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Rider Fear: Do It Now

By Patrice D. Bucciarelli | Jun-08

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Getting back in the saddle takes confidence and strengthA major injury-causing incident can shake a rider’s self-confidence to the core. But there are also other situations that can pose threats to equestrians’ poise, such as failing to master a new skill or lacking the assurance to correct a misbehaving horse. And though practice in the saddle hones physical skills, it’s important to build confidence, too.

Here’s how to do it ride-by-ride:

Think positively: Whether learning a new skill or venturing out onto a new trail, Dr. Paul Haefner recommends keeping negative thoughts at bay. “Thinking positively helps you focus your mind on things you can do,” he says. “Thinking negatively reinforces what you shouldn’t do, and you become more tense or fearful, and a downward spiral begins.”

Be aware: Sometimes it’s impossible to let go of everyday job or family stressors. And ignoring them can get in the way of staying focused for a good ride. So Haefner recommends cultivating an awareness of what’s inside before every ride. “Accept what’s inside you — stress, fear or frustration — in a nonjudgmental way,” says Haefner.  “Spend some time on emotional fitness.”

Look for options: When you’re stressed, it’s best not to tackle something new, Haefner says. Instead do something familiar and easy. “Maybe you don’t want to ride that day,” he says. “Maybe you just want to groom instead.”

Be visionary: When the time is right to tackle a new skill, Haefner says not to disregard the power of mental imagery. Getting a handle on the process — and repeating it in your mind — can help build not only skill, but confidence, too.

“Visualization is a powerful tool not just for relaxation, but for learning a new skill,” he says. “Usually people will go for a riding lesson once a week, and the rest of the week nothing happens — even if they’re riding. When you’re learning a new skill, practice it until you get the feel for what it’s supposed to be,” he recommends. “Then rehearse it in detail in your mind over the course of the week.”

Conjuring a mental image is useful when something unexpected arises during a ride, too. Envision an image that represents a situation in which you’re calm and relaxed, Haefner advises. “For example, picturing melting butter often leads people to ‘melting’ into things. Mental imagery can help when you’re in an uncomfortable situation.”

A new attitude: Finally, Dr. Janet Edgette says an attitude of gratitude can help set the mental and emotional stage for a satisfying ride. “Just being grateful that you have the opportunity to take part in equestrian sports helps,” says Edgette.

Back to Get Your Head Together.

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Reader Comments

Kristen    Odenton, MD

3/22/2013 5:39:40 PM

Thank you this helped me alot after I fell off my horse when she spooked.

Emma    New Carlisle, OH

10/30/2011 10:41:19 AM

Thank you for posting this article... I have a friend who was trampled by her horse a few years back. Even thought it was an accident, she is still very afraid of him. She thinks that now that he has run over her once, he's not afraid to do it again, which is not true at all. He's as gentle as could be. now I can give her better advice on how to get over that fear! Thank you SO much Horse Channel! if anyone has any more advice, i'd sure be glad to hear it!


hannah    providence, RI

4/30/2011 7:36:06 PM

thank you...:) i get tense and nervous a lot so i need a confidence boost...

Karen    Madison, VA

6/9/2009 6:43:20 PM

I really loved this article. Funny I read it after I regained my confidence. I got my horse 4 yrs ago and had a bad experience and did not ride for about 2 yrs. I moved recently next door to a friend that has not only built up my confidence but has also not judged me and has been working with my horse and helping me understand their behaviors and now I am working with her and we are back on the trails. If I can do it anyone can. You just have to admit your nervousness to someone who will not judge and be willing to help you work it out. I hope you all find a kind and understanding trainer like I have.

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