I’ve been riding horses since I was five-years-old. Maybe even before that.
My mom used to hold me in front of her on the saddle on long trail rides in Central Oregon. My experiences with horses were golden ones—I was never thrown while learning to ride, never slipped off or got kicked.
By the time I was a teenager, I was fearless. I did everything from barrel racing to pleasure showing. I even tried polo in college. I would dismount from my horse at a run. The idea that a horse could hurt me never even entered my mind.
Until it happened.
On the fourth bronc buck, a horse I was testing out got me off and I landed on my pelvis—breaking it in three places. Six weeks in a wheelchair. Two surgeries. Four months with a walker and cane and weeks of physical therapy. I never wanted to look at a horse again.
Fast forward almost ten years later and I ride a 17-year-old Fjord mare almost daily that I adore.
Fear memories are a crazy thing. They never go away. However, here are a few tips I have learned from my experience that might help you conquer your own fears.
1. Don’t buy the books
I bought the books, the DVDs, anything that said “get over your fear of horses.” Guess what? All they did was freak me out more as they told tale after tale of everyone else’s accidents. Save your money. What I did find helpful: listening to those who ride and don’t have fear. Their encouragement to ride again made me feel better instead of worse. And it’s free!
A notable exception—the inspirational Brandi Lyons, who came back from her own accident. A short talk with her at an expo really helped me. Thanks to her, I cantered on my horse for the first time this week!
2. Learn to discern between your fear and your good sense
Fear is going to want to hold you back and there are times when you will need to push through that. But, you also need to remember you have a voice inside your head that you should listen to—the voice of reason.
For example, my husband and I warmed up our horses in the area before he opened the gate to ride out. My mare immediately started to jog and wanted to go out the door. In that moment, my fear seized me a bit, but so did my common sense. It said, “No, don’t go out, and work her a bit more.”
So, I ignored my fear that wanted me to jump off and run to the house. But, I did listen to the reason side that said, make sure she is calm and ready before you head out.
A few turns in the arena and she was walking nicely without trying to go out the gate when we passed. We then were able to go out the gate and ride a bit. I’ve learned not to abandon my good sense, mistaking it for fear. But to trust myself.
3. Get a trainer
I did not grow up having lessons and trainers. My mom taught me to ride and most of my time was spent on the trails. She couldn’t afford lessons. But when I was dealing with fear, having someone who is more knowledgeable and is not afraid in the arena with me really made a difference. Choose one who understands and empathizes with your fears. A trainer that pushes you past your comfort zone too quickly can do more harm than good.
4. Try something new
This may sound strange, but really, it’s how I got back into riding. I had never driven a horse before and since my accident was not related to driving, I found I did not have nearly as much fear about driving. Especially a Miniature Horse. I gained a ton of confidence taking driving lessons before I ever thought about mounting up.
5. Comfort in numbers
Don’t ride alone. Having others around to encourage me, helped me relax (a good conversation can really help you forget your fears for a bit). It also set my mind at ease that if something does go wrong, there was someone there to help.
6. Have goals
When you are trying to conquer your fear, it helps if you have goals. Why do you want to overcome your fear and ride again?
For me, I wanted to trail ride, it’s my favorite thing on earth. And, I want to try mounted archery. That meant cantering. So my first goal was to get to that canter. Having goals and celebrating when you hit them will help fade that fear faster.
Above all, remember the good times. When I feel myself getting scared, I think back about all the things I used to do – some of them crazy. Remembering the joy I had helps me stay determined to overcome the fear in order to feel that joy again.
When all else fails, remember John Wayne, “courage is being afraid and saddling up anyway.” Happy trails to you all.
About the Author
Kristina N. Lotz is a professional writer and animal lover. She has ridden and owned horses her entire life. When she is not writing, she is riding or driving her Norwegian Fjord mare, Belle, or working on a craft project. You can follow her at www.facebook.com/afairytailhouse.