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Get back on the horse

Just get over it – push through

Stop being so afraid

These are the kinds of messages we are told (or we tell ourselves) about how we should respond to fear.

The common narrative is that to improve, we need to be outside our comfort zone. But here is the funny thing about comfort zones…

The more we push outside our comfort zone, the smaller our comfort zone becomes.

By going too far beyond where we feel safe, we create a bad experience for ourselves, whether something bad actually happens or it's just really scary, and our zone of feeling safe will get smaller.

So how do we improve?

The key is to work the edge of where you feel safe, doing something that is challenging, but then returning to what is easy. This is what will truly build your confidence and expand your comfort zone.

Watch the video below to learn more and if you are interested in more personal help building your confidence, check out my Calm & Confident Rider Program.

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60 Responses

  1. I’ve been taking lessons for many years on Arabs used as schooling horses. (I don’t own a horse myself, however.) I’ve had a lot of experiences where the horses will become skitterish (usually for no good reason), they’ll shy, and I temporarily lose my balance, but recover. This has happened so many times over the years that I’ve just grown accustom to it. (Arabs are notoriously skitterish!!) It doesn’t bother me very much or for very long anymore. In fact I’m usually “on the lookout” for something to happen and feel prepared. However, my instructor becomes overly cautious with me and tends not to believe me when I tell her, after a shying incident, that I’m okay. She’ll have me start all over again to get back in a comfort zone, and I seem to stay in a rut. She’s an excellent instructor with many years of experience. So, how convince her that I feel comfortable in a situation that appently doesn’t seem so to her? I’d just like to move forward after an “incident.” Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Jill, I’m wondering if there is something she is seeing that makes her want to take several steps back? Is there a halfway point where you could meet her? I hope those thoughts help!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  2. How can a young rider (a timid 12/13 year old) open up a successful conversation with a fairly dominant instructor about their fear and needs?

    I’m an adult now, but when I was a young rider I was terrified of cantering. Long story short, my first instructor’s daughter (at a therapeutic riding center) accidentally put the idea in my head that cantering = falling off, and I have mild cerebral palsy and at the time, severe and uncorrected scoliosis.

    When I moved to a new barn, I tried to tell my new instructor about my fear and her response was something like “You’re being silly, and I won’t put up with it.” I asked her to give me a longe lesson, and her response was “I don’t have time for that.” She would chase my pony around the arena with a longe whip, while I clung on for dear life. My balance was off, so at the canter depart and every first stride I felt like I was going to fly over my pony’s shoulder. LOL

    Even as an adult remembering, I don’t know what I could have done differently. What would you say to a young rider in my position?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Dani, I understand you because I was you! As a kid, I was most definitely not brave. I would recommend finding an instructor who is willing to put the time into building your confidence by taking small steps!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  3. Thank you so much for that. I had the most perfect horse alas for only 2 years work before he had to be permanently retired. Although 65 I’ve ridden since I was 15 so when I bought a beautifully broke 5 y:o Q/H I thought I could just carry on trail riding which is my love. Unfortunately though he’s fine going out alone he gets anxious and loses everything when dogs might rush a fence or he sees sheep ‍♀️ He’s beautifully natured but I have just lost my nerve going trail riding. He is happy schooling in the paddock and going weekly lessons but because I want to ride out I thought I would just give it all up. Your talk has given me renewed inspiration to Just go small steps out of my comfort zone. Thank you

  4. If a person is afraid, they’re afraid. No amount of “cowboy up and get back in the saddle” will make them unafraid. Fear is not cured by a person telling you to “not be afraid”. The human mind doesn’t work like that. I like your idea of going to the edge, working, and coming back to the safe zone. As a matter of fact that’s how I pulled myself out of a 3 year slump where I was close to giving up horses. I was injured very badly in an horse accident and after my body healed, my mind didn’t. I thank God that I persevered. Your video explains how I approach moving forward and your video explains it much better than I ever could. Thank you for the informative video. We horse lovers have to support each other and share our knowledge. When it comes to horses we can never have too much knowledge.

