Sooner or later, it happens. Maybe you are at the barn and others are about to mount up and ride, or you have been invited by your horse friends to go ride at a clinic or on a trail ride. You give excuse after excuse so that you don’t have to ride never admitting the real reason. But you know the truth: You are afraid to ride. Perhaps you had a bad fall from your horse or you saw a bad horse accident. Maybe the fear seems to have come out of nowhere. All you know is that instead of happily getting on your horse and riding, the voice of fear is speaking to you, and you just want it to be quiet and go away.
For many years, individuals have carried around their fear of riding as a dreaded secret in the horse world. People do not want to admit that they are afraid, whether it is in front of their trainer, their fellow boarders, or their riding friends. The horse community has a bad reputation for being judgmental of riders who have fear of riding. The old adage after a fall has always been “get back on the horse so you won’t be afraid next time.” The truth, though, is that even if a rider does get right back on, she can still experience fear the next time or sometime in the future. Some riders feel ashamed of their fear because it seems to arise out of thin air.
Riding fear does have a cause, even if you can’t immediately figure it out. The first thing to determine is if your fear is reality-based or if it is anxiety. It may all feel the same, but there is a very important difference between the two. Fear is actually an emotion that benefits us. When your body senses danger, it engages in physiological responses that help us to take actions for our own safety. We feel these responses as “butterflies” in our stomach and other sensations. If you are a beginner rider with an 18-hand, 4-year-old horse who has only had two rides, your fear might be telling you that riding that horse is actually not such a good idea. This kind of fear is worth taking the time to reflect on and decide if it is telling us ways to stay safe. If you are a beginner rider with a 14-hand, 20-year-old ex-lesson horse, you may be experiencing anxiety, which is fear that is inappropriate to the situation.
The way to tell the difference between fear and anxiety is to assess the situation. Really step back and be honest with yourself. Some questions to consider are:
- What is my riding level and what level does this horse require?
- How well trained is this horse?
- Do I have any physical ailments that might impact my riding?
It is all right, no matter your age or riding level, to decide not to ride a certain horse. Riding should be fun and safe. Being honest with yourself and asking important questions like the ones above can keep you safe. It can also allow you to have fun riding instead of experiencing fear and anxiety.
Next time, we’ll continue our exploration into anxiety and how it impacts our ability to enjoy our horses. Remember, you can always order my Ride Without Fear DVD or attend a Ride Without Fear Clinic to learn more.