Back in the Saddle: Fear of Riding as an Adult Equestrian

By Joanne (Jo) L. Belasco, Esq.

- Welcome to the inaugural column of Back in the Saddle, where I'll be discussing issues concerning horsewomen over 40 and the horse-woman relationship. We have a lot to talk about, but probably one of the most common themes I hear from horsewomen over 40 is the fear they now have when around horses. Some people have it on the ground, some have it when riding, and some have it all the time. But all of those horsewomen want to be with horses so they want to know how to get over their fear.

There is a lot to address concerning fear and horses and the over 40 horsewoman. I’ll just touch on a few issues today that I will explore more deeply in future columns. The first thing to remember is that fear is nothing to be ashamed about. The horse world can be a horribly judgmental community. No one wants to be afraid, but you cannot get rid of your fear until you face it. We have all been there at one time or another.

You also should remember that you can not get over your fear simply by telling yourself that you will. Fear has several components, one of which is physiological. Your body releases certain chemicals when it is afraid as an evolutionary response to danger. You cannot reason with your body to stop releasing these chemicals. You can, however, do certain physical exercises that work to stop the chemical production.

The most important thing you can do when you have a fear response is to breathe. Not a short breathing, which actually increases the fear response, but a deep, diaphragmatic breathing. Sit or stand straight but relaxed. Breathe from your diaphragm, which is about 4 or 5 inches above your belly button. Inhale so that you can feel your diaphragm expand and then exhale all of the air out. Do this slowly and mindfully several times. As you do, the shaky feeling of fear will go away. This exercise also helps you to center, balance and connect, three concepts that I will be discussing more in future columns.

To address your fear with horses, you must begin to pull back the layers that surround that fear. While we can’t rationalize away the actual fear response, we can intellectually pull apart our fear and take a good hard look at it. Ask yourself several important questions. Why are you afraid? Be very specific when you answer this one. When did the fear develop and did it develop as the result of an event? Are there other times in your life when you are similarly afraid? How do you handle/did you handle those events?

One of the most effective ways to handle the fear of riding is to become a confident rider, and you become a confident rider by learning how to ride with an independent seat. In future columns, I will explain to you how you can gain an independent seat, no matter what discipline you ride. Doing so is good for you, and it’s also good for your horse.

Joanne (Jo) L. Belasco, Esq. founded and runs Back in the Saddle Training, where she focuses on helping horsewomen who are 40 and older in lesson settings, clinics and through web-based learning.

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