DSC_3668I’m now in my final week of work before I drive down to Moab to reconnect with Christoph Schork for six weeks of Mongol Derby boot camp.

Last weekend, I had my last run on a racehorse and as I rounded the final lap of a three mile gallop, it hit me how much stronger and braver a rider I’ve become over the last eight months. Eight months ago I couldn’t gallop half a mile without coughing and sputtering and feeling my legs build with lactic acid. Eight months ago I’d nearly crap my pants if a horse started spooking and bucking underneath me. I guess that’s the reality of returning to riding in your mid-30s after a seven-year hiatus.

As I cantered one of my friend’s green ponies, she also commented that my confidence had improved. “You know, I didn’t know if you’d be able to do it, you were so timid when you started back at it,” she said.

It’s a comment that burned because even though I felt anxious getting back into riding last fall, I thought I put on a pretty brave front. Apparently not. Belinda, the woman who trains the racehorses I got to ride, said something similar. The take home message was “You were a bit of a chicken shit.”

I like to think I’ve overcome this, but when s—t hits the fan I can still get stressed.

My friends call me the ‘panic switch’ for this tendency, because I like to think of all of the possible things that can go wrong in any given scenario. It’s a weird combination – my love of doing stupid/semi-dangerous things, mixed with this obsessive worrying. I spoke to another Derby rider over Skype a few weeks ago and she told me that another former Derby rider said in the final weeks leading up to the race “you’ll start freaking out that you’re going to die out there.”

I’m over most of my horse-related fears, because I trust the stickyness of my seat, my ability to sit a buck and my fitness for galloping, but there’s a hell of a lot more things to worry about.

Here’s the list of what keeps me up at night:

  • Food poisoning
  • Butt chafing
  • Blistering sunburn (I’m a ginger)
  • Getting lost
  • Getting struck by lightning
  • Getting attacked by wild dogs

And, perhaps, the biggest of all:

  • Giving up because I’m too tired/broken to go on and having to come back home and tell everyone I just couldn’t do it. This fear of failure is keeping me up at night because so many people have offered their support, both financially and in spirit, and I don’t want to let anyone down. After all, 60 people turned up at my mom and dad’s farm to see me off and wish me well on the weekend. Together we raised almost $2,000 for charity. I want to make all of these people proud.

These are the things that are foremost in my mind as I prepare to drive down to Utah for six weeks of intensive riding.