The Big Comeback

Julie riding Dually.

Julie riding Dually.Confidence is tough to regain after a fall. It’s much easier to work through your fears when you trust the horse you ride when your fears are still actively surfacing. Make sure that the horse you choose to ride is an important part of your comeback strategy.

I hear the worry at every clinic I do. Clinic riders tell me, “I used to ride like the wind, and now I feel sick to my stomach when I even think about getting on my horse. I just wish I could enjoy riding again.” Fear has taken away their enjoyment of horses and riding. It’s a terrible place to be—with the sickening feeling of having lost something you once loved.

Don’t give up! With a plan in place—and the right horse to help you—you can get back in control of your emotions and ride like the wind again. You must have a horse you can trust to guide you through your recovery.

Dreams Damaged
After an incident or injury with horses, it’s normal to have some trepidation. When you put yourself in a similar circumstance as the one that caused your accident, you’re likely to relive the fear. When we humans sustain an injury (a mental injury, a physical injury, or both), a “fear memory” is formed in the brain, and its sole purpose is to try and subconsciously dissuade you from doing that thing again. It’s a built-in self-protection mechanism. Often, you think you are “over” the fear but then when you find yourself in the same situation that caused the accident, out of the blue, the panic appears.

As time goes by, you begin to dread riding, knowing that this fear will surface and attack at the most inconvenient time. Soon you’re making up excuses for not riding—which you know in your heart is avoidance behavior—so then you start feeling guilty. Eventually, the all-consuming emotion of grief kicks in, because you feel like you’ve lost the ability to ride a horse—that you’ve lost something you loved. It is a downward spiral of conflicting emotions—fear, guilt, frustration, and grief. That’s a lot of negative emotion associated with horses to be rolling around in your head.

If any part of this scenario rings true for you, it may be time to take action and get those negative emotions in check. Your love of horses and your ability to ride is still there, ready to be unleashed, once you rein in those negative emotions and take positive steps in the right direction.

Repair Time
Many riders have regained their confidence and returned to the sport they loved by using relaxation strategies (visit JulieGoodnight.com/search and use keyword confidence). Before rebuilding your confidence, it’s important that you give yourself all the time you need to heal, both physically and emotionally from your accident. Do not rush this process and do not allow yourself to be pressured by others; it could take some time before you are ready to make the commitment and muster the courage to ride again.

Before coming back to riding, make sure you understand your emotions. I like to call this intellectualizing or objectifying the fear. Knowing the origins of your fears, when to expect fear memories and how to override them, and how fear affects you and how to countermand those effects is critical to your success.

Taking the Reins
No matter how you lost your confidence, to rebuild it securely you need a horse that can help you. The horse is such a critical component in regaining your confidence—for better or for worse—the horse can either build your confidence or take it away in a heartbeat.

This may mean that your current horse (or the horse you got hurt on) is not appropriate. In order for the healing to begin, first the injury has to stop. A horse that scares you or challenges you on a daily basis, will constantly reopen the wound and cause it to fester. Think about your horse—does he need to get his confidence from you, or is it the other way around? To overcome your fear, you may need a horse that gives to the equation, not subtracts.

These are not easy questions to ask. Sometimes the answers are painful to accept and challenging to pull off, but riding a safe and trustworthy horse gives you the greatest chances of success when it comes to regaining confidence lost. That may mean re-homing or selling your current mount (he may be happier with a more suitable rider) and finding a horse that realistically meets your needs (preferably one that oozes confidence and has a been-there-done-that attitude– because he has). Or maybe you temporarily lease an ‘easy’ horse and send your challenging horse to a trainer. Don’t let the task be too daunting—analyze, consider all the options, make a plan, and move forward.

Be realistic with your riding goals and the type of horse that will best suit your needs. Your fitness and ability level, plus the time commitment you will make on a daily and weekly basis all have a huge bearing on the kind of horse that will work best for you. Your horsemanship goals and your needs in a horse will change over time, as you gain experience, skills and knowledge—and dabble in different disciplines.

Sometimes I meet people in my clinics that are riding a horse that I wouldn’t feel comfortable riding (after more than 30 years of riding professionally). Sometimes I wonder if they really know how much fun it is to ride a horse you are not afraid of. Although I’ve trained horses professionally for more than three decades, what I personally want in a horse is a well-trained, safe mount that I can have fun on from day one. I don’t have time for a project. Realistically, I know I have limited time to enjoy my horses, and selfishly, I want a horse that I can have the best ride of my life on every day I ride—even if I haven’t ridden him in weeks (which often happens).