  5. Hi Jill, I’ve had an experience like that. I have been riding schoolhorses and they sometimes got nervous of the wind, or of the sound of the thunder and would do a little bit of cantering, which I sat out by sitting a bit heavier, and by using my voice I would calm them down and we would continue whatever we were doing, trotting at a nice peaceful tempo. I always felt in control.
    My instructor at that time would tell me to shorten the reins, (maybe because I an an elder lady?) which in my opinion is the worst thing to do. Better use my seat to slow the horse down, which I did, and not put too much weight on the bridle. I stopped taking lessons with her. Other instructors always said: Loosen the reins a bit! Once people start being over-cautious it is hard to influence them.

  6. This explains what I’ve been experiencing perfectly! I was out on a trail ride and my horse bucked when my daughter’s horse was in the lead. He’s done this with me before but I think the fact that he did it on the road made me think about what might have happened if I had come off. Now I’m a little anxious whenever we are out. I have been trying to work through it and this challenge/comfort zone graph is super helpful. Thank you!

  7. What an excellent explanation!!
    I used to love to canter. A few years ago, I bought my own horse – a young, very large OTTB. Between working through his physical challenges and the trainer I had, we barely trotted and never cantered. I became fearful of cantering my own horse. I can’t articulate the ‘why’ – I know it has no rational basis. One day at my new barn, I tried it, very briefly, and he has a lovely canter! Yet I keep finding excuses not to do it again – barn ring is too small to work on it (those corners come up fast!), other riders in the ring, he’s too distracted today, head up in the air, etc. It just so happens I cantered him today: we were in a huge ring with only one other friend and I felt confident – he’s not 100% balanced but it was great nothing bad happened. So I will think about that green squiggly line you talk about and hope to try again soon and build from there! Thank you!

  8. Hi Callie
    Just watched your video on “ how to improve my comfort zone” couldn’t have come at a better time. I just experienced my first big fall and was bucked off in a field in a canter. Very unusual for my horse to do this so I’m process of checking her back and tack. However like you explained I have those butterflies on cantering again yet want to do it, therefore your advice on comfort zones and how to improve gradually is going to help me hugely so big Thankyou for all your advice .
    Kind regards

    1. Hi Faith, I’m glad you enjoyed the tips from this video!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  9. Callie,
    Am really enjoying your videos. This confidence issue is one that resonates with me. Not just in riding but In my professional life learning new techniques. I believe I have instinctively adapted a ‘Green squiggly line’ concept. I am an adult and use my hands for work. I started to jump again but had a really bad fall and had a moment where I realised as an adult that if I fall and injur myself, I will lose my livelihood. I am struggling to even get started back to jumping – I only want to be able to clear something small that we may meet on a hack out ( small gorse bush or rock in the way) but not sure how to start. I have avoided this my focusing on the more dressage element but this is rewarding however not ‘fun’ ‘. I find riding is now ‘intense and serious’ and not fun anymore…. so want to enjoy riding but not sure how to communicate this. My instructors find it difficult to understand . When I ask for a structured plan to help me up the line of skills and confidence, they don’t seem to understand this way of Learning . Any advice? Thank you Ps: my 11 year old daughter has now surpassed me with her riding and I wish I could be like her with her more relaxed approach.. but guess that is as she is a child . I was much braver on a horse back then too!

    1. Hi Joanna, do you feel comfortable telling them when you aren’t feeling confident versus when you are willing to push further? Maybe you can make your own plan and let them know how you would like to work through your anxiety?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  10. Hi Callie. I’ve been struggling with my cantering, I’m at a complete block when it comes to doing it ! . Since I started riding late I life , I think too much about the “what if’s”. My comfort zone is definitely much smaller than I want it , or thought it would be . Maybe riding isn’t for me , a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently. However, I am not ready to give up yet. I love going to the barn , grooming and riding too. I just received a jump vest that I had ordered. Part of my fear is falling and I’m hoping wearing this vest , gives me a little more security in the seat. Doing my rising trot , some small jumps and slowly getting that canter into my comfort zone is my goal this summer … we shall see Thank you for this video !!

    1. Polly, I too started riding late in life and know exactly what you mean. I did take a fall and cracked a rib last year and it has really stalled my progress. But I am determined not to give up. I have re-grouped with a trainer and went back to groundwork to learn more and feel more comfortable handling my horse. This video from Callie was really helpful in understanding my fear. Best of luck to you – keep riding!

