Overcoming Fear


Ponied lead line. A great way to overcome fear for young riders.

Many years ago, seemingly paralyzed with fear I sat atop a horse I had no business being on. I wanted nothing more at that moment than to get off and be done with it. It was a terrible feeling to be so afraid of doing something that I loved. Losing your confidence in horseback riding can be tough. I know because this experience taught me that. It’s memory lingers in my mind.

There are lots of reasons fear can happen, especially for the adult amateur. Most commonly there’s been an accident that resulted in our being unseated. Sometimes even minor injuries from a fall can result in great fear.

Another reason is time out of the saddle. Maybe increased demands at work or a new baby have prevented you from spending as much time in the saddle as you would like which caused your confidence to waver. Perhaps you are returning to the saddle following a long hiatus such as a youth rider who, following a long absence, is returning to the saddle as an adult and you are uncertain as to your abilities.

Whatever the reason, one of the most critical outcomes remains the same. Horseback riding, once something we thought essential to our being, becomes a less enjoyable and a less essential part of our lives. And that just shouldn’t be how it goes. Below are a list of tips I’ve compiled to help get you back in the saddle:

Ride a horse you trust.  It can be difficult to admit that you made a wrong purchase and over mounted yourself.  While horses with “been there, done that” attitudes can be found at any age, most commonly they are horses with a bit of age and experience who truly have “been there and done that.” In this scenario, consider finding your horse another home where he is a better fit then replacing him with another horse better suited to your needs. You might also consider enlisting  the help of a trainer.

Another situation where you may find yourself temporarily over mounted is when returning to riding after a period of time and your horse has been standing at pasture. If this horse once fit your needs but now needs help returning to a riding regimen you might think about again enlisting the help of a trainer to help get him back going again until you feel more confident in the saddle. If you are having trouble finding the perfect horse, enlist the help of a professional who is familiar with you, your intended discipline, your riding ability, etc. to help you find a horse that is the best possible match for you.

Take riding lessons. There are few things that build confidence more than a good lesson horse. Consider signing up for some riding lessons under a respected instructor until you are feeling more confident.

Start where you feel most confident.  If you feel more confident handling your horse on the ground rather than in the saddle, start here and do it a lot until you  are ready to move on to riding. If you have a desire to jump but it creates a good deal of anxiety start with a ground pole. Practice it until you are bored. Add other ground poles and arena exercises gradually working your way up in difficulty and height.

Change disciplines. If jumping no longer appeals to you consider changing to another discipline that doesn’t require it.

Push your comfort zone. It’s important to do this but only when you feel completely ready. If you are having trouble pressing the outer edges of your “zone”;  have a trusted friend or trainer help you to decide where and how to proceed.  Pushing your comfort zone could include activities like leaving the arena and taking your horse on a trail ride or riding in a different location away from home. Whatever it is, push to expand your current limitations as long as you can safely do so.

Finally, keep it safe. Always wear a helmet, protective shoes, etc. Always make certain that your tack is in good repair. By doing these things you can help to limit the severity of accidents should they occur despite your best efforts.

Horseback riding, for those of us who enjoy it can be an immensely pleasurable experience. Don’t allow fear to keep you from enjoying it.

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