Overcoming the Fear of Horseback Riding
Imagine flying carefree through a lush, green field. Hooves pound the earth beneath you as the wind whips past your face. You give your horse more slack in the reins, allowing her to move freely as she carries you faster. You turn your face to the vivid, blue sky above you as you realize something: there is no feeling in the world quite like this. If you have ridden horses before, perhaps you are familiar with this feeling. Or, perhaps the notion of a galloping horse speedily carrying you forward strikes fear in your heart. You would rather stay on the sturdy ground.
Many people relate more to the latter for various reasons. Some have never ridden a horse and find it scary because it’s unfamiliar, while others have ridden but have suffered a bad fall from a horse's back. If you can relate to either case, you are not alone. Even the most advanced riders have experienced that same anxiety at some point during their riding years. But they have overcome that anxiety. And believe it or not, you can, too.
“What if I get thrown from the horse’s back?” “What if I can’t control the horse and he gallops off, taking me with him?” “What if I can’t move the horse forward?” “What if…?” There are many “what-ifs” in life. Most of these “what-ifs” come when we are first learning something or after a mishap. For instance, think back to when you first learned to drive a car. Did you ever think, “What if I get into a car accident? What if I have to go onto the highway? What if I have to parallel park? What then?” But as you gained experience in driving, these fears gradually dissipated. Through experience and, when necessary, instruction, you acquired the skills necessary to appropriately respond to these situations. It is the same with horseback riding. While you currently might not have all the skills necessary to respond to every possible situation, you can learn them. The best way to learn these skills is through experience. Give yourself a chance to learn and grow.
Remove “failure” from your vocabulary
Today, the word “failure” carries a lot of negative connotations. Some might consider a failure to be evidence of something they personally lack. They believe, whether subconsciously or not, that a failure makes them inferior. None of these are the case when it comes to failure. When you fail, it does not mean that you are a failure. It only exposes what you need to work on. If a horse gets scared and jolts forward, throwing you off in the process, this only shows that you need to work on your reactions to the horse's sudden behavior, your balance, and your grip in the seat. Instead of saying “that was a failure”, say instead, “that is something I need to work on”. The later phrase carries much less anxiety and points to what really matters: how to improve.
Your fellow riders want to know!
What's stopping you from riding?
Don’t compare yourself to other riders
Every rider has a different background. Each one is unique. Therefore, it is futile to compare one to the other. Don’t compare your current riding level to another rider’s. Instead, look back at your own riding timeline (no matter how short or long it is), and see how far you’ve come. No one has reached a certain level that you cannot reach one day. In fact, all professional riders were once novices learning how to post a trot. Focus on your accomplishments, not others’.
Others are available and willing to help you
First and foremost, make sure to hire a reliable instructor. Meet the instructor before your first lesson to get to know them a little. You could even observe a lesson that he or she is teaching so that you can make note of his/her teaching style. If you feel like it is not a right fit for you, then do not worry. There are plenty of experienced, patient, and skilled horseback riding instructors out there. If you don’t know where to look, try typing “horseback riding instructors” and your city and state into Google.com. Another way to find a schooling barn is to visit your local tack shop or equestrian supply store. Talk to a sales clerk about finding a riding instructor in your area. Most likely, if he or she doesn’t know of any, someone else in the store will know. Lastly, check your local newspaper for any advertisements. Sometimes, schooling barns utilize these to pique interest in readers. Gather a couple phone numbers, start making the calls, and book a couple appointments.
When you start riding, you can always ask another rider for guidance, too. if you have trouble with something specific like maintaining your balance while posting the trot, look for a rider who seems to do well in that area and ask him or her for advice. Many are willing to help their fellow riding students.
Learn more about horses
Part of your nervousness might be coming from the fear of the unknown. Horses can be intimidating creatures, especially when you don’t know what to expect. But, this can easily be overcome. Observe horses in the pasture, in their stalls, and in the schooling ring while taking notes on their behaviors. Research horse breeds online. Learn about each breed’s unique temperament to gain insight into the personality of the horse you ride. Read books on horse behavior as well as technical aspects of riding. Saturate your mind with knowledge. This will squelch the fear of the unknown.
Many are apprehensive when attempting to ride a horse. However, they’ll never know what will happen until they try it. Put away your worry and give yourself a chance to accurately decide if horseback riding is for you or not. Who knows – you might love it! But if you don't, that’s fine, too. The important thing is you overcame your fear and were able to make an informed and rational decision.
So, if you think you’d enjoy riding, don’t let your fear stop you. Don’t get caught up in the “what-ifs” because no one knows the future. Most likely, the positive things that you get out of it will outweigh the negative. Horses can teach us a lot about self-confidence, determination, and perseverance. So, if you are interested in riding but struggle with fear, my advice to you is this: get out there and ride!
About the author
Allison Lark has been riding horses for 14 years. She is trained in the skill of jumping and has participated in many horse shows and Steeple Chases. She has fallen off of horses so many times, she has lost count. But through it all, her passion and love for horses continued to grow stronger as they taught her how to overcome her fears and allow her courage to flourish.