    2. Hi Polly, I’m glad you aren’t giving up! I hope you can use the tips in this video to grow your comfort zone and enjoy the canter!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  11. Thank you for this video – sometimes I feel like I’m the only one having anxiety and fear about riding – it helps just to know that I’m not the only one, and that staying closer to my comfort zone is okay!

    1. Hi Jenny, you are most definitely not alone! I hope this video helps you expand your comfort zone!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  12. After my fall at the canter in August 2019, with my new horse. I experienced a lot of fear and anxiety. I did get myself up off the arena floor, got back on my horse, and finished my lesson. My trainer did not allow me to canter, but had me stick to walk and trot. I had a slight concussion and badly bruised my lower back. I was off the horse for a week. When I did come back to riding, my trainer helped me take two steps backward and we proceeded very slowly. It took my several weeks to overcome the fear that welled up inside my chest and pushed up into my throat. Just this week week in my lesson, as we were trying something new at the canter, I felt the fear rising. I eventually pulled up and told my trainer about my anxiety. Once again, she took us back to walk and trot on the circle to give me a break with something I can already do and that was getting easy for me. After the break we tried the canter exercise again. I have learned that when my trainer asks me to do something, she thinks I am ready and capable. She will not ask me to do something I am not ready for and will give me breaks when my anxiety and fear get the better of me. Callie, I really liked the trajectory chart in your video today. Your visual really hit home with me. What a great tool. Thank you.

    1. Carol, your instructor sounds like fabulous support for you! I love hearing about instructors that are understanding of their student’s needs 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  13. Callie – thank you for continually presenting such concise and useful information! I’m reposting – calling attention to the fact that these concepts are applicable to how the horse feels in addition to how the human feels! Thank you again!

    1. You’re welcome Alece! I’m glad you enjoyed the video 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  14. Callie, you must be a “mind reader”. I lost my balance on my horse last year (she bucked) and I fell on my back. It hurt but no injuries but unfortunately have not been on her since that time. Been doing ground work and this video has helped me feel “normal” and better yet helps me understand better. Thank you so very much. You explain your information in such a clear, concise way and you have such a kind and calming manner. I and many others appreciate you so very much.

    Linda and “Tootsie”
    I ♥️ ES

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed this video Linda! I hope you can use these tips to rebuild your confidence!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  15. This speaks directly to me. I started back (after a 22 year break) into horses after having ridden for many years. After taking lessons for a year I decided to buy my own horse in December 2018. She is an 11 year old TWH. I have worked diligently with an instructor/trainer with no incident. However, in April when riding with others across the big field at the stable (which we had done several times both alone and with others), she spooked, reeled and bolted all in one big motion slinging me off. I hit the ground harder than any fall I have ever had. I did not have any broken bones and got back on her and rode back to the stable which was a mile away. However, she shattered my confidence. We are back to riding in arenas. The stable has a covered fenced arena and a larger uncovered unfenced outdoor arena. We have no problems there. Though I was reluctant at first to ride in the bigger arena because it’s on the way to the field. But I’ve basically overcome that fear. I have an experienced rider helping me with taking her back out. She is truly scared but is making baby steps towards going out there again. Frankly if she had done this the first April I owned her, I would not have kept her. But I feel I owe it to myself and her to see if we can overcome this. I think she will since she shows progress particularly when she is with another horse who is confident. I don’t know how I will ever do it again. I’m 65 and think a lot more about how fortunate I was not to be injured physically. I have no idea what the future holds for us.

    1. Hi Susan, I’m really sorry to hear about your accident. I hope the tips in this video help you slowly build that comfort zone to enjoying riding out again!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  16. Thank you Callie. I have watched your videos before and always take away something. This video on fear and anxiety is really good and what I use on my daily trail rides. I am an older rider but have ridden my whole life. My horse bolts. But we are working together to increase our comfort zone based on some of your previous videos. I am very thankful for your videos I probably would have given up and quit riding without them

    1. Ingrid, I’m glad our videos have been keeping you in the saddle! I hope this video helps you expand your comfort zone 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  17. Hi. This was very good for me to hear. I’m not afraid of my horse. I just feel stuck in one spot of comfort zone and cant move on to the next level . I am going to join your group. I do know I’ve watched you before and couldn’t do this due to school time but that is on a covid break of my clinicals ar hospital. Thanku. you will hear from me. Lisa Pavia

  18. I came back to riding after nearly 30 years without a horse and couldn’t figure out why I had some fear now. I had been bucked off a horse I was looking at to purchase but I grew up riding so it wasn’t the first time I had hit the ground. Then I went to a seminar and they talked about how as we get older and have more responsibilities we may have fear because of the worry of what if we get seriously hurt. How it would affect those who depended on us. Realizing that this was definitely an issue for me helped me find my seat again and start to rebuild my confidence.

