Overcoming Fear: Uncontrollable Fears Of Falling Off

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Question: Hi Julie,

I just purchased your audio CD, Building Confidence with Horses, and listened to it while driving to work. Your principles make perfect sense, I now need to work though them and practice them until I feel more confident with my mare.

In brief, two years ago, I purchased a 4 year old cross TN walker/Missouri Fox trotter. She stands 14.3, very smart and what a great personality – she loves people and thinks she’s just one of the girls sometimes. She is a bit girthy and has, over the past year, taken to trying to bite me, or anyone, as the girth is tightened. I now crosstie her which protects me but doesn’t remove the behavior.

Here’s my real issue, she’s great on the trail – a good leader however, she trips a lot. Perhaps it’s that she is not paying attention but I have developed a fear/anxiety of flying over her head with my feet caught in the stirrups. I sometimes awaken 4-5 times a night with that thought in my mind. I started lessons in the ring last week and she tripped 3 times – to her knees. I stayed on, but it not only affects my confidence on her but my back. I fear cantering her too because of it.

I should mention that I have always loved horses and she was my first purchase. She was my 50 year birthday gift to myself – far better than a red sports car. The barn saw the chance to sell a green horse to a green rider and I fell for it. I really love her and anticipate, by the time I retire – say 15 years or so, we should be just right for one another. In the meantime, I can’t stop the crazy thought of falling off her. I know that falling comes with the territory but yikes, I want to enjoy her. I have great support at the barn. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by good riders and friends.

Thanks for listening. If nothing else, it is cathartic writing out my thoughts. I hope to catch one of your clinics if you are ever in the Philadelphia area.


Answer: Rosemary,

I suppose it is too late to caution you about the basic rule: green plus green equals black and blue. It sounds like you already realize the problems inherent in that combination, but the other issues I can address.

First off, if your horse is tripping regularly, talk to your vet and farrier about it. Your farrier may be able to square off her toes to help her feet break over sooner so that she trips less. Also make sure you are not contributing to the problem by interfering with your horse’s head too much (she uses her head to balance) or by being out of position on the horse with your weight too far forward. Any of these things might resolve the tripping problem.

The girthy-ness, or cinchiness, is another human-induced problem and there are several Q&As on my website about how it is caused and how to resolve it. However, you should know that girthing a cinchy horse when she is tied is very dangerous and may lead to a horse that pulls-back when tied. Always untie her before you cinch her. There is some info on my website about the danger of cross-ties too; having her cross-tied while you girth her is especially dangerous. Most horses think of cross ties as a gymnastic apparatus.

As for the fear, the real problem is you and your out-of-control negative thoughts. Listen to the audio on building confidence again and pay extra close attention to the section on general anxiety. The ‘what if’ scenario is simply mind pollution. General anxiety is something we do to ourselves. You cannot make the fear go away by constantly thinking about it; and you can control what you think about! You need to exert the mental discipline to think of something different; something more positive.

There are lots of good techniques for learning to exert this control: keeping your eyes focused and taking in information in your environment, singing a song, playing an imaginary video in your mind, picturing the perfect ride, talking with a friend as you ride. These techniques are all detailed in my book and audio CD on the subject of coping with fear of riding, Ride with Confidence! and Build Your Confidence with Horses.

Once you have learned to exert mental control and only think positive thoughts while you ride, you’ll begin to enjoy your horse a lot more. Keep the faith!


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