Fear can be exceedingly present in many equestrians’ lives. Horses are needless-to-say very large animals who can be intimidating at times (especially if you’ve had bad experiences with said horse before). In this post, I’ll be talking about how to overcome fear as an equestrian!
In the spring of 2019, I climbed into my thoroughbreds’ saddle. I had recently recovered from a tragic fall that had resulted in breaking my shoulder in two different places. Despite the fall occurring during a horse trial, I decided to buy that horse anyway… and it was time to canter him again. I said my silent prayers and kept trying to remind myself that the longer I put it off, the harder it would be.
We warmed up in the walk and trot, with lots of circles, and figure-eights. My horse, Theo, carried himself perfectly, exhibiting a peaceful ambiance… so what was the problem? I was fearful. I couldn’t help but ponder all of the “what if’s”. Frankly, it was holding me back tremendously.
Several minutes of circles, trying to work up the courage to slide my outside leg back a hair, passed. Tears formed in my eyes as I continued to pray over and over for safety. But there came a time when I thought to myself: “Enough is enough” while taking a deep breath. “3, 2, 1, GO” and I gave it my all.
Despite my overthinking and obsessive thoughts, there were no fireworks… I didn’t break my arm and I didn’t eat dirt. Instead, I got a perfect canter transition and nice, swinging strides.
Not going to lie, I felt a little silly as I wiped the tears off of my cheeks, “Why was it so hard to attempt something that was so easy?”.
The bad news: that’s kind of what fear is all about. The good news: fear is also just your perspective of a potential situation. So here’s how to overcome fear as an equestrian!
Overcome fear by giving it the boot out of your mind!
Stop thinking about it. I know what you’re thinking: “That’s easier said than done”. However, sometimes the quickest solution is the most painfully obvious one. Believe it or not, you do have the power over your mind; if you catch yourself thinking about getting bucked off, simply think about something else entirely.
If you’re on your horse and the anxiety comes rushing in, focus on what your trainer is saying or describe the weather – in great detail – to yourself. There’s absolutely no point in pondering over something that (most likely) won’t happen. Horseback riding is a demanding sport, but I know you have what it takes.
Kill the thought pattern before you can’t stop replaying the scene.
Be exceptionally brave about the small things.
There are studies on micro-bravery suggesting that doing something that scares you (big or small) every day will increase your trust in yourself to resist fear when the going gets rough.
You CAN ride bareback at the walk and you CAN confidently catch your horse in the field. When you stop batting an eye at the simple things, you’ll start trusting yourself to achieve your bigger goals. On the other hand, if you still get nervous trotting around the arena, how are you going to be brave enough to raise the jump?
I’m not saying that you can’t go after your goals, rather that I KNOW you can. That’s why we need to get your confidence up in all areas of horsemanship so you will be successful in whatever you put your mind to.
Pray about it!
Something that always, always, always helps me is to say a prayer before I climb into the saddle. Ultimately, bad things can and will happen, but trusting that God will see it through will, without fail, give a surge of courage.
Every time I’ve had a bad experience while riding horses, I find that it works out in the end. Repeating: “Why me?” to myself when I got bucked off? I ended up taking initiative and finding a barn with people who helped us along. Why was Theo diagnosed with arthritis the moment I started to move barns again? I ended up choosing a different barn months later that has an amazing atmosphere and the people love me and Theo.
When all is said and done… God has played a tremendous role in always proving my fear and anxiety wrong. He’ll prove yours wrong too.
Fear is a liar.
Whether you’re scared to canter for the first time or you recently had a traumatic fall, fear can come in small or overwhelmingly large doses. Fortunately, fear is a LIAR.
When you slide into that saddle and put your foot into the dangling stirrup, put your shoulders back, chin up, and proclaim: “I can do anything I set my mind to!” Because at the end of the day, you get to have courage – what a valiant, if you will, trait to possess.
Want to overcome your fear as an equestrian? Courage, not confidence.
All the best,
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