My daughter has a 5 year old Thoroughbred/Percheron mare that when she was riding last winter in the indoor. The snow slid off the roof and the horse bolted; she fell off and didn’t get hurt. I’m her mom and I see how it affects her emotionally. My daughter is 19 and has been riding for 11 years. She needs help with how she gets past her fear of her horse bolting again. She has worked on groundwork with her mare. When she rides her you can see a change in her. How does she deal with this trust issue?
Just love your show on RFD-TV! You do an excellent job of explaining and I appreciate the way you give a reason as to why certain things are done in a certain way. I’m a gal in my mid 50’s and just getting back into riding…found a great trainer and have a wonderful lesson horse. However one time when I was riding in the indoor arena, “Bo” spooked…I did the tensing, the holding of the breath and all of that. Now I am very intimidated to go into the indoor arena. I have no real reason to fear Bo–he’s never done anything to put my safety in question. In fact he’s gone out of his way to keep me safe and make my rides enjoyable.
Are there any books out there that explain in length to get me over this fear/intimidation thing I have going on? I enjoy my lessons so much and have a sincere love of horses. I don’t want this to haunt me from here on out! My trainer is very respectful of my fear factor. I feel the need to read up on it on my own and do my level best to work thru this issue. I don’t want it to get out of hand and interfere with the whole process!
Thank you for your time and help!
Dear Alice and Carmen,
I was struck by the similarity of your two questions, so I hope you don’t mind if I answer them both at once. In fact, I get numerous questions along these lines each month. Fear is a very prevalent issue with horse sports, but unfortunately it is seldom discussed or addressed.
Fear is a perfectly normal emotion—one that all animals experience—and it is an important emotion that helps keep you safe. Without a healthy dose of fear, we would do really stupid things that might result in us getting killed. People that seemingly have no fear tend to get chosen early by natural selection and get killed before they have a chance to pass on their crazy genes.
Fear becomes a negative attribute when it begins to impact your enjoyment of life and/or control what you do or do not do. Most people dealing with fear of horses or riding have developed this fear either by having a bad incident (post-traumatic fear) or from the general anxiety that builds as you get older and have more life pressures on you. Whether your fear stems from post-traumatic stress or general anxiety, there is much you can do to keep the emotion in check and regain balance in your life.
First, I think it’s important for people to “intellectualize” their fear. Learn more about the emotion, where is comes from, the physical symptoms and how it affects your behavior. This way, you’ll know what to expect when you put yourself in fearful situations and you’ll be able to look at the emotion more objectively.
Next, you need to develop a specific plan for managing your fear when it rises to the surface and for expanding your comfort zone around horses. This may take some time and the people around you may need to develop some patience, but by taking it slowly with horses, you can build your confidence tremendously. There are specific instructions for developing your plan in my audio and book on fear.
It’s also important to address some changes in your lifestyle that may help you in this journey. First, try to connect to a deeper sense of purpose of why you are doing this—purpose leads to courage. There’s a reason why you are going to all this trouble to be with horses; do a little introspection to define your purpose so you can remind yourself of it when things get rough.
Make sure you eat right and are well-rested, not stressed out, when you tackle the horse thing. Get in better shape—the act of improving yourself will lead to more confidence and the extra fitness will help in such a physical sport as riding.
Finally, it’s useful to learn some specific techniques for coping with fear. The three things that I teach people to do, in the moment, are to keep your eyes focused and taking in information (so your mind remains active); use deep abdominal breathing (which counter-acts the shallow breathing and breath-holding which fear induces); and be aware of your body language.
Our mind, body and spirit—or the mental, the physical and the emotional—are all intertwined. When you are emotional, it is reflected in your body language. Conversely, if you use your body language to make it appear as though you are very confident and sure of yourself, it will have an impact on your mind and emotions. If you allow your mind and your body to cave into the emotion of fear, the emotion will over-take you. Of course, your body language also has big meaning to your horse, so you always want to make sure you are presenting a calm and confident picture to him as well. Never show your fear on the outside.
There are other articles on my website on this important subject and I also have a book and an audio CD on building confidence. The book is written by myself and four other authors and is called, Ride with Confidence!. The audio CD is meant to be motivational and inspirational—to listen to on the way to the barn. It is called, Build Your Confidence with Horses, and many people find it to be very helpful.
The bottom line is that there is a lot you can do to regain control of your emotions and get back to enjoying every moment you have with your horse. I know hundreds of people that have had success using these techniques and happily, I get emails from them too! Good luck on this journey and please let me know how you do.
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