    1. Your seminar sounds like it had some great information because that is definitely the case!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  19. Thanks Callie. Great video.
    I am 64, been riding for 3 years. I am working my way back up in confidence. Have only school horses to ride, was doing great even did riding holiday in Ireland and UK.
    Came back, school horse I was riding, 16.2hh spooked and spun, I came off fractured ribs and shoulder. Back riding but confidence is shattered, have a lovely 15hh I am learning on. (Bigger horses scare me now) Just trotted few steps on her, this video shows how I can get better. My coaches are awesome.
    Have also joined the yoga program to improve fitness, thanks. Lynda

    1. Hi Lynda, glad to hear you are enjoying the yoga program being more confident in our bodies, in general, can definitely have a positive effect on our overall confidence 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  20. Thank you for a great video. I have ridden as a child and adult until about age 40. Then 22 years of no riding at all. I started taking lessons in 2017 and made the decision to buy my own horse in 2018. She is an 11 year old TWH. I have ridden her and taken lessons from an instructor/trainer for almost 1 1/2 years. All has gone great until this past April when she spooked, reeled, and bolted all in one motion flinging me off like I was a rag doll. I was not physically injured. But my confidence has been shattered. I was able to get back on and ride her to the stable since we were only a mile away. I still ride her regularly in the arenas. One covered and fenced. The other open. She is afraid to go back out in the field which goes along a river towards the area where she spooked. I have a young rider helping her. And, she is making slow progress, doing her best when she is with another horse and rider who are both very confident. I don’t know how I’ll ever get the confidence to take her back outside of the arenas into the field and/or trail. The video is great and is basically what we are doing. But gaining back confidence at age 65 when I felt like I had worked so hard to build a bond with her is something I don’t have a clue how to do.

    1. Hi Susan, your feelings are very valid! Give yourself time and flirt with your edge to build your confidence!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. I will. The video helped me a lot to know that I have to go back to our comfort zone and that’s okay. It made me feel like such a failure to do so well and then have to step back. But I understand it and that’s what we’ll do!

    1. This applies to anything you want to build your confidence in!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  21. Thank you for your wonderful lessons. You adress the challange right to the point. I came in the legs og my horse in counter because I fell on a fence and fall the wrong way. He could not help but running away and both my leg was injured. After a while my kne broke. Also one of my best freiend died in an accidence. Fear in body as in mind! Almost four years after the accidens we now are able to practice very low showjump again. The fear disapear for every training. I have been doing exatly as you describe 🙂 With the very best help from my friends and trainers.
    Keep on your exellent work.
    Best wiches from Elisabeth

    1. I’m glad you are back to enjoying the ride Elisabeth! Having great, supportive coaches if definitely a key to success as well 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  22. Recently just completing the Calm and Confident Rider Course , the graph you discuss has remain to be one of my most valuable tools for success. This tool has really helped me as a rider, and in hand handing the horse. Using my planner and journal I review weekly and plan accordingly to move to more challenging steps or refresh old ones, in a safe and confident manor. Thanks for sharing! Really enjoy your weekly blog!

    1. Thank you Christa, I’m glad you enjoyed this blog and the Calm and Confident Rider program!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  23. I rode some in high school and college, and I don’t remember being afraid much. If my trainer had told me to jump the moon, I would have done it. I didn’t ride for thirty-five years, and I have had a few falls and some experiences with a bolting horse that have taught me a few things. First, trust my gut. If I’m not feeling safe, stop what I’m doing and do something different. If I’m working with a trainer, I tell my trainer what my fears are, and we make a plan together for how to work through them. Second, feel my horse. If my horse feels very nervous, I dismount and do some groundwork until my horse relaxes. There’s no point sitting on a ticking time bomb. Up until the pandemic, I had been leasing an older OTTB who was not overly brave but who always tried to do his best. I have only had to dismount and do groundwork twice, once when a terrifying groundhog suddenly became visible through the window of the arena and once when a group of horses in the field outside all began running. (They were certainly running away from a terrifying monster.) Once he relaxed, I was able to remount and continue my ride.

