If you love riding, you should never let fear hold you back.
There’s no way around it: equestrian sports can be dangerous. It’s good to have a healthy fear of injury because it prevents you from being reckless with yourself and your horse. However, when your fear prevents you from the equestrian activities you want to enjoy it is no longer healthy, but a problem that needs to be addressed.
Many riders struggle with fear, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your riding career. Here are seven tips to help you get back in the saddle.
Know your equestrian comfort zone.
Adults have a tendency to set unrealistic goals when it comes to riding, often attempting to do too much before they are really ready, and this is oftentimes the cause of fear.
If you’re struggling with fear, it is important to identify the things you’re comfortable doing, and for a long time, do only those things. This could include ground work like grooming, tacking, and lunging or it may even include riding at a gait or in a place you feel comfortable.
You may need to work within your comfort zone for a long time before you are able to slowly add layers to it that will help you achieve your goals.
Wear a helmet.
They may feel strange and confining, but a properly fitted, ASTM/SEI-approved helmet can save your future, or even your life in a serious fall. They also go a long way in helping fearful riders feel more secure.
You may not be able to do anything about some of your other fears, but you can take care of at least one of them if you wear a helmet during every ride.
Learn to determine good risks from bad ones.
Good and bad risks vary from rider to rider, but in general, a good risk is one that may increase your level of fear, but has lots of opportunities for personal growth, a relatively low possibility of serious injury, and moves you in the direction of your goal.
Bad risks, on the other hand, increase your level of fear, have a much higher possibility of serious injury, and are unrelated to your goal.
Practice visualization techniques.
When done correctly, visualization can help decrease your fear. Before you mount up, sit in a quiet place and mentally walk (or ride) through what you want to accomplish with your horse that day.
Visualize the cues you give, what your body does, and how your horse reacts. Once you have done it successfully in your head, doing it on your horse should be a less scary experience.
Improve your physical fitness.
The more physically fit you are, the more strength, balance, and coordination you will have — all important attributes when riding.
If you are physically fit, you will be more confident in your ability to stick with your horse if he shies, bucks, or otherwise acts up, and therefore less fearful of these things happening.
Improve your riding skills.
It may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to overcome fear is to improve your skills. Most fearful riders have a tendency to rely on their reins, so one of the most important skills to master is achieving a completely independent seat.
Once it is time to step outside your comfort zone, it is important to find the right instructor who will patiently work with you as you build these new skills.
Find the right horse.
Even if you are doing all the right things to overcome your fear, none of it works unless you’re doing it on the right horse. A fearful rider needs to be paired with the proper horse — one that will ignore fear rather than taking advantage of it.
Once you are able to ride this horse successfully, your confidence should improve, and you will be able to move onto a more difficult horse, thus continuing your equestrian education.
Horseback riding will always come with inherent risks, but if you practice these techniques you will be able to master your fear so you can move on to master that half-pass.