Fear. Anxiety. Dread. Not words that you want to associate with riding, but there is no doubt that these feelings come up for most of us at some point in our riding lives. I know that there have been numerous times in my life that a bad experience made me down right scared to get back in the saddle. Anxiety is something I see many of my students struggling with as well, and I want to help, because as I have said before, riding should be fun. We don’t pay all kinds of money for riding equipment and horse care, and go out to the barn in the rain and the howling wind, shovel manure, and get covered in horse hair if we didn’t enjoy riding. But when fear becomes a constant, the fun can get sapped right out of horses and riding. Let’s be honest, when you get anxious around horses, bad things start happening. Even if you are great at hiding those internal butterflies from your fellow riders, your horse is picking up on them every minute. Some horses are steady eddies and won’t be affected by your nerves, but most horses will pick up on your nervous energy and start looking for whatever you are afraid of. A nervous rider quickly creates a nervous horse and the combination is not fun for either.
But before you completely condemn your anxiety, consider this- fear can be good, it can be healthy. What I mean by this is a little anxiety now and then probably just tells you that you are growing as a rider. New challenges will stir up the butterflies, and as you get comfortable with the new skill, they will quiet down again.
I love this quote from Jane Savoie, “Fear means you’re growing. Every time you stretch yourself, aim a little higher, or take a risk, you’re going to experience some anxiety. So fear itself is not the issue. Fear doesn’t make you a coward. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid. Fear only becomes an issue when it paralyzes you and prevents you from doing something you really want to do. Besides, if you’re not afraid at times, it just means that you’re not stepping out of your comfort zone and living big enough.”
There is another instance where fear can be healthy. Fear may be your intuition keeping you safe. If you are truly pushing too hard, too fast, fear could be your own inner voice telling you to slow down before you get hurt. Riding horses can be dangerous, there is no need to dance around that fact, but as riders we have acknowledged that risk and continue to participate in the sport, so you need to know your own limits and have the courage to challenge yourself without going so far as to set yourself up for failure. That can be a fine line, and an issue where you need to consult logic and listen to your gut at the same time.
Let’s switch gears now and talk about the kind of anxiety that holds you back. This is where you obsess over the same worst case scenario over and over. You feel anxious doing things that used to be comfortable. You worry constantly and read into everything that happens as being negative. This is the kind of anxiety that you need to acknowledge for what it is – unhealthy. Unhealthy anxiety can usually relate to something else that is happening in your personal life. This is one of the best things about interacting with horses – they can tell us a lot about ourselves. Here are some of the most common underlying reasons for unhealthy anxiety that I have either experienced myself or talked about with my students.
Need to be in control – when you work with horses, you need to let go of always being perfectly in control. You are working with and riding on top of another being that has its own feelings and emotions. There are going to be moments when you are not in control and things do not go as planned. Learn to be ok with it because it will happen. Go with the flow. If you were looking forward to working on the collected trot but your horse is spooking in the wind, it’s ok to spend the day working on your walk circles.
Lack of Self – Confidence and Assertiveness – If you have trouble being assertive with friends or co-workers when it is needed, you may also have trouble telling a thousand pound horse to back up and get out of your space. Having “presence” around horses plays a huge part in how well you will be able to handle them, from the ground or the saddle. A person who experiences a lack of assertiveness is also often the type of person who dislikes conflict and wants everyone to just be happy. This usually comes from a place of caring and is a great personal quality; however, when working with horses, there are times when you must set boundaries and correct bad behaviors. By doing this you will have a much better relationship with your horse.
Dwelling on the Worst- Case Scenario – Yes, people have died or been seriously injured in horseback riding accidents. We both know that, but it will not help your anxiety levels to spend time looking for these stories and then re-enacting them in your own mind with your own horse. Visualization works both ways, it can help you focus on positive outcomes, or it can drive you crazy replaying what could happen. Plus, the worst case scenarios we read about are freak accidents. If you stopped participating in everything that had a possible bad outcome there wouldn’t be much left to do. Driving would certainly be out and it’s not half as fun as riding astride a horse.
