Do You Ride With Fear? Here’s How To Beat It! By Bob Jeffreys and Suzanne Sheppard
The worst thing about getting hurt is not always the physical injury itself. Most of the time the physical portion of the experience heals long before the psychological element of fear can be dealt with effectively. Unfortunately, fear leads to a whole slew of problems if you bring it with you to the saddle.
When you ride in fear, your muscles and joints stiffen, you forget to breathe properly, and generally become unstable and uncomfortable. When we hold our breath or become tense, our horses notice it. They won’t understand the actual cause of our fear, but will recognize its presence and assume that they too should be afraid. After all, when the lead horse in a herd says there’s danger around and runs, the herd follows. Now you’re riding a spooky horse, which makes you even more afraid! Things will only get worse until you break the cycle.
You need to go back to a place in your riding or training where you feel absolutely comfortable. Otherwise, you will find all sorts of excuses to avoid dealing with your fear. For some of you, that place may be just grooming your horse or working on ground manners. When you’re OK with this step you are ready to move on.
A round pen or small corral is a good place to start your mounted exercises. Work on something simple with your horse such as walking and asking him to “give to the bit” and “follow” his nose. Concentrate on your breathing – feel the air go in through you nose, into your chest and spread out in your seat before reversing course and exiting. When you’re comfortable with this, try to imagine that your legs are long enough to allow your feet to scrape along the ground. This corrects much of your body position. Feel your hips working in sync with the horse’s front feet (you’ll notice that as your left hip reaches the apex of its movement to the left, the horse’s left front foot will hit the ground). Now add some cones around your work area. Wind your way through and around the cones, adding more as you get comfortable. Remember to keep your breathing even and your feet “scraping” the ground.
Eventually you’ll feel really good about your control and will want to bring all the exercises up to the trot. Then you can move to a larger enclosure and finally you’ll be confident enough to introduce the canter (keep breathing!). Don’t allow outside influences, such as peer pressure, or anything else, force you to move along faster than feels safe. Also give yourself a reasonable, realistic time frame to accomplish your goals.
You’ll be pleased to know that your riding skills will be improving while you’re training your horse to a higher performance level. You will also be reinforcing the mutual bond of trust between yourself and your horse. Riding becomes fun again and your fear will become manageable.
However, remember that a healthy respect for safety is not a bad thing. Your cumulative knowledge and experience with horses often activates a certain “inner voice” that you need to listen to. If you think that galloping down this rocky incline could get you hurt…you’re right…don’t do it!
Training Tip: Don’t ever test your horse to the point of failure; rather, be a good teacher and help him to succeed!
Call (845)692-7478 to get info about Bob & Suz’s ProTrackâ„¢ Trainer Certification Program and Horsemanship Education Courses. Sign up for their free training e-newsletter, or order Bob’s long awaited book, It’s All About Breakthroughs!, The Self-Help Series for Riders DVD/video set featuring Bob Jeffreys and Suzanne Sheppard.