What I Do When the Panic Attack Halts My Ride

Photo © Carly Nasznic


The panic attack. Have you felt it before? Is it the long run oxer or Liverpool? The in and out that you’re just not convinced you can get in… and then out? 

For me, tonight it was the crossrail. Sometimes, both as riders and as humans, we have to do scary things. And sometimes it’s also okay to walk away and not conquer. 

My panic attacks don’t usually bring tears or make me lose my breath. They’re more like the “end my lesson early by getting off my horse and exiting stage left while my trainer is still telling me the directions of what to do next” type. I’ve been dressed to show, learned my courses, polished my boots and my horse’s feet, and walked down to the show ring only to dismount, walk back to my stall, pet my horse and put him away. 

I know my triggers… usually. I’ve practiced overcoming them, taking a minute to center myself and try again. I’ve taken time away from jumping. I even took a few dressage lessons. I know that I’m a capable, intelligent horse person. Recently, we sold the most talented horse we’ve ever owned and bought a very seasoned unicorn. 

But sometimes? Sometimes the crossrail still wins. I give my horse a pat, and do my best to leave with a positive attitude and a commitment to try again next time. 

Photo © Kristin McLiverty

Adults can forget that our lives are complex. As a musician, I have a game face. I can perform under pressure. I know how to practice and also how to perform. My body and my mind have the ability to manage the endorphins and just do it. Sometimes I’ve gone into the show ring after only jumping 3 jumps in 10 months (post pregnancy) and been totally fine. But other times? I just can’t. 

And you know what? We just have to accept that it’s okay. 

While we’re not under the timeline of “aging out,” we are much more likely to be under other pressures. Work stress, parenting stress, relationship stress, financial stress—the list is never ending. The thoughts of “why do I spend every extra dollar I have, and every moment I can get away from work doing something that is utterly terrifying” are intoxicating. Those voices can be loud. 

But at the end of the day? This sport keeps me humble. It keeps me grounded. The scars I’ve got run deep into my psyche. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever be the carefree equestrian galloping through the fields and fearlessly jumping all the jumps. But I’ve got a safe horse, a patient, intelligent, and empathetic trainer, and I will pledge to try again tomorrow. (Well, not tomorrow because we have a concert. But I will try again next time.) 

In this game, there are always falls. Whether they’re literal or figurative, they will always happen. It’s so easy to lose track of how lucky we are to even be in the game. Able to ride, let alone able to compete. 

A few summers ago, I was on vacation in Montana having a conversation with our fishing guide about horse shows. He told me about his experiences with endurance horses and how there are so many cogs in the wheel that have to be just right for the stars to align and be able to compete. Finances, a sound and fit horse, personal health and well being, the right combination of time to practice, and a job to support the hobby. It was very relatable. We’ve all seen the highs and the lows that horses have to offer. 

Photo © Kristin McLiverty

I’ve spent a lot of time on the sidelines at horse shows. I love watching this sport more than most and my brain knows more about these animals than most other things (music aside). But in the last decade, I’ve had some crashes. There have been unsound horses, injuries, times I didn’t have a steady job to pay for it, and of course—the panic attacks. All of this adds up to the crippling anxiety that can show up out of nowhere, even though my horse continues to show me that she’s as trustworthy as they come. 

So, what to do when the crossrail wins? Pat your horse. We’re so lucky to be in this game. It’s okay that your ride wasn’t Instagram worthy today. Try again tomorrow. You’re not alone. I’ll be cheering for you all the way.

Caelin Kordziel is a lifelong barn rat: a lesson kid turned horse owner, enthusiast of all things equine. By trade, Caelin is an Instrumental Music Educator for students in grades 4-12 in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. When not at the barn or making music, she’s the mom to a wild-child doggo and a toddler on the move, wife of an avid outdoorsman, and keeper of the crossrail community @crossrailgrandprix on Instagram.