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How to Conquer Your Fear of Riding a New and Unknown Horse
Riding A New Horse
It can be very exciting. It can also be very intimidating - especially if somebody asks you to get on an animal a few minutes after seeing it for the first time.
Every horse has its own personality, and even a well trained animal has quirks that the rider needs to understand and work around. Sometimes those quirks can be physical, like a downhill build or a bouncy trot. Sometimes they can be mental.
When standing next to a horse you don't know, you can find your stomach sinking into your riding boots. How do you deal with this?
Ask the horse's owner if there's anything you should know about the horse. Some people will volunteer information, especially if it's important. For example, I've ridden horses that absolutely cannot ever be touched with a crop or a whip - that's important.
So are any physical limitations the animal might have, or how it reacts to other horses. We have a mare in the barn who hates to be "tailgated" and will kick any horse that comes too close to her. For some bizarre reason, she's even quicker to do so if the horse is pinto. (I also once knew a stallion who refused to cover pinto mares - horses can be very strange sometimes).
Trust The Owner
My trainer once asked me to get on her Warmblood. He's insured for 50k - more than most people's cars.
That's one time I was definitely intimidated about riding a strange horse. In fact, I almost chickened out. It's like somebody handing you the keys to their Ferrari, except this Ferrari has a mind of its own.
But I gave in because I trusted her, and if she ever gives me another chance to get on that beauty, I'm taking it, even if he was such a physically challenging ride ten minutes on him made me saddle sore (high end dressage horses are not easy to ride).
Of course, this doesn't work if you're on vacation and don't know the barn owner - so do your prep work. Don't be afraid to walk away from a strange barn if you don't like what you're seeing there.
One of the biggest things when riding is to always remember to breathe. The horse will notice if you aren't.
Breathing in rhythm with the horse's stride will really help you get the feel of a new horse and get "in sync" with them physically. It will also keep your heart rate down and ensure that if you are nervous, it won't be passed on to the horse.
Take It Slowly
Don't get on a strange horse and immediately start galloping and jumping. Even the professionals don't do that.
Warm up at the walk and trot if possible. Most places that take riders out on trail rides start the ride out at the walk to give everyone a chance to get the feel of their mounts (And, of course, some places never go past that gait anyway). Don't be afraid to try a few things until you find where the horse's buttons are. How much leg and hand do they like? How well do they neck rein?
Always check the brakes before leaving the arena or corral. You'll feel much better for knowing how much it takes to stop.
Wear A Helmet
(Not that you shouldn't anyway). Wearing your safety gear will help you feel more protected and relaxed. I've worn helmets when nobody else was - don't worry about being seen as a dork or, worse, a dude. In the end, you're the winner by protecting your head.
Finally, nobody is going to let you ride their horse if they don't think it's going to work out. If you're hiring the horse, then they have to worry about their reputation and liability. (Although I did experience one dramatic exception - a barn that put a total newbie on a horse that turned out to be a bucker. The man concerned never got on a horse again after I ponied him back to the barn. Some places don't seem to care - which is why you always do your homework). A barn with a good reputation will never put you on a horse they don't consider to be safe and suitable for your height, weight, and level of experience.