Stress – In today’s fast paced lifestyle, many of us experience stress on a daily basis, but cumulative stress has many negative impacts on our bodies. Stress not only increases your risk of developing known medical conditions such as high blood pressure and ulcers, but it also keeps your muscles tight and your mind racing. This is something you want to focus on managing daily, not just when you come out to the barn. It is impossible to remove all sources of stress from your life, so instead focus on how you can better react to those stressors. For me, the first step to reducing stress is to relax my body. It’s hard to calm the mind when your muscles are still tight. I go out for a walk or run, or just focus on breathing, which we’ll talk more about later!
While those may be the top four I have noticed, there are many more causes of anxiety, I would challenge you to take a critical look at your own anxiety, when and how it shows up, and where it may be affecting other areas of your life.
Now it is time for the good stuff! What are some strategies that we can use every day to dissipate anxiety and relieve stress? This is actually a topic that I have learned a lot about in the business courses I have taken in the past year. There are several strategies that helped me a lot when I applied them to my riding. I also wanted to go deeper on this so last month I met with Tina L. O’Conner, MS, NCC, a professional and licensed counselor. She shared many new strategies with me and will working more with CRK Training, but more on that later!
For the sake of not being too long winded, here are my top three strategies for relieving anxiety. Breathing is number one for me, and when I say breathing, I mean deep, diaphragmatic breaths that pull the air down and expand my stomach. Counting 1,2,3,4 as you breathe in, holding your breath for the same 4 count, and then exhaling can have a very calming effect.
Second, I use a lot of positive visualization. I picture what I want to happen and how I will smoothly handle an undesirable situation. P.S. this helps a lot from a performance aspect too!
Third, any exercise to practice mindfulness will bring your thoughts back to the present and can stop the negative chatter in your mind. To be with the horse, you must get out of your head and into your body, so you can feel your own emotions and those of the horse. To help with this, make a point of thinking about what you are doing – what are you feeling, smelling, hearing, and seeing? Spend a few moments reflecting on each one to get yourself back in the present moment.
I sincerely hope that this post will help you understand your own anxiety and identify the root cause. I only scratched the surface of how to relieve anxiety and work through fear because there will be another post dedicated to that… actually it will be a video interview with myself and Tina – she has worked as a counselor for many years and is truly an expert at working through anxiety issues. The interview will be posted soon, maybe even next week, so stay tuned!
Until then, leave a comment and tell me – when do you get nervous around your horse, what do you do to relax, and what do you think is the underlying cause of your anxiety? I will go first and share that I get nervous when I feel as though a horse’s mind is “blown,” when they are at that point that they have no regard for even their own safety. At this point, I believe this is a healthy fear, because a horse in this state can be very unpredictable. However, I have also experienced my share of unhealthy anxiety in the past, mostly due to feeling stressed and taking that feeling with me to the barn. Fortunately, I have learned many ways to reduce the stress I feel in my own life and I look forward to sharing more with you soon!
See you in the comments,
P.S. If you'd like to learn more about the psychology of riding join me in my Calm & Confident Rider Free Resource Center
Great article! This really hits home for me right now. I had a couple of unexpected experiences riding in the arena with my horse and now just sitting in the saddle at a walk can make me nervous. It is a control issue for me and reading the section in your article about breathing and mindfulness is really helpful. I will be reminding my self to use these techniques to aid me when I start experiencing some anxiety in the saddle.
Glad this article helped, Jen – I think you will really enjoy the interview that’s coming up!
I do a lot of road riding in preparation for an upcoming 1150-mile ride, and although my horse does really well most of the time, he still jumps out of his skin at big, loud trucks or buses. I always turn him enough for him to see it coming, which seems to help, but that last nano-second before the truck passes is just too much for him. I know it’s probably me that’s scaring him the most, but I don’t know what to do during that oh-so-loud-and-scary moment. He’s calm as a cucumber at everything else; bridges, streams, tractors, downed trees, barking dogs, etc. Not much fazes him except those huge and noisy monsters. What can I do to help us both?
I have a few thoughts on this – first, how much room do you usually have to distance yourself from the road when a truck is coming? If you have the space, I would try taking him further away from the truck when possible to find his threshold of how far away he is before he doesn’t mind the big truck or bus anymore. Then try being a little closer each time to desensitize him that way. I realize this may be tough to do riding roads however, because sometimes you don’t have the space when you need it. Also, you are doing the right thing by allowing him to see it, but what if you also ask for his attention at the same time – for example, when he is turned to see the truck, play with your reins or ask him for a little leg yield away from the road to see if that will keep him more focused on you and effectively distract him from the truck. Let me know if these help.
