No, this isn't a post about getting back on after a fall. There's been a lot of good stuff written about that already. This is about the more mundane, but sometimes equally challenging task of getting back on after some time away from the saddle.
On Friday I rode for the first time in six and a half weeks. Six weeks is a relatively minor period when you compare it to people who give their horses winters off, or those who leave horses for a prolonged period before getting back into riding; however, since I started riding at the age of 8, six weeks is about the longest I ever go without sitting in a saddle. I have had a small handful of riding gaps that long and they have been for a variety of reasons: horse rehab (x2), backpacking trip to Europe, extended field work for job, being between horses, and ground work bootcamp. This time was just due to a wicked combination of me being sick, having a major audit at work, the holiday season, and brutal cold weather. Since Dec 10th I have been out at the barn a number of times to check on Kachina or do quick lunging or groundwork sessions, but I didn't have the time or energy to actually get in a proper ride.
So, on Friday, I had some nerves about mounting up. I was surprised at how quickly my confidence had eroded. Of course it didn't help that Kachina was being a brat in the barn while I was trying to groom and tack up. I did a bit of lunging first as a precaution and while Kachina was spicy, she was also listening. I knew I needed to get back in the saddle at some point so I forced myself to climb aboard and breathe. I relied on my riding mantras for the first few minutes to make sure I wasn't transmitting my nerves to Kachina: "sit deep, legs quiet but on, forward thinking hands, maintain bend, don't trap with my hands, breathe". It only took a few minutes for the majority of my nerves to dissipate and for my relaxation to become real instead of faked. I was so proud of Kachina because before long I was able to get right back into some of the exercises we had been working on before the break. She immediately remembered what I was looking for and didn't seem to have lost any ground at all. Mindful of the cold weather and our reduced fitness levels I kept the ride to 30 minutes of just walk/trot, but I got off smiling.
While my confidence as a rider only took one ride to rebound this time, it got me thinking about how much harder it might be to battle nerves after a longer gap. If I end up being earthbound for 6 months at some point while growing a tiny human, how tough is it going to be to get back on after that? Of course in that instance I'd have a changed body to deal with as well. What would it be like to get back in the saddle after a serious injury or prolonged illness? How does the type of horse you have make a difference to the seriousness of breaks? For some horses who need a very structured program, getting back after even a week or two off might be a lot more challenging.
If any of you have stories about gaps in riding and how your confidence was affected I would love to hear them.