How to Get Over Your Fear of Riding Horses!
Have you ever wanted to do something so badly that you have a physical reaction in body every time you think of doing it in your mind? That's the way my body reacts whenever I think about riding. My hair seems to float lighter as I imagine the wind teasing it with every stride, and my fingers tighten around imaginary reins. My legs skip an involuntary step and my feet suddenly transform into trotting hooves. The yearning to relax into soft leather atop a warm, living creature makes my heart beat faster and my muscles tighten in anticipation.
However, as we turn off the freeway and approach the stables where I occasionally go riding with friends, my heart speeds even faster, bolting away like a runaway horse and leaving my body behind. The van propels us toward the barn but my brain has suddenly pulled a reining star's sliding stop. Now my muscles are so tight from tension that my jaw is wired shut and my legs are glued to the seat like a store mannequin. Around me, four boys and two girls are conversing onwards with irritatingly joyful expressions, while I sit in the front seat, paralyzed, and repeating my personal mantra- "Relax, it's okay, just relax, it's just a horse! You ride all the time, why are you still afraid?"
How CAN you get over the fear of riding a horse? I've been riding on and off since I was four years old, and I can tell you right now, fear never really goes away entirely; but don't panic! There is hope for those who are afraid of riding, and I am living proof of that. For those of you struggling with fear of riding, let me share with you a few secrets I've learned over the years.
1) Know that it's OKAY to be afraid. You aren't the only one! And most people watching you have no idea you are.
2) STOP thinking "what if"! If you can't stop thinking about that one time you were almost kicked in the face or that time you got run over or that time you got bucked off and snapped a bone, you'll never get on, or if you do you'll be a nervous wreck and the horse will feel it and act up.
3) START thinking about the fun you could have if you would just get on the horse! Imagine the wind in your hair, smell the leather, feel the horse's mane, and take pride in the fact that you are there and willing to try again. Imagine the best time you ever had riding, and keep that picture in your mind for inspiration.
4) If you start to panic, WALK AWAY. Just a few steps, so you can't influence the horse. Breathe deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth. When you breathe in, think "courage" and when you breathe out, think "fear". Puff out your chest, blow out HARD. Wait for your heart to stop pounding, wipe your sweaty palms, and try again.
5) DON'T feel the need to rush! If you can only manage to touch the horse, get the horse in the pasture, groom, etc, that's okay! Set little attainable goals for yourself so that you make progress but not too quickly.
6) Find a friend you trust to help you. Let them lunge the horse first, or even ride him first, then you get on. The horse has the kinks worked out, you've seen how he's reacted to being ridden that day, and you are now better prepared to get on. You can have your friend lead you at first if you need it, or keep you on the lunge line a few times until you are ready.
7) Just DO IT. Nike swoosh! Holding back will just make it worse. Stop thinking and get on and do it. It'll be over before you know it, and your knees will stop knocking eventually.
8) If you have access to a good natured older horse, ride that one until you are ready to take on the horse that dumped you. Or if you are a beginner and never been on a horse, you can take comfort in knowing that the horse is used to nervous riders like you and won't bat an eyelash. Think of him as a big dog, just like the Indians did. Observe how he's so old and calm that he's falling asleep in the cross ties! Is that a horse that would try to hurt you?
9) Do lots of groundwork! If you are getting no respect on the ground from your horse, get a trainer or confident riding friend to help you regain respect. If you are afraid of your horse on the ground and he's not respecting you, then there's no way you'll be able to ride him confidently or safely. If you don't own a horse, ask a trainer for a groundwork lesson. Most trainers understand your fear. Level with them and they will willingly help you!
10) Don't get discouraged! The more you work at conquering your fear, the easier it will get. It takes time but you WILL get there, I promise. You might get an occasional flutter of the heart here or there when your horse acts up or spooks, but the knocking knees, sweaty palms, and frozen brain will become a thing of the past!
Thanks for reading my tips on conquering fear of riding, and I look forward to hearing your comments! What things do you do to fight fear?