Where are you doing your 1150 mile ride? That sounds like quite an adventure!
letting a horse see a scary thing is one thing but, as stated before, you need to accept his personal “fear distance”, as well. I would start small, see if you can ask a friend or a farmer to come over with a truck to your yard and then just stand there, motor off. Let your horse take a really good look, without any pressure. Add a running motor, if he’s comfortable with that, let the motor rev, and so on.
If you have a place along a busy road where there is enough room along the side for him to stand at a distance at which he’s comfortable, take him out and let him look, look, look. Teach him “head down”. Get slowly closer to the road, keeping at a distance at which he shows NO fear or nervousness. If he can’t stand still let him move in a smaller circle around you to work off his nerves.
If you do pleasure rides and you get near trucks, buses or construction equipment – especially if the are running or just sitting there idling – try walking your horse up to them and let him get accustomed to the sounds and sights. I spent almost 45 minutes one day working with my boy with an excavator digging a trench. The people I ride with are very accommodating and found exercises for their horses to do while we worked on this. Now trucks and other equipment don’t bother him. I can get within 15 get off him in the pasture with the tractor and all he’ll do is shake his head at me. Hopefully this is an idea that’ll help him. But also realize there are things (moving water if my boy’s biggest issue) that they will never be comfortable with. But working with them their tolerance will grow. Just realize their limits.
For you I’d say it’s a lot like jumping. If you prepare for the horse to stop it will. If you sit back and stay relaxed you’ll stay out of your horse’s way (not feeding his fears through your own body language) and you’ll be safer because rather than being tense and tight you’ll be able to react if need be. I had my newest horse spook and start to rear on me yesterday. But because I didn’t tense up I rode her right out of it and moved her forward without thinking – only feeling if that makes sense. A wise trainer once told me to breathe and rotate my shoulders to release the tension. That was good advice
I try do a lot of this deep breathing even if nothing is bothering him or myself. I think it helps keep the day calm for us both. If I am relaxed so he will be as well. I also do a lot of the positive visualation . I know what I expect it to look like or how I want it to go, but so often my expectations and outcomes don’t quite match So seeing it in my minds eye helps me go over it and see what I could have done better or just differently to achieve my goal .
I also think about how I have seen other people handle a difficult situation as well and that also has helped me when it comes time for me to deal with something.
Thinking about how other people handle a situation is a great tip that we didn’t talk about! Especially if you can picture someone that you aspire to.
Most people have this fear of riding,well described the steps of overcoming it.
I am currently going through a very tough time with my anxiety issue. I do have anxiety on a normal bases, but it really gets bad when I want to go riding. I have panic attacks and everything. Of course my horse totally reads that and then we like you said are both totally freaking out. I have put my horse through sixty day refresher course to see if that would help him at least be more confident to handle me when I have tons of energy going on. The training did make a huge difference in him ( he still does spook a little) , but it is a lot better. Now its my turn I am at a loss for words and I don’t know what to do now? For example I went out to ride yesterday and I brushed him. tacked up, and did a on the ground warm up with my guy and then it took me literally an hour to hop on?? I went through fear, panic attack, tears, frustration, anger, then finally I had to wait till someone was out with me before I could hop on……. this is horrible! I want to ride I love it and I don’t know what to do to get me to chill.
Thanks for your comment! You aren’t alone in your frustration – many people experience fear of horses and riding. We are so drawn to them but riding involves a certain amount of not always having control and that is scary. There isn’t one simple solution either. I am working with my friend Tina – an expert at helping people overcome fear and anxiety – to design a course for riders with fear and anxiety. We are going to be releasing several free videos dedicated to this subject in the beginning of August. I will let you know when the first one is available. Until then, just keep taking baby steps forward to build your confidence. Be in touch soon, Callie
Could you please provide a link to this video? I’d love to watch it. :O)
Nevermind, I found it just a few comments down & have signed up for the videos. Thank you!!
I’m with you. Getting on the horse is the fear point for me. I was thrown a few weeks ago just after mounting up (the horse backed into the mounting block, scared himself, reared up and threw me) and now I’m scared every time I approach the mounting block. I’ve only been riding a couple of months and don’t want to give it up but….I also don’t want to be scared every time I ride. Trying to work through it but it is frustrating…especially when you’re watching every one else in the barn so calm and competent around the horses. I feel you…..