Life’s too short and I love riding so much—I want every ride on my horse to be safe, fun and carefree. Finding the right equine partner isn’t an easy job, but it is an important one. Take your time, be smart and objective and seek professional advice. Remember, you didn’t get into horses to create more stress and aggravation in your life. Finding the right horse—one that builds your confidence instead of taking it away—is a huge part of the equation.

Regaining your confidence after an accident is not an easy task but with some work and dedication, I know it can be done—I’ve seen it happen again and again. But you cannot shirk the hard questions and you cannot move forward without a plan. Do the introspection needed to get your head in the right place and make a plan to expand your comfort zone (for details on how to do this, check out my online resources). Then take an honest look at your horse. Determine if he is the right mount for you at this time in your life, and how you can put together a plan that will ensure you the greatest success in this challenge.

Enjoy the Ride,
Julie Goodnight

Why Does My Horse Rear?

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A rearing horse is dangerous—when you’re on the ground or when you’re riding.

Riding Right with Julie Goodnight
Why does my horse rear?

Dear Julie,
I have a 12-year-old quarter horse gelding that hops up off his front legs whenever I ask him to go somewhere he doesn’t want to go like across the creek or out of the barn yard. Or if I stop to talk to someone coming home from a trail ride, he fusses and hops and will eventually rear straight up if I don’t let him go. What should I do when he acts this way and how can I break him of this disturbing habit?
Fearing Rearing
Dear Fearing
Rearing is an interesting behavior that has two separate and opposite causes; but regardless of the cause, the solution is always the same. Rearing is also one of the most dangerous behaviors of the riding horse, because of the propensity of the rider to lose balance pull the horse over on himself.
Although rearing is often a fear response for the horse, it can become a learned behavior when the rearing causes the rider to inadvertently reward the horse for his actions. Whether the behavior is learned or instinctive (fear response) it’s caused by one of two things: when forward motion is inhibited or when the horse refuses to move forward.
The hops your horse makes are just mini-rears. He’s threatening that if he doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll rear. He’s learned from experience that if he rears, you’ll give in and let him have his way. Most riders are understandably afraid of their horse rearing and so will drop the argument at that point—it only takes one time for this to become learned behavior.
A common example of rearing in a refusal to move forward would be when you ask him to cross the creek and he doesn’t want to or is afraid to; this is often a fear response but can become a learned response if he gets what he wants. An example of rearing when forward motion is inhibited is when you stop him on the way home and he wants to keep going; this is typically a learned response.
It’s always important to understand the root cause of a behavior and whether or not you are dealing with a learned response or instinctive fear, before developing a plan to correct it. In the case of rearing, whether it’s a refusal to move forward or when forward motion is inhibited, the solution is always the same—you must move the horse forward, even if it means not going where you want.
A strong rider may be able to move the horse actively forward in the direction he doesn’t want to go, with aggressive use of the aids. If you are not a strong enough rider to enforce your commands, then you would need to move the horse forward in any direction you can to thwart him from rearing. In this case, I would continue to work the horse hard away from the place he didn’t want to go (i.e., trot or lope small circles with constant changes of direction) then take him there to rest. Let him catch his breath then gently ask him to go one or two steps closer to the place he doesn’t want to go. If he obeys, praise him and let him rest again; but if he refuses, repeat the process, making him work hard again.
When the horse is threatening to rear unless you let him keep going back to the barn or with the other horses, you’ll need to move him forward to thwart the rearing, then immediately turn him away and start asking him to constantly change directions R-L-R-L, making sure to always turn him away from the direction he wants to go. Finish each change of direction with a couple of steps of disengagement of the hindquarters (see www.juliegoodnight.com for more info on what this is and how to do it). After he is sufficiently tired of that exercise, ask him to stand again and see if he’s changed his mind—if not, repeat the process until he rethinks it.
The longer a learned behavior has been engrained, the more difficult it’s to dissuade the horse from his bad behavior. Think of it this way, every time he got what he wanted, even if only for a second, he scored a point. Often by the time a problem gets to the magnitude of rearing in refusal, the scores is about 487 to nothing; so you’ll have a lot of points to make up. With patience and persistence, you can bring your score up and you’ll eventually be victorious.
Again, rearing—especially when it’s a learned response—is one of the most dangerous behaviors of riding horses and it will likely require a strong and confident rider to persuade the horse that it’s not in his best interest. If your horse is rearing frequently, you may want to enlist a trainer to even up the score in short order. However, you’ll only win this game by scoring the final points yourself—the trainer can not make the horse be obedient to you, only you can. But perhaps the trainer can put you in a better position to win.

Good luck and be safe. Enjoy the ride!
Julie Goodnight, Trainer and Clinician
www.juliegoodnight.com