You love horses and your dream is to ride with confidence and joy. But right now your fears are getting in the way of enjoying time in the saddle.
What you’d like is support and understanding, as well as the freedom to research and choose the help that feels right to you. Instead, what you end up with is well-meaning but misinformed “advice” that can often make your anxiety worse.
Do you recognize any of the following no-no’s frequently dispensed to nervous horse riders? Here’s why they’re often more hurtful than helpful—and what others can do to support you with overcoming your fears.
1. Just get on and ride.
Because of course, if it was that easy, you would have done it already, right?
I get why people (often parents, confident riders and well-intentioned partners) think a little “just do it” pep-talk might get you up into the saddle, but the reality is it’s probably only going to make you feel pressured and embarrassed. Yes, you can push through fear, but at what cost?
Do you really want to ride despite being petrified (creating fresh fear memories in the process), or would you rather work through your nerves so you can enjoy riding your horse the way you’ve always wanted to?
2. Anyone can ride this horse, you’ll be fine.
Obviously, I do not believe I will be fine or I wouldn’t be about to leave a puddle on the floor.
I’m sure it’s supposed to be reassuring, but pointing out the fact that a teeny toddler can jump this horse three foot in an open paddock doesn’t actually make me feel awesome about my abilities.
Nervous riders tend to beat themselves up enough without comparisons and generalizations. It doesn’t matter if everyone else in the history of riding can get said horse working beautifully, I can’t…yet.
What’s more, it’s probably not my knowledge or ability that is preventing me from jumping at the chance of riding your horse. Emotions and core beliefs are stickier than my sticky-bum jodhpurs. (See point 3…)
3. But you’re such a good rider—you don’t even look like you’re nervous.
Thank you, sincerely, for that compliment. Because you meant it as a compliment, right? You didn’t mistakenly think that nervous riders couldn’t possibly be good riders because if they were, they wouldn’t be, well, nervous?
There are many riders competing at high levels that have been sidelined by anxiety at times. In fact, nervous riders have often had more lessons, watched more training videos and read more horsemanship books than their more confident peers because they are trying so hard to find that magical potion that will conquer all their fears.
On top of that, looks can be deceiving when all you’re doing is judging on appearances. Nervous horse riders have a big enough battle with feeling fearful of something they love, without the added pressure of whether you believe, understand or respect their anxiety (or abilities).
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4. Sell your horse and buy a schoolmaster.
So this actually might be sound advice. It’s entirely possible that you and your horse are not a great match and that finding a bombproof nervous nellies mount might be the answer to your prayers.
Or it might not. Quite often, the riding fears you have are transferred to your ‘perfect’ new horse. Even the most reliable schoolmaster might not be enough to help you feel safe and secure.
If you’re unsure, have your partnership assessed by a riding instructor you trust and believe them! After that you can just tune out whenever anyone suggests you just need a new horse.
5. You’ve got more chance of being hit by a car than getting killed on a horse.
Uh oh, you’ve just gone and reminded me that horse riding is dangerous. Because that was the only part of your statement that I paid attention to. And now I’ve thought of it like 100 times a day, every day since.
What’s that? You were actually giving me a logical reason to keep my nerves in check? Well, listen, I hear your rational argument and I raise it by a gazillion illogical physical reactions that I have to the thought of riding a horse in the wind, outside the arena, next to a paddock full of two-headed llamas.
Translation: I’m still scared.
So, what can friends, family and coaches do to support a nervous rider? Rather than busting out facts and figures or dispensing tough love, how about trying out one of these strategies instead:
1. Remind me of all the reasons I love horses and riding.
Talking positively about my greatest passion will help me focus on the things I enjoy rather than scary bits.
2. Offer to shoot video while I ride.
It’s great to have some moral support to boost my riding courage and I can watch the video later to pinpoint where things are going right or wrong.
3. Come with me to a yoga or meditation class.
Focussing on breathing while releasing the stiffness and tension from my body will help both my mood and my riding.
4. Help me identify the place where I feel comfortable, and then support me until I’m ready to move outside it.
I might not know the source of my fear, or what feels good or bad until I’m experiencing it. Support me while I do fun things with my horse within my comfort zone. It won’t take long until I feel so comfortable—bored even—that I’ll be ready to dispense with security and move on.
5. Tell me a joke and laugh with me.
Studies have shown that laughter lowers blood pressure, releases endorphins and stimulates circulation. Fear can’t abide humour, so please, encourage me to find the funny side of life and laugh away the tension. Laughter really is the best medicine when it comes to nerves—on or off the horse.
6. Give me some alone time with my horse, too.
We love it when you’re there to share our triumphs and support our progress but there comes a time when we want to feel it out by ourselves. I need some one-on-one time with my horse to develop our partnership together, and to figure out what kind of horseperson I aspire to be. Let me experiment and take the time to develop the bond I desire to have with my horse.