Krista, if you have been only riding for a short time, you will need to get over this obstacle soon. Mimic the calm and confidence of your fellow riders; you will be one of them soon! We all had to get there somehow!
The grounded mounting block should be positioned in line generally at the girth so that you can move up and (lightly) right into the saddle. Walk with your horse confidently to the block, keep your breathing slow and relaxed (you can even quietly hum a tune) re-position the mounting block if the horse is overly crooked. Have someone stand with you on the far side holding your horse at his shoulder, and gently placing a hand on his side behind the saddle (flank) if there’s a tendency for a horse to move away while you mount. Concentrate on your breathing, deep into your abdomen. As you step up confidently, take hold of the reins and mane with your left hand and either put your foot into the stirrup, or, just slowly swing your leg over, GENTLY sitting into the saddle. No crashing!
(when I’m on the block I don’t use the stirrup as it pulls the saddle slightly. Some horses hate this feeling and balk, plus I ride no stirrups when I walk off as it helps me relax in the saddle, lower my legs and find my position before I take up my stirrups.)
All mounting is done in a continual, fluid movement. Don’t hesitate … the whole sequence of mounting without over thinking puts you into the saddle. Slowly release your breath through the seat and all the way down to your toes.
If this helps and your horse remains calm, great! It could be that the ONE time when disaster took over was merely an unsettling moment for the horse causing him to back up and scared by hitting the block. Remember to check — once you are in the saddle the mounting block should be down at his side as when starting, not behind you.
I would second Janice’s advice here – especially the part that mounting is a smooth, continual movement and not to overthink it. Remember it’s ok for someone to hold your horse, and take the time to release that breath as Janice said – this helps you relax and in turn your horse will learn that it’s ok to stand quietly by the block – they don’t need to start moving right away.
I’m in the same boat. It was super windy and the horses were spooking a bit so I was simply practicing mounting and dismounting. The last time I tried to dismount I slipped or something and I kicked my horse super hard in the butt! Poor girl brought her head up and hit me in the face. I fell off and landed on my tailbone. Now I’m freaked out about falling and need to chill.
Thank you so much for this post. It nice to know I’m not alone. I am a new rider and was recently thrown from my 6 y/o TB. He’s also been doing some crow hoping due to tightness in his back end. I haven’t been able to ride without his trainer there, for fear of him trying to toss me. I know it’s not out of meanness, but I’m still afraid. And as soon as he drops his head or crow hops, I panic, as I anticipate a buck. I want to get back to enjoying my riding time and not being anxious as I drive to the barn. I just don’t know how to get there.
Hi JoAnn, Thanks for your comment. In your case, you may be best continuing to work with the trainer until you feel confident about handling your young horse’s buck. Perhaps you could ride an older more experienced horse to work on your confidence when you are by yourself, but until the issue (health or behavior) that is causing the bucking is resolved for your horse you don’t want to have more bad experiences. This may be a case of a healthy fear and be safe unless you feel confident about being able to handle a buck. I also posted the video series I had mentioned – I created a free series with the help of Tina O’Connor (who specializes in helping people with fear and anxiety). You can sign up for the free videos here: http://www.calmconfidentrider.com/fe/68216-the-first-step-to-finding-ease
Hi- I recently was bucked off a new horse on the trail. It took me a number of weeks to recover which made the first time getting back on a bit scary. What helped me was doing a more of ground work letting the horse (and me!) know I was in control on the ground. The next few rides were short (20 minutes) just working on going straight and doing turns at a walk, Always ending on a positive note. That built the confidence in both me and my horse. Each subsequent ride got a little longer. Getting on as often as possible really helped me. Even if it was just the two days of every weekend. The longer I waited between rides the harder it gets. And the more rides I got in, the more confident we became.
Excellent, Marilyn – keep up the good work!
