Vickie contacted me by email in April 2005. She events with her horse Winston and she wrote that "Unfortunately we took a confidence knock at the beginning of last season, and although I am now jumping back over 1m happily I am beginning to have doubts whether I can event (SJ mainly) again." We did one session of TFT and Vickie wrote the following account of her experience in June 2005.
The feeling of sheer delight and satisfaction washed over me as I came across the finish line at Aston le Walls Horse Trials. A very different feeling from last year when my world came crashing down around me and the thought of taking my beautifully talented horse Winston around a show jumping course filled me with dread.
It all started around 18 months ago, when I decided to sell my project horse Bally. She had become a terrific all rounder and I had taken her from barely being able to canter a circle up to Novice eventing. I sold Bally because although she was a lovely horse in all ways she was never going to take me higher up the eventing ladder. Pre-Novice was her limit, she was a super show jumper and jumped for fun but this wasn’t where my heart lay.
The heart-wrenching day came when Bally was loaded on to her new owners lorry. My attentions then focused on my new competition horse Winston.
Winston had come to my then trainer Antonia to be sold on, he had been lightly evented with success, so I tried him and liked him so we decided to buy him.
Winston is near on 17 hands but gave me this feeling of safe every time I rode him. Within four days we were entered for our first event, however, he was unfit so I decided to just contest the dressage and show jumping phases. These both went well so I set to work on getting him fitter for our first proper event 3 weeks later at Purston.
Unfortunately I had to travel to this event on my own but Antonia promised to meet me there and help. Our dressage went well and I finished 2nd after this phase. In the show jumping he warmed up well but stopped at the first fence, quite shocked I gave him a smack and he jumped the rest clear. Going on to the xc course I had never taken him over a solid fence before but I trusted him to go. I rode him like I rode Bally constantly chivvying him along. At fence 9 a big open ditch to hedge I asked for a long one but we were far to far off so he put down and stopped dead – I clung on luckily and we completed the rest of the course with out fault.
We finished off the season with another couple of events with success, but occasionally at home he would stop and I was beginning to have this feeling of dread every time I wanted to jump.
At the beginning of last year I entered 3 events, we drove all the way to Royal Bath and West which is a near on 3 hour journey for us. We stayed the night so that we weren’t all completely exhausted, the course was lovely but the weather was awful, it rained and rained all night and day. The ground turned to gravy, his dressage wasn’t spectacular and in the show jumping we jumped clear all up to the last but one fence, he went to take off but his feet went from under him, he refused point blank to jump after that so I retired.
Are next event came and I was more and more nervous about the show jumping course. Our dressage was good as the ground was much improved, as I warmed up, I was feeling more and more sick. He stopped in the practise arena and I just wanted the ground to open and swallow me up.
I eventually went in to the arena, I picked up a nice collected canter but as soon as I saw the fence I just fired poor Winston at it, god knows what he thought! Coming to the second fence he stopped again, I took him round and re-presented him and we jumped the rest clear.
I was determined to go xc and he jumped really well but again we had a silly stop at a straightforward fence.
At our next event I was feeling even worse, I walked the show jumping course and nearly withdrew there and then. The fences looked enormous to me, again we warmed up, and my mum knew I was unhappy; I just wanted to go xc, as I felt much happier in this phase.
I was going green at the thought of jumping a cross pole let alone a course at 1.05m.
We went in but it all went wrong, we had a stop at the 3rd and then the 5th I put my hand up and retired, I was in bits, I cried and cried all the way home, what had I done to this horse I had bought to do great things with?
All the while I was having lessons with my trainer and although to her we were jumping well, with the occasional stop I was feeling more and more sick after every time. Antonia took him show jumping but he even stopped with her.
I am involved with EHOA and during the year training clinics are arranged so I decided to take Winston along and have a session with Yogi Breisner in hope that I could get my head around my fear of show jumps. All went well, then Winston started to stop, I was getting more and more nervous until he stopped and I flew over his head and landed on my nose. I heard my neck go crunch and I really thought I’d broken something, thankfully only my nose, which was later confirmed at the hospital.
After that my parents were not keen on me continuing, Winston was a good dressage horse and was winning at elementary level but this wasn’t where my heart was. I telephoned Jonna Willis who had helped me with Bally in the past and he took me on. We started from scratch with poles on the floor; Jonna was brilliant on the physiological way of and understood what was happening.
