family that I have fear issues, I have taken away one pain to my ego.  Removing that lets me focus on what I need to do, what I can do, and what I want to do.  I no longer have the peer pressure to step up to the plate, and show how "good" or "brave" I am.  And the only person who ever made me feel pressured was myself.

It feels pretty good to be open and honest about it.  When the fear tries to grip me, I know that I can simply stop and step off the horse, and my friends understand and support me.  They ask to help, and many times I have taken them up on it.  Sometimes seeing some one else do what terrifies you lets you know that it can be done.  The horse will do it, and you can too.

But I think that dealing with the bruise to our egos - while it's the first step in healing our fear - is the hardest.  If you are as prideful as I am, then watching a novice rider handle something that sets off your heebie jeebies kinda smarts if you let it.  But if you let go of the pride, and think "hey, if she can do it, then I must be able to as well!" it's a pretty good feeling.
Sometimes, we just have to take a leap of faith

And knowing you aren't alone helps so much.   Lisa, over at Laughing Orca Ranch, who just got back on her horse after a horrible accident of her own (You go GIRL!) mentioned this as well in her post.  Seeing that every one has some level of fear makes you feel better about your own.  Remove that bruise to the ego, and it's as if healing can begin.  And dealing with our fear is a type of mental healing.

Because once you regain your confidence, it almost seems like one day, out of the blue, you just think you can.  And that day, when you try it - what ever "it" is - is the day you will succeed.  Healing the fear isn't about waiting for the body to get back into one piece, but rather about knitting the mind back into something beautiful that we recognize as our self.

And for me, sometimes it's not even about the success.  Sometimes just taking the step to try it does more good to my confidence then anything else.  Because failing and living through it, is often a great accomplishment of its own!


  1. Laughing Orca RanchJuly 8, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    *wince* That situation in that last photo could not have ended well. Those puissance jumps are shocking and the horses amazing that are able to jump over walls that are 7+ feet tall.

    Anyway, another terrific and thoughtfully written Fear Friday post. I actually created a link on my side bar to hopefully bring others here to share, unless their egos prevent it. *wink*
    I hear ya on the ego thing, too. I don't consider myself having a big ego when it comes to riding because I never feel like I know enough. And even though I've been riding my own horses for about 4 years now, I still feel like a novice.
    Most everyone I ride with are experienced riders, but the good thing about that is that I have quite a few mentors to look up to and ask for advice and support and strive to become a better rider and horse person. And for that I am very grateful!

    And you're right about sometimes just being able to watch another person do the things you are fearful or cautious about, can help build up enough confidence that you're able to take the next step. It did for me when I was at that clinic last weekend. My horse hadn't been ridden in a year and I just needed to see someone else get up on her to help convince my mind that she wasn't a fire breathing dragon. And as soon as the trainer's son got off my horse and I realized that she had been nothing but calm and careful while he was riding, I was able to climb right up......with a huge smile on my face!

    And like you, the weird thing is that my accident didn't happen while I was riding either, so it's so odd to me that I would be afraid to ride my horse. But somehow it all connects inside the brain and becomes one big fear.

    The one difference between what you wrote, is that before my injuries and surgery, I used to always think positive, while always expecting good things to happen. I didn't have many fears and maybe I was too confident? But when I thought positively and expected good things to happen, they often ended up badly. When I expected my horse to behave on the trail, she didn't, and if I expected my mare to load easily, she freaked out. If I expected our desensitization session to go well, I'd instead up with hoof to my eye.
    So, what I've started to do over the past year or so, is always picture in my head the worst things that could happen in any situation involving horses....yeah, it's a bit scary, but it helps me to deal with any problems, by brainstorming, what I would do to get out of trouble or diffuse a situation. Somehow by doing that I feel a little more confident because I feel a little more prepared if something does happen, and if everything goes smoothly, which is often does, then it's a reward.


  2. You know, that's a good point about the thinking positively. I never really thought about that before (I'm kinda having a very hot and tired light bulb moment).

    When I think positively, it's more like in the direction I want to go. As an example: My horse will stand, because I have taught her to stand, but if she doesn't I'm doing these things for safety, but I'm positive she will stand, because she's a good girl.

    On the flip side, I've done exactly what you're talking about, like: My 4 year old will be fine on the trails, so I don't have to worry, and can chat, goof off, and have fun.... but wait... he saw a flag and now I'm on the ground!

    I'm not sure how to phrase it so that it makes sense, but I know the feel of it. You expect your horse to be good, because you DO put the time and effort, and have prepared for all the worst case scenarios. Yet you don't have the tension and fear and anxiety about trying it, because you know you put all the ground work in first, and your horse knows what it's doing. Does that make sense? Heh, have a way to phrase it? =)

  3. Lisa, I so relate to what you said about still feeling like a novice. For me, a good part of it is that I feel as if I don't get to ride enough to progress as quickly as I think I should. I mean, crap, I've been riding for 5 years and still don't canter.

    Right about now, I could spew platitudes about how dangerous it is to drive a car, take an international flight, to visit Mexican border town. Hell, not properly washing produce! We all know the dangers of everyday life, but we don't allow those things to stop us from living. I think there's such a thing as living confidently and optimistically with the full realization of what might happen.

    We do things every day with horses that could have a bad end. Picking up feet. Walking in front of them under the lead rope. Allowing them in our space. Bad things can happen. But most of the time they don't. And that's the only thing that keeps us coming back for more. If we start operating in fear mode, it just ups the odds of something bad actually happening because, as Heather says, we're telegraphing our fear to our horse.

    We'd be reckless not to keep the dangers in mind, but they must remain in the BACK of our mind, otherwise we'd be frozen with fear. When that fear is brought to the forefront by an accident, I think we need to do things we're comfortable with until we're ready to step out of that comfort zone. Even the tiniest step is a victory and a step in the right direction.

    I'll go out on a limb here and say that anyone who deals with horses has some fear. It may be deeply hidden, but we're all afraid (or at least wary) of something. Mine is somersaulting over the front, or the horse rearing and coming down on top of me.

  4. Interesting conversation. Unlike many other riders who are dealing with recent injuries or dangerous horsey actions, I haven't been "seriously" hurt since I was a teenager some 20 years ago. KNOCK.ON.WOOD However, my dirty secret is that I've owned Rosie for 3 years and ridden nearly every single day and have yet to canter her. I'm afraid to. I know she can, I know when I first brought her home, my trainer cantered her. I didn't see it though.

    It's not a canter fear, I canter Bonnie, I gallop Bonnie, I canter Karaat no issues. It's a Rosie factor. Unfortunately if I ever want to show her beyond walk/trot classes, I have to canter.

    You maybe on to something when it comes to watching someone else do something you feel you can't do. I think if I could SEE someone canter Rosie and they live to tell about it, no she's not crazy she's just HUGE, my can't will turn into might be able to and that should be enough for me to pull on my big girl breeches and go for it.

  5. What a perfect example. Try it and see, invite a friend or fellow horse person to canter her, and watch.... and let us know if that makes you feel better.

    But I think you're on to something with the fact that your fear doesn't have to have some "reason", like an accident, to make it a real and annoying fear.

    I know that for me, seeing is believing. Whether it's watching some one else ride the horse, or pick a hoof, or even loading a horse in a trailer, if I see it done, then I tend to feel more confident that I will live through trying it myself. Granted, before my accident, that didn't always stop me from trying, but it did prevent those butterflies in my stomach!