Whether you’ve only just started riding or have been around horses your whole life, fear of riding (and horses in general) is widespread and perfectly normal – sensible even. After all, horses are big, powerful and intimidating animals that can be unpredictable. It’s really a wonder anyone feels confident sitting on one!
But while a healthy respect for our equine partners is good to hold onto, living with a fear that gets in the way of you doing something you love is a horrible experience. If you’ve found yourself in this position, here are a few tips to get you back on track:
Get to know the horse you will be riding.
Whether you are taking lessons at a riding school or have your own horse, get to know the horse on the ground first. Don’t feel like you have to ride right away… You should feel comfortable taking as much time as you need to get to know the horse – whether that’s a few minutes or a few months.
The better you know the horse on the ground, the more you will trust them when you are on their back and you’ll also know how they are likely to behave in different situations which will help make you feel more confident and in control.
If, once you get to know the horse, you still feel nervous about the whole situation, you may simply not be a good match. Don’t be afraid to admit this – in the long run it will be better for both you and the horse to call it quits before anything goes wrong. A supportive trainer may be able to show you a way forward with rebuilding the relationship with this horse and that may be worth a try first. But ultimately, if you simply don’t click, ask your trainer to help you find a better match instead.
Identify your fears.
Try to figure out exactly what scares you about being on a horse. Think through the different scenarios that frighten you most and try to work out what specific outcomes make you feel this way. Keep asking yourself “why?” and “what would happen then?” and see if you can really pinpoint your fear.
Sometimes just knowing what scares you can help you overcome it through the realisation that it’s not rational or likely. But even if you find that your fear is worth holding onto, you can work towards eliminating the chances of that outcome. You can avoid situations that put you in a position where what you are really afraid of might happen – or you can prepare for that situation so that you feel equipped to handle it if it does.
Confide in your trainer.
If you don’t have a trainer whom you trust and feel you can confide in, start by finding one first! An understanding trainer who can offer support, reassurance, and be the voice of reason for you when you are worried, can really help make you feel more confident in the saddle. Even simply talking through your worst case scenario with your trainer can make a big difference and allow you to process your fear.
A good trainer will push you just enough for you to make progress and will do their best to motivate you to achieve your goals. They will never force you to do anything you feel uncomfortable with or knowingly put you in danger.
But whatever your fears – big or small – and however modest or ambitious your goals, try to remember why you’re involved with horses in the first place. Whether you are out competing regularly and want to overcome the lack of confidence that is holding you back, or you simply want to be able to enjoy a quiet hack or schooling session without anxiety, this is something you’ve chosen to do because you love these animals. We don’t all have to be daredevils on horseback – and our equine friends can be perfectly happy with us firmly on the ground! So don’t pressure yourself too much – and always remember, it’s supposed to be fun!