Confidence is a fragile thing. It takes years to build and only seconds to break.
When you think about it, riding horses takes guts. Yet, to most of us, we never think about it. We just saddle up and away we go. Little to we realise that confidence is a fragile thing.
The confidence I once had in my riding was broken on 13 July 2019. I was schooling my horses in our mowing meadow, riding them at the bottom of the meadow and then cantering them to the top of the hill. All was going well until halfway up the hill, my Arabian gelding ‘Becks’ – Darker Shades of Grey (Distinkt x Samaur Bint Benedict) – stopped abruptly, forcing me forward and over his head. I could see his front legs heading towards my face. Survival instincts came into action as I pushed away from him, but in doing so, I inadvertently sent myself into a forward somersault and landed flat on my back.
From that moment, everything seemed to go in slow motion. I could hear Becks’ hooves as he ran up the field. A surreal cry came from my mouth and the feeling from the middle of my back down to my feet was disappearing quickly – I was numb! It felt like a lifetime had passed when my mum finally reached me, but it could have been only seconds.
Becky being treated after the fall
We were in the ambulance by 9.30am. By that time, I am not sure who needed the gas and air more – me or my mum!
Once we got to the hospital, we were hoping for a quick fix of painkillers, rest, and to be sent on our way. However, unfortunately, we were presented with a T9 fracture, and the doctors were unsure whether it was stable. After considerable prodding and poking – I never want to hear the phrase “log roll” again – x-rays and scans, I was able to return home with the fracture only “stable for now”.
I spent the next few weeks lying in bed. The days all rolled into one. It was relentless. I couldn’t dress myself, go to the toilet by myself, or even sit up without assistance. My mum was shopping, looking after the horses, and trying to make sure I had the best care possible – she really is the real-life super woman!
I cried most days with the overwhelming feeling of helplessness. I was so lonely. I missed my horses and my freedom, things I had taken for granted until now.
Becky in hospital
Nevertheless, small things slowly began to brighten up my days. The smell of the fresh washing coming through my bedroom window, a new puzzle book, and my mum showing me pictures of the horses almost every day. It was so frustrating being able to hear the horses from my bedroom but being unable to go and see them.
Once I came to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to ride for quite some time – and with the British National Championships looming, something I had worked so hard to prepare for, that was difficult – but I handed the reins over to Jessica Horridge. This was not a decision I took lightly, as in the 16 years of owning my part-bred Arab, Cherry – Angels Cherub (Rashiek Ibn Malik x Gordons Angel) – no one else had competed with her aside from me. Yet, I had already entered, and Cherry was looking fantastic, so as they say – the show must go on!
Angels Cherub (Rashiek Ibn Malik x Gordons Angel). Credit Amy Griffiths
Mum and I went to the show to watch, and I traded sitting in the saddle to being pushed around in a wheelchair. Cherry was her usual self, and she performed beautifully, with Jess guiding her faultlessly around the ring. It was such a special moment for me seeing my pony of a lifetime in action – and even better, watching her take the championship! It was a very emotional and stressful few days, but I was so happy to have been there.
Life eventually started to return to normal and, as I was able to drive again, I soon went back to work. It was great to be getting my life back, but I still wasn’t allowed to ride yet.
On 5 October, nearly three months after my accident, I got back on Cherry. To be back on board felt incredible. Naturally, my confidence was shaky, but I was so excited to be back in the saddle. As our arena was still a work-in-progress, my only option was to hack out. Cherry slipped on the concrete when returning from a hack and I froze. Although this was an accident, the fear of falling returned. The idea of getting back on board was making me nauseous. I even had reoccurring dreams of falling and would make any excuse under the sun as to why I couldn’t ride that day.
Becky in her Dainese body protector with Sid, learning to regain her confidence
I was embarrassed to discuss my fears. My stepdad purchased me a made-to-measure Dainese body protector, that helped make me feel as though I had some support while being on board but did not solve my issue. The confidence and mentality I once had when out riding was just no longer there. I researched ways to overcome my issues, such as hypnotherapy. I joined a horse-riding confidence group. I tried self-help books – I even had my mum walk everywhere with me when onboard, just to reassure me – sorry mum! My mum and stepdad also bought me a wonderful cob called Sid, who has been an absolute lifeline!
The people who seemed so supportive to begin with gradually began to fade away, a loss that left me feeling so deflated, disheartened and alone. I felt like the worst rider in the world. Like my horses deserved better than me. My perfect horses – I would never do them justice on a hack, never mind back in the show-ring. I knew that this was not me – this was not the mentality of a perfectionist, and most certainly not one of a winner.
Back in the saddle with Angels Cherub. Credit Dee Haggard
After many tears, tantrums, and many glasses of wine, enough was enough – things had to change, and it had to be me changing them. I threw myself into my riding once more. Some days were bad, but others were good – really good!
Our wonderful friend David Wilkinson-Froggatt came over to give me lessons, and we hired our neighbour’s arena. He made me smile and even managed a few laughs in between my frustrated tears, but I was making progress.
In September 2021, I finally found myself back in the show-ring. It was an emotional day, to say the least! I was sick, I laughed, and shed a few tears along the way, but I did it! And I would like to take a moment to thank the people who made the effort to come over to me that day with words of encouragement and congratulations. Even the smallest and simplest of things, such as a message of good luck, I will never forget. You will never know just how much that small, simple phrase changed my entire mentality that day. You just never know what someone is going through, or what they have been through, so just smile and be kind to each other – it certainly made my day!
I would still love to qualify for the Horse of the Year Show one day, and this will always be my goal. But for me, it isn’t about what colour rosette I come home with anymore. It’s about enjoying the sport. A win is always a great achievement, but feeling good about yourself is even better.
Becky with Darker Shades of Grey (Distinkt x Samaur Bint Benedict). Gary B Robinson
In three years, I had gone from a confident, able rider to perhaps never walking again, and I am now back, doing what I love. That fall had taken everything from me, but with grit and determination, I was able to overcome my feelings of doubt and worthlessness and be back to the old Dolly everyone knew.
I still have days where I feel nervous, where my back is aching and I don’t feel deserving enough to be back in the saddle – but sometimes it’s just a case of reminding myself what I have overcome, what I have achieved, and why I love this sport.
To speak from my own experience, it really is true that if you ever feel scared, uncomfortable, anxious, or worthless like I did, remember – you are more than good enough. You’ve got this!
You can find out more about Becky’s story by following Never give up: A diary of my fractured dream on Facebook.
First printed in The Arabian Breeders’ Magazine Volume VI Issue III
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