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Last week we talked about fear of riding and I suggested that anxiety can be good or bad. We talked about what causes anxiety and briefly touched on a few ways to reduce it. Today’s interview is going to go much deeper on this topic as I talk to Tina O’Connor, a Licensed Professional Counselor. Tina shares more strategies for relieving stress, and we talk about how to get past your anxiety and become calm and confident with horses.

Tina shares many insights in this interview, from gaining more self-confidence to moving on from a traumatic event like a fall. I am very excited to share this, so click play to watch the video, then scroll down to leave a comment!

For more tips on how to handle anxiety, visit my Calm & Confident Rider Free Resource

Now we want to hear from you! What strategy do you believe will work best to relieve anxiety or do you have other ways of relaxing that work well for you?

See you in the comments,

p.s. If you want to read last week’s article called Fear of Riding Horses, What Causes it and How to Overcome It, Click Here

p.p.s If you’d like to learn more about the psychology of riding join me in my Calm & Confident Rider course here.

To get in touch with Tina call 610-857-8089. For those of you who are local, her office address is 4221 W. Lincoln Hwy, Parksburg, Pa 19365.


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18 Responses

  1. Boy can I relate to this one! I had just gotten my new TB, Joe, when I was diagnosed with a neurological disease that really affected my strength and balance. Joe was very relaxed and quiet when I felt confident, but as I struggled with my symptoms, he really started testing me! Once I got stronger, we went back to ground work so I could become the “Boss Mare” again…and Joe’s attitude turned around. Now I’m ready to start riding again…and will have to practice deep breathing to stay calm, confident, and in charge! If I have to get off and do some “hoof hustling,” I will! : )

  2. Thank you for this wonderful video interview.
    I have, and do, experience anxiety and have applied the breathing and visualization techniques and was able to face my fears with a positive outcome. At first I was embarrassed to tell anyone about my fears , but now speak of them out loud. I’m now practicing working at my own pace and looking forward to my next ride. I still get butterflies but now know how to work through them.
    Thank you so very much!!!!!

  3. Dear Callie,
    Thank you so much for your informative video and for sharing your equine expertise on the Internet. I would like to get back into riding after loosing my nerve during a lesson about three years ago. Please bear with me as I think the details of this long post are likely to be important for understanding my fear. I am a beginner with about four years of dressage lessons and about a year of jumping lessons. In fact, I was really proud of myself for being able to successfully complete a series of beginning jumping lessons at the age of 44 (it was a lot of fun, but sometimes scary too). It is difficult to talk with others about my fear around horses because I am not sure how people can possibly understand that my love and respect for horses coincides with an underlying fear of them. The incident where I lost my nerve to ride and had to dismount my horse was quite denigrating. I actually didn’t fall off but I had just started my riding lesson in an outdoor arena situated at the end of a large paddock. The horses in the paddock that day were feeling pretty good and had started bucking, rearing, and running at what seemed like top speed. Seeing this, all I could think of was…horses are heard animals, horses are heard animals. Then I started to believe that my horse would naturally want to join the spirited horses in the paddock. In fact, my horse did seem quite interested and I didn’t think I could possible ride through all of that. As a result, I totally lost my nerve to ride for the first time and had to tell my instructor that I wanted to dismount my horse. It was so embarrassing. The horse didn’t even act out but he was visibly curious. As a result, my mind started to fixate on the paddock scene. My riding experiences prior to that ride include a couple of scares in an indoor arena but I was able to ride through them. During one incident, a horse I was riding unexpectedly bolted (ex race horse but older and an experienced lesson horse with a quiet disposition). Through sheer determination ( I wasn’t ready to fall and get hurt), I went into two-point position and pretended like I was a jockey and managed to sit through the ride until the horse calmed down. I was somewhat taken aback during this experience because my instructor did not seem to do anything to try to help me calm the horse down, despite the fact that I am a beginner. Should she have? I don’t know. I guess when push comes to shove, it is really up to the rider. Another time, a horse I was riding started to get excited about jumping and rushed through a jump , got faster and faster and completely stopped listening to my commands to slow down. This was the first time that I had experienced losing control over a horse, along with the sheer power of a horse going so fast. That experience also really scared me. I did the tighter and tighter circle thing, as well as trying to sit back and saying whoa. Eventually the horse did came to a halt. However, losing control over the horse was even more frightening than the speed. Anyway, thank you again for your information. Any thoughts regarding my post are greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Susan, Thanks for sharing your story! My first thought was give yourself a big pat on the back for handling these incidents so well! You have been able to ride through several incidents and kept your cool enough to assess the situation and make good decisions on what to do! I honestly wouldn’t feel bad at all about dismounting during your lesson when the other horses started running. Sometimes you are better off listening to your gut in those situations. There are plenty of times I will just get off if a horse starts acting up. Don’t feel like you need to prove to anyone else that you can “ride through it.” Getting thrown isn’t going to do you or your horse any good. It is smart to know your own limits and respect them, pushing your boundaries but not being reckless. Perhaps your dismount was unnecessary, but oh well, you were able to observe and learn safely from the ground what your horse’s response is to other horses running! I would say give yourself the credit you deserve for the excellent skills you have obviously developed but don’t ever be afraid to listen to your gut when you feel a situation is truly unsafe. Out of control moments will happen with horses, but as you gain more skills you will also gain more confidence. Keep at it! Callie

  4. I would suggest a technique mentioned by George Morris and explained in PRACTICAL HORSEMAN called a pulley rein. I think all instructors should make this an early lesson. Practice this when your horse is calm and it gives the rider great confidence because it makes it easy to slow and stop any horse.