I have always been told that I am a good rider, which is great but only if you believe in yourself in the first place. I just thought people were just trying to make me feel better. My position has completely changed I am far more secure in my seat.
My main concern was people watching me and what happens if I get the stride wrong? Before I would just throw the reins at the horse, which inevitably resulted in a stop.
Going back to basics has built up the partnership between Winston and I. Training was going well but I still didn’t really believe I could do it and it didn’t always help when Jonna had to jet off to the States to teach.
Christmas this year and I was beginning to think is it ever really going to happen. I borrowed some videos from a friend, one of them being Tim Stockdale’s. For some reason something clicked and after watching them I was itching to tack my horse up and give it a go.
I started making myself practice at home just over small fences at first slowly building up. Before if I jumped a fence well I wouldn’t jump it again, normally after the first attempt, the thought of coming round to it again and then getting it completely wrong put the fear of god in me.
With my confidence slowly restoring, Jonna returned and I booked four lessons with him in a fortnight.
The transformation was amazing; Winston and I were jumping for fun and coming away from our training sessions full of confidence and enthusiasm.
Jonna had always said he would tell me when we were ready to go back eventing and after our 4th session he said, “right now go and do it for real”
I nearly fell off with delight, but I couldn’t help noticing that little voice in my head saying – but what if it all goes wrong?
Whilst chatting to a couple of friends on an internet chat room, Jo Cooper’s name was mentioned. After Kate had suffered a similar experience with her horse, from not wanting to even ride her horse to competing at their first affiliated dressage competition. Jo had helped her with a number of things and although Kate never understood how or why it worked, it had worked and it was continuing to work if Kate suffered from any other anxiety that may arise.
I had entered an unaffiliated show jumping event two week before our first run at Aston le Walls.
I was excited but also nervous because if it did all go wrong there was no point in going to Aston.
I spoke to Kate who said give Jo a ring which I did that evening. I really didn’t know what to expect although I had heard there was tapping involved.
Jo set to work asking me lots of questions about myself and what I was having problems with. I described all the troubles we’d been having over the past year or so but that it was going well now although I still had slight anxieties about show jumping in public and the practice arenas. I was also concerned that if it did all go wrong what my parents would say as after all they had bought me this so called good horse!
So after that Jo would ask me questions like “On a scale of one to ten with ten being the worst how do I feel about jumping in public” and I would say “8” she would then ask me to tap gently on different parts of my body in a sequence like the back of my hand, finger nail, armpit and so on. She would then ask me the same question again, and straight away without thinking a number would pop out and it was always lower.
We worked on this until the number was zero.
Jo then asked me about Bally, and from nowhere tears began to run down my face. I was then asked questions about her until I stopped crying and that I could deal with talking about her.
A lot of what was going on in my head had stemmed from having to sell Bally, which I really didn’t want to do but knew I had to if I was ever going to go up the ladder of eventing. The feeling of anger and sorrow had all built up over time, it was a huge relief as obviously I couldn’t talk to my parents about it as they were already telling me perhaps I shouldn’t have sold Bally – which didn’t help matters.
So after are session, Jo told me to let her know how the show jumping goes and if I need any more help i.e. If I remember something that we didn’t tap for then just ring her again.
That weekend Winston and I went show jumping, I was feeling really positive and couldn’t wait to get on with it. I was a tiny bit apprehensive about jumping in the practice arena but it all soon went away. Winston and I produced two great double clears and I decided to leave it there and go home on a high.
I continued to work hard the two weeks leading up to our first horse trials of the season, making sure nothing was left to chance.
On the morning of the event I walked the show jumping course in a completely different frame of mind and was even excited about it.
He warmed up super for the show jumping phase and continued to do so in the main arena, our only sticky moment was at the first fence, and I was totally committed to get over that fence!
We jumped a smashing clear round, I patted him as if I’d won an Olympic medal, and I didn’t care what people thought, I was on a high.
He stormed around the cross-country finishing well inside the time, we’d done it, I’d jumped that elusive double clear at Pre-Novice level, perhaps we’d peaked too soon I said? I couldn’t believe it – we finished 3rd.
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