    1. Hi Melinda, the key to staying safe around horses is awareness – picking up on even the smallest changes in their demeanor can keep you safe!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  24. Good Afternoon Callie,

    I am an older rider, riding since I was 8 years old. 66 yrs old now! I have a big girl, who is very strong, at times, Oldenburg/Percheron cross. Thank you for encouraging and sensible, safe riding techniques. With a wet winter and spring, it has been slow getting back in shape, both of us. However, the days I ride, I do think about how my horse feels that day and my adjustments that need to be made. I had a trainer who said to leave the lesson on a good note. I keep that in mind and change up what we do in the ring and out in the field. I am so grateful when we try a technique and it works. We were going over small poles this week and I had to come out of my comfort zone. I had to push that thought of stopping for the day out of my mind. My horse was awesome, her cantering, 1, 2, 1, 2, was consistent and the jumping over the poles was very smooth. Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for your comment! Absolutely, we have to learn to be adjustable with our expectations and change them depending on what horse comes out of the pasture that day! Good for you for cantering the poles, what an awesome accomplishment 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  25. Thank you, really interesting! Ridingwise also, of course, but as a person who is very much afraid of snakes it was interesting to hear that also horses can be afraid of snakelike things. I certainly am. Also snakes in TV, newspapers etc. scare me.

    1. Karoliina, I’m right there with you – even snake like objects may cause me to spook considerably! Glad this example was helpful!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  26. Thank you so much for this video. It’s so good to hear from older riders! I started when I was 61, I am now 63 and after having weekly lessons for a while have just loaned a school horse. I’ve had to give myself a crash course in horse-care because the lockdown started at the same time and so no-one to help me! I hadn’t even tacked up before or picked out feet or been into a field of horses to bring mine out – it was all so scary! I’m now much more confident on the ground and can do a little work in the arena on my own walking and trotting – I’ve just started going out on a cycle path on my own which really freaked me out at first but yesterday I felt calm for the first time and Sprite was good as gold – not a coincidence I’m sure! I hadn’t had many lessons in canter before I lost my instructor so that is my next challenge to build up to that. At the moment I can’t ever see me being brave enough to do it alone but I’m hoping to get there using small steps.
    Susan

  27. In December 2018 my pony bucked me off. I bought me an Airbag and this helped me a lot to be able again to relaxe in the saddle. Now my confidence is back, but I still put on my Airbag because it makes me feel safer.

    1. Hi Marjon, absolutely that is a great solution! Riding with a vest cannot hurt, we have several riders at our farm who ride in them on a regular basis 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  28. Hi Callie,
    I have a mare who gets a bit spooky at times. My main goals are to work with her in canter and for both of us to be comfortable on trail rides. I have never worked with her in canter, so that right now is somewhat out of my comfort zone, even though we have briefly cantered on the trails following other horses. If you have any suggestions I would welcome them! Thank you so much for your videos. They are very helpful

    1. Cindy, you can follow the same suggestions Callie shared in the video! Start by just working within the trot in an environment where you feel comfortable and ask for shorter and longer strides in the trot. That can help you get comfortable asking for more speed. Once that feels within your comfort zone, you can try asking for short periods of canter in that same ‘safe space’ and then keep extending the duration of the canter from there. And if there is a day where you don’t feel comfortable cantering – that is okay you can work at a lower level on those days.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  29. Hi Callie,
    Thanks for this. Its something I’m going thru now. Due to some health issues I’ve had several bad falls the past few years. Before this, I’ve fallen and just got right back up and on; but now I am not doing that. I’m older and the years are catching up. I’m not recovering like I used to. My mind is still a dare-devil, but my body just wants to take a walk and smell the roses. The compromise came by getting another horse that is calmer and slower. It took many months agonizing about selling my hot, sensitive, OTTB mare; but it was the sensible thing to do if I still wanted to ride. She needs a fearless, younger rider, ready to go and jump all day long. I am not that anymore, and it’s OK : ))

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