The Importance of Belief: Amanda Scarcella on Changing Her Mind and Changing Her Ride

I’ve been riding for awhile. As we all know, one of the great things about dedicating your life to a sport engaged with a partner is that you are constantly learning new things, and sometimes, remembering old ones. The most helpful and most recent thing that riding horses reminded me of is the importance of belief—believing in yourself and your partner.

The most helpful and most recent thing that riding horses reminded me of is the importance of belief—believing in yourself and your partner.

A few months back, I found myself at a classic crossroads of life, caught up in the struggle of returning to work in my former professional career as an attorney, but finding that it was no longer a good fit. I had entered a new area of practice, but I was finding that I was unhappy, extremely dissatisfied and overall depressed. Similarly, I was a little adrift with my riding; I had just moved trainers and barns and was trying out being a hunter/jumper after a lifetime in dressage. Both areas were not meeting my preconceived ideas about both my ability and performance, let alone my horse’s.

We had left dressage training where I was convinced my mare was unhappy because she seemed angry, defensive and grumpy. She seemed to light up when she saw a cross rail and had such a lovely little jump that I thought a change of situation and trainer would be just what we needed. We were going to move to a fancy, private barn and ride with a great trainer. I can’t say the switch with riding was going much better than at work. My seat was all wrong, I was really struggling with my balance, my leg swung like a pendulum, I couldn’t seem to do something as simple as counting strides between fences and I really do not like riding in knee patch breeches, let alone wearing a hairnet. I stopped listening to my own intuition. I turned a blind eye and deaf ear to what my horse and my trainer were both telling me. There were lessons in which he would chastise me for not listening or, worse yet, doing exactly the opposite of what he said. And he was right. We weren’t a good fit in the program and I wasn’t a good fit at work, but I was intent on makeing it work, teeth gritted, because I had decided it was The Solution.


As amateurs, this is a real challenge. We turn to our riding and barn time as a solace and means of escape. However, this meant that the weight of my happiness was saddling up with her every time I did, like a wet blanket drenched in my hopes, dreams and fears. That’s a lot to put on the back of a green, five-year old filly, and it worked out about like you would expect.

After months of stiffness, grouchiness and a myriad of health problems, she was getting less rideable instead of more and seemed mad ALL THE TIME. I was only allowed to ride twice a week and I wasn’t even wanting to get on because I didn’t want to ride an angry horse, trotting around with her head in the air like a giraffe. On December 13th, I arrived at the barn a little late, didn’t do my customary lounge and just said I would do a longer trot warm up. About 20 minutes later, when I got after her about her unwillingness to pick up the canter, it was clear I had made a crucial mistake regarding the lounge.  She let loose with a string of bucks I decided I could not ride out. The last thing I remember was thinking “Oh good, I was able to kick free.” I hit GGT footing hard enough to lose consciousness and crack a Samshield helmet.

I hit GGT footing hard enough to lose consciousness and crack a Samshield helmet.

It was the kind of accident that was serious enough to make me stop and reassess everything: horse, trainer, riding—you know, an amateur’s life in a nutshell. We took a little time to cool down, regroup and heal. I had a concussion and a difficult back issue making it hard to walk. I realized I could also no longer avoid addressing why such a young horse was having difficulty moving freely and why she had gone from being the barn sweetheart to the barn witch.


But when we started back, I was surprised at what I discovered.


What I found out is what I had really lost was confidence. I was surprised to discover how much I did not believe. In her, yes; after all, she bucked me off, but, honestly, mostly in myself. Every sentence in my head started with “You can’t.”


So I started doing things the way I learned to a long time ago, when I was a girl, when I first learned them, from the beginning. That was the time of my life when I gained confidence in my abilities as a horsewoman and self confidence as a human. I saw her responding, and our relationship began rebuilding.


When I finally got back on, however, it really was almost like riding for the first time. It was the first time I could remember getting in a saddle and being a little scared, which in and of itself was scary; I’ve never been afraid to get on a horse. All I can say about that first ride is that I stayed in the saddle. But, it was a start. Pretty soon after that, we began working with a new trainer and we went back to dressage to strengthen and condition both her body and mind. At this point, we are setting goals and achieving them, competing in a small way at local schooling shows and actually working together.

It was sad for me to see how much distrust had developed. But, that’s certainly part of the magic of relationships; you can change. You can both change. We see people change their disciplines, their trainers, their tack, their clothes. But the real thing that frequently needs changing is our mind. I wonder then, why we are so resistant to this idea?

But the real thing that frequently needs changing is our mind. I wonder then, why we are so resistant to this idea?

I see that with my mare, too. Her body is so much stronger than it was before. She can now easily carry a rider and move with fluidity and grace. She can compete and win ribbons. Everything used to be a problem, body and mind. Work under saddle was both physically hard and painful for her, so she reacted very defensively. She was angry that she hurt and that we didn’t seem to stop making her hurt. Now, her body is capable and strong, so when we run into problems, it’s very clear that it’s her mind saying “No, I don’t want to and you can’t make me.” A frustrating conundrum no doubt.


That’s where the belief part comes in. Set goals. Work with a trainer you feel comfortable with, one that you trust and you trust can help you reach your goals. Then, believe. In your trainer. In your horse. In you. Just that. Be content with small goals, and take the time to both acknowledge and praise when you and/or your partner achieve them.


Maybe it’s as simple as an honest transition where your horse tries hard to answer the question you are asking of her. Maybe it’s as simple as: your horse was going forward that day. Sometimes you have to readjust your goals mid-stride. Be okay with that, because when I take time to recognize, acknowledge and value small goals, I believe in our big goals.


Happy Trails and remember to enjoy the ride.

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