Hi I’ve been having riding lesson since May and every time I get on a horse in my lesson I’m thinking he’s going to buck me off and I’m thinking that the whole 30 mins I’m on him….I haven’t fallen of b4 or should I say yet….i used to ride when I was younger and had no fear but since having 2 children I just think the worst…..I’ve even started helping out at the stables to help with my confidence …….I love horses and don’t want to give up because I don’t want my fear of falling off or being kick to beat me
This is a difficult topic to address in just a few sentences – but, the best tip I can give you is focus on the feel of the horse and what you are doing and feeling with your body instead of focusing on the negative thoughts in your head. When the thoughts start coming, do something to shift your focus like take a deep breath and notice the horse’s movement under you, or try to think about the smells you notice in the moment. Staying in your body and out of your head is one of the best ways you can help yourself overcome your fears. I would also encourage you to take a look at this free video series I created with the help of my friend, Tina: http://www.calmconfidentrider.com/fe/68216-the-first-step-to-finding-ease
Recently I went riding with my friend and the horse had spooked her brother had got a hose out which cause her to spoke, she tried to go it an electric fence which she had started to buck and the horse took off and skidded down a gravel which was horrible. The horse was trained with a bitless bridle which i think i would’ve been more comfortable with a bit. Now anytime I go riding or near a horse I get really nervous and I have like an anxiety attack or something. I’m only fifteen and junior and I want to go to a college for equine studies but I don’t see how I could do that now if I get nervous. Is there anything that I can do to change how I feel around horses or trust them better.
I would recommend finding a good riding instructor in your area and start taking lessons on riding and handling horses. Be very upfront with the instructor about your fear and ask if you can start just by learning to lead and handle the horse. The only way to get over your fear is to just be around horses again.
It is such a relief to read this post. I have suffered from anxiety for a lot of my adult life, and had made the decision that I have no business being on a horse anymore if I cannot get it under control. My old gentleman of a horse who coped with my nerves well had to be put down 3 years ago and finding another equine partner of the same ilk has been a disaster! I really love horses and cannot seem to let go of them, and after reading your advise, perhaps my journey is not over yet,! Thank you for the encouragement and direction!
Certainly don’t give up – there is another special horse out there that will be able to help you continue your riding journey!
Hello Callie and thank you all for sharing. This seems to be a subject that not many people understand. I’m 47 and started riding when i was 5 or 6. I have ridden off and on all of my life. I pleasure ride on trails by my house. My horse is at my home. I myself have been injured once while riding.I have never been thrown from a horse ( I stick like glue) but In the last 15 years i have witnessed a handful of very scary situation that involved other riders and or their horses. I can remember what riding was like before the anxiety started. There is nothing like it in the world and i pray to be able to get back there. My anxiety has grown slowly over the years. The strange part is im fine just being with my horse. because he is at my home i do all the mucking, feeding, grooming. My anxiety starts when I walk to my tack room and try to get my saddle! instant shortness of breath, metallic taste and i can just feel my heart starting to race. Until i accidentally found your article I was getting ready to throw in the towel and convert my barn into a dog boarding facility. I feel as though I need to reboot my brain as you would a computer and start over. Any sugestons are greatly appreciated . 🙂 Thank You, Leza
Have you had a chance to look at the interview I did with Tina O’Connor and the free videos she helped me create? Tina specializes in fear and anxiety issues and she helped me create a course just for riders who struggle with understanding their fear, and working through anxiety. Through creating that course I also interviewed a sports pyschologist named Dr. Goldberg – he taught me that our brains store past traumatic experiences – doesn’t just mean physical trauma either – fear, watching things happen to others, etc can also be registered as trauma in our brains, and that trauma is essentially “triggered” when we are in situations that the brain links up to the original trauma. Sometimes these links don’t really make logical sense either. He had some really good strategies for recognizing your emotions but staying in your body so that you can return to a “normal” emotional state again. Anyway, here are the links for the free videos if you want to take a look at those:
This is a great subject and as always Callie tackles it with sensitivity and common sense which is very helpful. I get nervous about riding out in the open on a horse I’m not sure I can trust. My current horse is green although quiet and I am working with him online out in the field a lot to get him comfortable out there and learning to listen to me when he gets distracted. Then we are doing little baby rides out there.
I think people feel a lot of pressure to do things beyond their safety zone. Comments and implied judgement from other riders can be challenging. It’s important to follow your own level of comfort and perhaps break things down into baby steps that you do over and over to gain confidence.
I’d like to know Callie, what you think are good ways of teaching a horse to feel comfortable going out of the arena?
Thanks for your presence in the world of horse teaching!
