In my younger days I breezed racehorses alongside emus in the forests of Western Australia, galloped bareback through snow-laden fields in Canada, descended precipitously steep mountains on horseback in the Rockies, and raced against the clock in jumper classes.

All without giving much thought to potential dangers.

Now, I’m a middle-aged rider with responsibilities beyond the saddle. Like a job.  And chauffeuring children to school and to the barn. I cannot be out with an injury.

All this responsibility pops up in unexpected ways in my life. In “Amateur Spook” ways. Maybe you’ll recognize a few.

Here are some 10 signs you’ve turned into an Amateur Spook:

1. You scream “Put that umbrella away!” at strangers near the ring. (A high-pitched shriek is a must for effective delivery.)

2. You duck when planes fly overhead.

3. You gather your reins, clamp your legs on, lean forward, and look down at the ground when you know pheasants, chickens, goats, deer, cats, mice (okay, any animals) are moving around in the bushes.

4. You turn your horse in the other direction and quickly trot away when the madly barking barn dogs chase after a horse in the turnout.

5. You shout “Whoa!”—preferably several times—when another rider’s horse gallops away or bucks.

6. You close your eyes when approaching a jump.

7. You steer to the middle of the arena and pretend to get a very long drink from your water bottle (that you planted on a jump standard just in case) when rain batters the arena roof (or any loud noise occurs).

8. You check over your shoulder often to make sure you know exactly how close that horse is behind you.

9. You execute a precise cowboy-style halt and leap to the ground when another rider is thrown leaving a horse loose. In the arena. With you.

10. Your tack box is well stocked in sticky sprays, grippy tack and/or calming remedies.

Give yourself a break. You’re pretty impressive for climbing aboard a 1200- pound animal who can injure you at any moment. So just get on, have fun, and enjoy the ride. Even if all you do is stand in the middle of the arena.

About the Author

Anne Helmstadter is a writer and lives in Las Vegas. When she’s not riding her OTTB she can be found supporting her two girls at horse shows and driving to and from the barn in her horse scented car. Her writing has appeared at and in Las Vegas’ Zip Code Magazines. Follow Anne’s blog at