  5. Writing can be very therapeutic. Listing your goals and what you want to accomplish when you are around horses or riding can help along with positive thoughts and deep breathing.

  6. 30 years ago I was bucked off three times in a row while in class. I was on a school horse the buck happened right as I asked him to canter. My teacher made me get back on him after each fall and try again. After the third time she finally got on and rode him through it. I stopped riding after that. I’ve been taking lessons again after 30 years away for two years now. I’ve had some periods of success when I’ve been on a very steady calm horse that steps smoothly into a canter I have done very well and progressed. Unfortunately the horse that I had grown to trust has been sold and left the school. I am now riding a few horses that for whatever reason I have not grown to trust and the anxiety about catering is back full force and I find it now progressing even to trotting. I don’t want to give up but I am feeling depressed and feel that I am wasting my coaches time. I don’t know what to do. I’ve wanted to ride my whole life.

    1. Hi Renee,
      Why don’t you not even think about cantering right now? Focus on the fun in riding, even if you are just riding at a walk, instead of pushing yourself to constantly progress. Talk to your coach and tell her how you are feeling. If your coach seems frustrated then either find a way to ride on your own or find a new coach, where you can feel relaxed and comfortable to go at your own pace and have fun again!

    2. Hi Renee, just read your post from 3 years ago, and I can relate – we have a very similar riding background and experiences. Just curious – have you continued to ride? How has it been?

  7. I’m a new subscriber to your blog and a new horse owner. I’ve been going through some of your videos and have found them very helpful. I’m so happy made this video. I tend to be an anxious person in general. I love horses and want to learn all I can about them. The most important thing for me is to be a good leader to my horse, Black Jack. My anxiety is that I’ll ruin him with my anxiety. Does that make sense? I’m going to remember to take deep, self affirming breaths and focus on what I’d like to accomplish for the day. Do you have any pointers to help me build my confidence as a leader? I’m mainly trying to bond with Black Jack with grooming, treats, and riding bareback at a walk for now. How do you get all those horses to stand there so quiet and patient?

    1. Hi Meegan,
      Congratulations on being Black Jack’s new owner! I understand your concern, but don’t focus on your anxiety, just keep spending lots of time with Black Jack and do little things that are outside of your comfort level, but then go back to doing something that you are very comfortable with again. Keep using the breathing and also practice standing in a way that makes you feel powerful and confident, yet calm. Try even doing it ouside his stall, then do it with Black Jack. Stand with your feet hip width apart, feeling one heel very heavy on the ground, the other softer, with both knees relaxed. Make sure your shoulders are open and you are taking deep slow breaths. This should feel like a very strong yet stable posture. You can use it anytime you start to feel anxious.
      Having the horses stand quietly is really just training and being consistent (and they don’t always stand nicely, haha!) but being consistent takes being thoughtful and always aware of what we are doing. Don’t worry – I work on it all the time too, and I can tell days that I am more mentally scattered because the horses will generally be more restless as well, my timing will not be as good, etc.
      I think that for all of us, its really just becoming better at managing our own minds and emotions. Breathing and posture are just two good ways of doing that 😉 Hope this helps, Callie

  8. Hi Callie,
    I have been riding for 6 months now, and love it. Learning at age 50 is exhilarating, and my long standing yoga practice helps quite a bit. Unfortunately, the love-bubble burst today – I got thrown off clear over the horse’s head for the first time. I knew it would come eventually, although I secretly hoped I’d be the exception 🙂 Unpleasant and unsettling experience! Nothing hurt, just a bit achy. I also don’t quite know how and why it happened, which drives me a bit crazy. Did I do something wrong, did Elle ( a horse who has supposedly never bucked anybody off yet) just get overexcited, was it just an “off” day for both of us? One second all seemed fine (I was trying to start to canter on our more difficult side), and the next I was flying and crash-landing! My trainer, who saw it, wasn’t sure either. So now I am trying to be prepared for a) the possible anxiety to set in, and b) for how to react next time the horse makes an unsettling move, by reading up on the issue and watching your videos/reading your blogs. Of course I also need to improve my riding skills in general, for example, not let my legs slide back so easily which pushes my center of gravity forward and off balance! I don’t think I am afraid of riding again in general (got back on for a short amount of time after the fall), but I do worry about being in the spot where it happened and starting to canter there again. I can see myself being hesitant in that corner of the arena. I will definitely have to try the techniques mentioned in the video to prevent this from becoming a bigger issue! Thanks for all the OUTSTANDING work you do!

    1. Hi Sabine, thank you for sharing this experience! The key in these cases is often to take a step back, allow your confidence to build naturally with more good experiences and then continue moving forward. Don’t feel pressure to get right back into everything at the same level – it will come back on it’s own.

  9. Hello Callie: Have you ever heard of emotional blindness? I have this problem when my horse makes any sudden movement that I haven’t initiated. It could be spooking or bolting when something scares her. My mind shuts off my sight and I find myself fighting to control my horse in the dark! Sometimes it’s flashes of sight, sometimes total darkness. Have you any suggestions for overcoming this emotional trauma issue?
    Thank you, Elaine in Fl

  10. Hi Callie just watched your video on fear/anxiety. The video has appeared at the right time for me as about 2 months ago I was bucked off my horse, whilst walking, in my own pasture. I suffered 4 broken ribs and a collapsed lung. To this day I still don’t know what happened which in a way is not good because I don’t know if I did something wrong. My horse Neveros, 13 year old Arabian, has always been a bit spooky but I’ve always managed to control the situation.
    My point is I want to ride again because I love horses and I love riding but I have this nagging thought now of what if this happens again as it was pretty traumatic and moreover I don’t know why it happened.
    Thank you Callie for your videos which are always so informative.

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