Thanks for you comment – I appreciate it!
To answer your question about teaching a horse to go out of the arena, I like to first lead a new horse if I am unsure how they will react. I will usually take them out and play a few “clicker games” such as targeting to see how well I can keep them focused on me. I usually start with just a short walk from the barn, then increase the distance or the distractions as the horse grows more comfortable. Same goes for when I ride them out – I increase the distance as they become more comfortable and I will often practice the same things we are doing in the arena like bending, transitions, circles, etc. to help keep them focused on me.
Hope this helps! Callie
I came across your article while googling anxiety and horses. I just came to realize today that I’m scared about falling from my horse again. I had surgery to repair a torn tendon back in July and have only recently been cleared to start riding again. While I have ridden my horse the past two weekends since I’ve been cleared and he has been nothing but a perfect gentleman, I still have that fear of him spooking, bucking, etc, and me coming off. I do feel that as my ankle becomes stronger, that maybe, hopefully, this will all go away and I’ll just have the normal healthy anxiety that you described. I am working with a very good trainer, and I know it’s important to tell her of this. Until then, I will remember to breathe and trust that my boy will take care of me.
I really like this article. I had a bad accident and haven’t really gotten over it. I have been working on my fears since I got my new horse and have been getting better. These tips have helped me pass old fears I clung on to. Thank you so much!
I read all of this with great familiarity. I am currently strggling with fear of my own horse…not on his back, but on the ground. He has attacked me twice and now is displaying bad manners in his stall: ears back, teeth clacking. I am terrified and he knows it. I know I have to be in charge, but can’t seem to push myself into those teeth. B/O, trainer does not want me to bring a specialist out to the barn and has suggested using some of the young riders who are not so intimidated. Should I move?
This fear may be a justified one, meaning a fear that is keeping you safe. It is very unusual for horses to actually attack but it can happen – I was attacked by a stallion when I was 13. Sometimes horses can have extreme aggression just like some people can. Often is is a by-product of domesticated life (as was the case with the stallion I was attacked by), but whatever the cause of this potentially very dangerous behavior, I would bring in a good trainer or behaviorist to evaluate your horse. If your barn trainer will not allow it then I would move. You don’t want to put other riders in danger.
Hi Callie, and thanks for the great topic. I learned a technique that I use often and find helps a lot (me and my horse, I think). I read it somewhere but, sadly, can not remember where to credit the trainer. She called it doing the “external sigh” and much like horses will breathe out deeply or sigh, I follow them and audibly sigh out loud straight after my horse has. My friends looked at me strangely at first, but now they know that I do it. Sometimes I remember and just sigh when feeling good, and my horse follows! It seems to relax both of us… and reminds me to breathe!
Thanks Callie for this article, has already helped me alot, Recently purchased a beautiful natured but young (4yr old) QH had every intention of bringing him back into work myself but completely lost my nerve, have decided to save me stress and him to send him off to a trainer I like to get him and me working together, have never had a bad fall or many bad experiences but have suffered with depression and anxiety most of my life, will definately be using some of your tips to get me more settled around my new horse
Glad this helped Samantha! Best of luck with your riding, keep going and perhaps look for a horse that you can feel really confident and safe with right now.
Hi Callie, I’ve been riding almost four years now, and I’ve always been a more timid rider. About three months ago I had to stop riding because every time I got on the horse- I’d feel really sick. Nothing bad had happened, but I had two times where I had to get off due to feeling nauseous. I love riding and horses a lot, and have my first lesson in three months tomorrow and I’m not sure if it’s excitement or not, but I almost feel nervous about going. I usually feel sick to my stomach when I’m nervous or excited, but my main fear is getting sick on the horse and having to get off. I hate not being able to finish my riding and having to leave the barn. If I have a stomach ache it all goes away right when I get to the stable and start tacking up. I’m not sure how to stop myself from feeling so nervous about either riding or throwing up, I don’t even know which it is of the two. I’ve only fallen off about ten times and none of them were serious, and I’m taking it easy with a flat lesson tomorrow, but I think it might be the fear of getting sick when riding. Throwing up was always a huge deal for me- and I don’t know if it’s nervousness or actually a bug, but I miss riding so much!
