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Case Studies

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Sally and Cilla used to be very afraid of riding. Now between them they ford rivers, try their hand at dressage, gallop in the lead, ride on the beach and loads more. Most importantly, they have fun. They have very generously agreed to share their stories with you. I believe that their courage, honesty and achievements will be an inspiration to every rider.

Background

I started riding a family friend's pony when I was three. Just going out for little hacks, but absolutely loved it. When I was six I started lessons (the school I went to wouldn't let you have lessons until that age) and continued riding until I went to University. I didn't ride again until, of all places, I started again while in Hong Kong. It was the lovely horsey smell that got to me, and before I knew what was happening, I'd gone into the riding school and put myself on the waiting list for an assessment lesson. Fortunately, being an experienced rider, I was able to get a lesson quite quickly and soon found myself riding ex racehorses fresh from the tracks at Shatin and Happy Valley! The 'bug' had well and truly bitten again. I passed my Stage One while still out in HK.

After training as a teacher and teaching for several years I started to hanker after my own horse again. Deciding I could now finally afford one, I did all the necessary research and took the plunge. Second opinions, several visits, full vetting...I did all the right things...the horse was a nightmare! A real Jekyll and Hyde of a horse. I got bucked off in spectacular style and put myself out of action for several weeks. The worst of it wasn't the physical damage though, it was the way it dented my confidence. The horse went back to his original owner, I went back to riding school horses (the wonderful Bess) and started to get back to what I thought was normal.

Teaching

It was about this time my teaching career came to an abrupt halt when the stress bubble finally burst and I went off work permanently with anxiety/depression caused by years and years of stress. It wasn't just teaching, the stress had started twenty years before, but teaching just pressed every one of the wrong buttons. This was a major blow to my confidence. What was I going to do with myself now?

Toby

That was when Toby came along. Terrible timing now I look back at it, but how could I say no to the opportunity of buying a horse so absolutely perfect for me? Beautifully schooled, sparky but safe, a real schoolmaster who could do 'a bit of everything' and in good style too. It was quite a whirl: I went to try him, he arrived on a two day trial first thing the following morning, was vetted the day after and mine by the weekend. A whole three days!

It wasn't until the money changed hands and he was my sole responsibility that my problems resurfaced. I spent so much time whittling about what others thought, or what might happen that I completely forgot to enjoy myself. I got tense, so did Toby. I panicked, so did Toby. I'd just freeze with terror and poor Toby would get left to his own devices. My panicking involved curling up into a little ball, holding my breath, going mute and turning grey. Toby's response was to hurtle around flat out (partly because me tipping and holding onto him made him think that was what I wanted) looking, I've been reliably informed, as terrified as me.

Toby
Jane and Toby are competing at County level now


I started making excuses not to ride: 'I can't ride today because it's raining, it's too windy, he worked yesterday, his back's not right...'. I thought it would be a good idea for him to be used in staff lessons - he'd get work and he'd get to do more adventurous things - but the result was that he lost the plot even more. He's a big lad and the tendency is to assume he'll be strong. He can be, but hanging on to him is the worst thing you can do. (Hindsight's a wonderful thing.) It was a vicious cycle. He'd got into this panic mindset with me and he just re-enacted it with everyone else too. He got to the stage where you couldn't put your leg on at all because he was so tense and in front of the leg. To be fair to the other people who had problems with him, I suspect that a certain amount of naughtiness had crept in too. None of the above was helped by the fact that, as my vet told me in no uncertain terms, he was 'well overweight' and 'needed less food and more exercise'. (Of course not helped by my not exercising him enough.)

The final straw (as I felt at the time) came when I had a lesson and was sick all day at the thought of it. When I did get on I was petrified and couldn't get out of a walk. All I wanted to do was get off. I slowly came to the heartrending decision that I would have to sell him, believing that this would be best for Toby.

