I did it. I hung onto my left rein and pulled out of the line. I stopped before the jump, 4, 3, 2, even 1 stride away. I circled out of .80m courses and junior/amateur classes. I pulled up, even after jumping the first half of the course clear.
Sounds crazy, right?
It sounds like it, but the reality is a lot more people can relate to 'circling' or having anxiety while riding and “freezing up”, then they can relate to winning a Grand Prix.
Do I still want to win a Grand Prix? Yes. Do you still want to win a Grand Prix? I would not doubt it. What I doubt is our hesitancy to recognize this commonality we share. That we all have feelings. We all get nervous, scared, anxious, worried, upset, angry, sad, etc.
Continuing to go forward, at times, is scary.
In the years that I spent circling, I also spent studying. Studying psychology, human behavior, evidenced based research and treatment interventions. Throughout undergraduate and graduate school, I knew I wanted to be bigger than this fear and I knew I wanted to help other riders manage their own struggles with anxiety and depression.
Am I "cured"? Nope! Do I still circle? Sometimes, yes!
Through my struggle, I not only accomplished my goal of competing in the High Amateur Owner Jumpers and National Grand Prixs, I also qualified for my first national final competition at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show and placed in the Amateur Owner Classic on the final day of competition.
I aim to not only help other riders learn skills and strategies to improve upon their successes in the ring, but I also hope to normalize this struggle. Experiencing fear, intrusive thoughts, and panic while riding is more common amongst equestrians than we think. Talking about our struggles with mental health and supporting one another in the process, can build enormous amounts of strength and resilience in our community.
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- Jenny Swanson, LICSW
Photo credit: The Book LLC