If it is really the riding that is making you anxious to the point of throwing up then perhaps consider taking a few lessons that are really, really easy. Or even just ride an easy horse outside of a lesson, where you can just relax and have fun, without worrying about being challenged or having to push yourself as you ride. Do something with (not even necessarily on) the horse that you are completely comfortable with. The bottom line is that while we all want to be better riders, and that does involve challenging our skills at time, the most important part of riding is that we are having fun, so find where or how it can be fun for you!
I’m new to this list and just want to say that I really like the way you handle horses. I have been watching your YouTube videos over the past year as I was preparing to get my first horse since my teenage years. I am now 64 and I have a Missouri Foxtrotter that I just love.
Anxiety issues – This was a great article and I think very improtant one. I don’t think I have any anxiety/fear around my horse except when I have to lift up the rear feet for hoof cleaning/examination. My horse had a recent injury on the right rear and she’s very touchy about having it picked up and she doesn’t like putting her weight on it when the other foot is lifted. I don’t mind letting this pass as her environment is a stable with soft earth and grassy areas and I keep her bare foot. BUT, as she heals up from this injury, it will be time for those feet to come up. This is where I have anxiety – lifting the rear feet after I have allowed her to not do that. My bad. Suggestions are needed!!
One other thing, you said something about mindfullness and clearing your mind of all the chatter. I discovered in a neat little book entitled “3-Minute Horsemanship” by Vanessa Bee. Her training methods are rooted in mindfullness (or the Zen of Horsemanship). Have you heard of this book? I am interested in your thoughts on it if you have. I personally really like this method, but being new to horses since my growing up days, I don’t know what works and what doesn’t.
Thank you for your time!
Hi Connie, Thanks for your comment! I have not heard of that book, but I have heard good things about Vanessa!
For the issue with your horse’s back feet, I would recommend working on just running your hand up and down her leg, brushing her leg, then asking for her to pick it up and only holding it for a short time. Basically allow yourself to get more comfortable around her back feet without all the focus being on picking them up.
Thank you so much for your excellent teaching and advice. I have very recently begun to part loan a horse, so we are still getting to know each other. I became anxious when out in the field, she began to pick up speed and I felt powerless. I realise now, I was rushing into riding out of the school. I practiced focus and relaxation techniques and now spend time in the school just working on my position and practicing transitions etc. She also anticipates, in that if I ask for a canter on a 20m circle, she expects me to do it next time around. To try to increase my confidence with her, I have been repeating the pattern, but changing what I ask her to do, riding as if to canter, but instead, asking for a walk. We had a great ride yesterday and I came away feeling much more confident and much happier. It is still early days and I am now going to take my time until we have got to know each other a lot better before riding out.
This article and the comments that follow reassure me I’m not the only one to be working through anxiety inside the ring and out in the big world. This is so helpful, and I especially value the willingness of everyone here to be real and honest and supportive. I’m a fairly new and older rider with brittle bones and I know there’s a lot at stake when I ride. But there’s even more at stake if I let my fear hobble me and stop me from riding and knowing the joy and the thrill of being in the saddle. Thank you Callie and all of you here.
Thanks for joining the group and the conversation, Yanette! You certainly are not alone!
I broke my neck and back 2 years ago in a horse related accident. I’ve had quite an issue with fear since, so I really appreciate this article.
Glad it was helpful Patty! Have you had an opportunity to check out the Calm and Confident Rider Resource Site? I created this earlier In the year and compiled more info on the riding fear topic. Here is the link if you’re interested: https://crktrainingblog.com/confidenceresource
I had a severe injury on a canter 2 years ago. i managed to get back to riding as soon as my dr allowed me to however i have developed fears to cantering and it’s getting frustrating
i can canter on a lunge but never on my own.
any advice that i can use?
I actually have another site completely dedicated to this topic, there are a lot of free resources here too, this is the link to access it https://crktrainingblog.com/confidenceresource
Great article Callie. A few years ago I had a pretty bad wreck while mounting and it’s negative impact has just kind of stuck with me. Lately I’ve been having issues with my mare acting up while tacking up, no doubt from her picking up on my anxiousness. We had a pretty explosive moment last night that has me realizing the need to work through those inner butterflies. Thank you for reminding me about the importance of simply getting out of my head and being mindful of where I’m at, and that she is picking up on a fear that in reality has nothing to do with her.