With hindsight, I can now see that this was just a new way of punishing myself. When teaching, I'd always been very hard on myself: setting unmanageable goals and then kicking myself when I didn't reach them, trying to do too many things in one day, worrying about little things that could just wait, pushing too hard to reach a goal and trying to force fate to go in the direction I wanted. And now Toby was having all these issues inflicted on him. I hadn't learned a thing when I stopped teaching.

The decision made, I stopped riding Toby (and returned to good old Bess), my instructor and now friend, Nikki McKenzie, started schooling Toby ready for viewing and he was advertised in Horse and Hound. Almost sold (all bar the exchange of horse for money) Toby ripped his tongue. How he managed to remains a complete mystery, but I now think this was the turning point for both of us. I couldn't sell him until he was well and we knew there was no lasting damage and this bought me another month with him. In which I got far more attached to him than I had ever let myself be before.

Nikki soon had Toby sorted and started to tell me how well he was going, I was assured that 'anyone could ride him now' by the yard owner. Did that also include me I wondered? Having been given this time, I decided to make the most of it. Realising that I needed to get my head sorted out, I called Tina Bettison at Fizz Coaching. After a fantastic session with her I knew that I did have the power to sort out my problems; at least I now understood why I did what I did, why I felt how I did and what I could do about it. And that included Toby.

The day after I had a lesson with Nikki - on Toby. This was make or break. If it didn't work out now, he would have to go. We started off gradually. At first Nikki worked him in and then I got on. I only rode in my lessons. I started to do some schooling on my own. Little steps, gradually, gradually. Not worrying if I didn't canter today, for example; just concentrating on the positives...he went well, he did some lovely trot work, we didn't get spooked by anything...we enjoyed it!

The stumbling block came when I started to think about competing again. Just a bit of prelim dressage. Nothing 'high powered'. I turned myself in knots. On our first attempt, we charged down the centre line in medium trot and I froze. Toby had no idea what to do (bless him he's a clever boy, but he can't learn tests for me too!!) and crashed into the end of the arena - plastic boards everywhere right in front of the judge. I burst into tears and left. The irony was, that once I'd calmed down, I went off and did the test perfectly well on my own with no one looking. Fortunately I knew I'd got my holiday with Caroline the next week, so I clung to the prospect that this might help.

It did. On the Enjoy Riding Holiday, Caroline Putus taught me lots of techniques to help when hacking, competing and when generally stressed or anxious. New ways of looking at a situation. Breathing. One of the first things I was able to change when I got home to Toby was how I prepared for a competition. Most importantly she gave me my mantra as I now call it...'Why am I doing this? Well I'm doing this because it's fun and it's a lovely day and I'm very lucky because I've got a brilliant horse...' That in perspective, everything else seems to get back into perspective.

It's taken a long, long time, but I'm now stunned by how far we have come. Two years ago I would have laughed at the suggestion I go around a cross country course or ride in a show ring. With the help of a whole host of people: my fantastic partner Andy, my instructor, my friends at the yard...and a whole host of others too numerous to mention but very much appreciated, Toby and I have now gone from strength to strength. We hack out, we go for gallops, we go out to competitions, we do dressage, we do shows and even cross country...our house is gradually being taken over by photos, trophies and rosettes and I'm thrilled. My next mission is Working Hunter, but everything one step at a time. The most important thing is that we both enjoy it. I enjoy it because I trust Toby, Toby's happy because he trusts me and I feel that I can trust myself to make the right decision for both of us.

Photo Galleries

A picture says a thousand words - here is a collection of photographs from various Enjoy Riding events

Testimonials

It's lovely to hear from people who have been on Enjoy Riding clinics, holidays and workshops. People often keep in touch and let me know how they're getting on. I get lots of Christmas cards! This is what FW wrote inside her card:

"Still enjoying riding, still riding without fear.. but with respect and loving every vital second. Blossom and I flourish together!"

Corporate Testimonials

As well as helping hundreds of individual riders, I also work with organisations to provide confidence coaching and stress management for their staff or clients. Here is what some of them had to say:

"Caroline knows everything there is to know about confidence problems." Your Horse magazine.