I have been lucky so far, in my riding, that I haven’t had any accidents or super scary ordeals. For me, I have anxiety every day, all day (anxiety disorder). BUT, I use barn and riding time as a time I can really focus on keeping my nerves and emotions in check. I start deep breathing when I’m getting ready to go. I listen to music I can sing along to in my car (diaphramatic breathing), and am really aware of what I’m bringing to my horse and it’s helped very much. I get nervous when others are around because I have a fear of looking dumb, or looking like “the new person” at the barn who everyone is sizing up. And I’m sure that’s not the case at all. So sometimes it helps me to visualize what I look like from “the outside”. As if I was watching myself as a character in a movie. Am I doing something dumb? No. Am I making embarrassing or dangerous mistakes? No. I’m just a person, getting her horse ready for a ride. Nothing to judge. And weirdly enough that makes me feel better!
hi Callie! thank you! i am dealing w some anxiety – but before i was anxious (i once was very overconfident) – i noticed my horse seemed afraid to be ridden? he isn’t in pain and i keep rides very short. more time is spent during me dragging him to be ridden – i don’t ride him in his paddock. i ride him a mile or so up the road. he is very healthy. he is 22 years. back not sore. he is a TB and raced until he was eight years. i wonder if he got burnt out? he has been with me three years. i have probably ridden him less than twenty times! maybe less! he just makes it so hard. even so i keep going. i guess i just have to be more determined than he is?
Heather, what is he doing that is making you think he is ‘afraid’ to be ridden? What types of behaviors are you noticing? Has anything with his management changed since you’ve noticed the behavior changes?
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
Hi Julia! Once he bolted when I almost had first foot in stirrup. Then I adjusted feed. So now more calm but still very resist. Refuses to be lead to riding area. After I get him to riding area he tries to position himself so he can’t be mounted. And his general demeanour suggests he isn’t interested. I am getting lessons. Trying to learn. Getting a better rider to ride him next week to see if he is different with her. Getting teeth checked. Feet trimmed. He is barefoot and has good healthy feet.
Hi Julia! Further to my previous response – when he bolted off before I could mount he galloped across a busy road and to a paddock where two horses were contained. We didn’t know these horses but had walked past them on the way to the park. He ran around and around their fence as if looking for a way to enter their paddock – although we had never met them before. So…. maybe he was scared of the new environment? But I thought it was fear of being ridden? Or maybe there’s a couple of things going on?
It may have been more of the issue of the new environment…it is hard to say for sure what it could be for sure but especially if he isn’t used to new environments that could have caused the behavior.
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
Hello, I kinda just want to put this out there. I have been riding all my life, and only since a year ago, I basically have a intense fear of mounting. I know it’s from a former lease where I was informed I would get help with learning the horse. A very nice Belgian Draft, however, up on mounting would do a 180 and trot off. Never received any help from the “trainer”. I love riding but once my foot is in the stirrup, I freeze. No matter what horse. Currently I attempt to ride a wonderful steady horse, but even then, i still freeze. I find it upsetting that I cannot enjoy what used to bring me peace of mind.
Francisca, I would recommend checking out our free training from our Calm and Confident Rider program. In this free training you’ll get the tips and information you need to help you understand and work through your fear of riding.
– Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
I have used Callies site before and think I will redo this course.
About three months ago I was doing quite good, had even been overseas and ridden on holiday. then the school horse I was riding spooked badly. This horse was 16.2hh, I had struggled to get legs on as am short, but was doing ok. During lesson he was pig rooting, not happy then this happened. Resulting in me coming off, fractured and dislocated shoulder, fractured ribs.
I am now back riding but on one I learnt on – he is 19 years old, 15.1hh and lovely but naturally I still have some fears to work through. Next week is only my second lesson back but am determined to get there. (I dont have my own horse)
Thank you for your program.
Lynda, you will get there! Give your body and time to heal! Being on a different horse that is a little steadier will be great to get you back on track!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
I gave up after riding for 4 months, 3 classes a week. Bolting horses. Bucking in the arena. Strong headed horses. I used 3 dressage trained horses with no success. It just wasn’t fun anymore. I took up fencing as, at least know when I am going to get hit and hurt.
I think that some people like me don’t deal well with the tantrums of other people or animals. It just wasn’t worth the money or my time anymore.