Most of the people who know how long I have been involved with horses are often surprised that I am a real beginner when it comes to riding and driving. I got involved with breeding Canadian horses over 10 years ago originally to help save the breed but quite quickly because I loved the breed for its own merits. I was fascinated with bloodlines and breeding for conformation, temperament and movement but with up to 17 horses and a full time job, I had no time to do anything but care for the animals and show in conformation classes.

Recently we dispersed most of our herd and saved 4 for ourselves and....finally have started riding lessons and riding our horses.

When you are an adolescent and teen, you are immortal. A fall is no big deal and fear is not in your language. As you move into your 20's and 30's responsibilities of careers, families and life in general start to build up. Horses often take a back seat to those responsibilities. By your 40's many people are relying on you. You are mid career and not quite an empty nester. I am in my mid 50s and have switched my career to full time farming. I have no children, the mortgage is paid and finally I have a bit of time. I also have lots of apprehension.

While you may still have some of your little girl dreams of black stallions and riding bareback across the plains, the realities of life are staring you in the face. The challenge is to stare them down and work towards your dream anyways. It is not a failure to be afraid, how you handle that fear is another matter. I have a few suggestions from my experiences to date and I am just at the beginning.

Your first challenge is to find the right instructor. I have taken lessons from those who teach by yelling, humiliation etc. Those methods don't work at this age (and personally I don't think they work period). I found a quiet stable with an instructor who is nearing retirement age herself. She is sensitive to an older riding and all our fears, aches and pains. The approach is low key, quiet and relaxed. I am more relaxed leaving than arriving which is what makes me keep coming back.

Second, do not put yourself on a schedule. It is nice to have a goal but not deadlines. My goal is to ride safely and have fun. I have no illusions of competing. I have no deadline for getting there. It takes a lot of pressure off. If the lesson is inconvenient, the weather is crumby or my head isn't in the right place, I reschedule. This is supposed to be fun not another pressure.

Third, recognize that all your previous injuries will come back to haunt you. Over the years, I have had several accidents, riding, farm related etc that have created all sorts of imbalances in my body. I can strongly recommend massage therapy, physiotherapy and exercise. You need to try to bring your body back into balance for your sake and that of your horse.

Forth, get the right horse. Get yourself a well schooled, mature quiet horse... and probably a whole lot smaller horse than you think you should have. My horses are 14.3,
solid boned and plenty big enough. It is not as far up and more importantly it is not as far down. While our horses are quiet and sensible, they probably don't have the mileage that a beginner's horse should have but they have known me for 10 years and I am confident around them. I guess this is one suggestion where people should probably do as I say and not as I do.

Fifth, get the right equipment. This right now is a fantasy hunt for the perfect saddle for both me and my horse. Stay tuned.

Sixth, get help where you need it especially with dealing with the psychological challenges you have. Fear is normal; these are big animals and riding can be dangerous. I follow Jane Savoie's Facebook page and can really recommend her videos, advice and definitely her motivation.!/pages/Solve-Horseback-Riding-Fe...

And finally, have fun. I know I am.

Hawk Hill Farm

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Comment by Hawk Hill on June 8, 2010 at 2:24pm
I used marbles for something else as well. When I was nearing retirement I heard a radio report of a workaholic who figured out how many Saturdays he had left in his life. He put one marble per Saturday in a fish bowl and took a marble out to show him how finite life was. I thought that was a good idea but when his marbles were all gone, he (in theory) would be out of life. So... I put one marble in a bowl for every week I had before retirement. When work got overwhelming, I looked at the marbles in the bowl and realized there were not that many and I could put up with anything for that period of time. And when all the marbles were gone, I didn't run out of life; it just started, including learning to ride.
Comment by Deborah Hopkins on June 8, 2010 at 10:50am
Love the marbles analology! And so true about being too hard on ourselves. We need to be our own best friend...especially when it comes to fear.
Comment by 4XChestnut on June 4, 2010 at 11:02pm
Too many of us put pressure on ourselves or allow others to pressure us to be past our issues/fears or be better riders "by now". Removing that pressure and waiting, while learning/teaching the skills to handle the scary situation works wonders.

I've always liked the black and white marbles in a jar theory. Every time something goes well/successfully you are putting a white marble in the jar. The bad incidents get black marbles in the jar. When something unexpected happens that demands quick action you are essentially pulling a marble out of the jar - if it's black you crash (and put another black one into the jar), if white you do the right thing (and get a white one in the jar). So the trick is to get more white marbles than black into the jar and improve your chances of pulling out a white one under stress.

To be specific, say you had a fear of trail riding. You take lessons, improve your skills in general, learn the pulley rein emergency halt and so put a bunch of white marbles in the jar. Then one day you get brave and go out with a friend for a short trail ride. Say you walked the whole thing and felt super happy and thrilled that you conquered that fear successfully - you get white marbles galore. Now say you walked and felt super happy and thrilled you were "actually doing this!" and your friend says "Lets trot a bit." You are apprehensive but say okay. At this point either all is well (white marbles) or something happens to scare you (black marbles). If you've just deposited black marbles you've reinforced the idea in your subconcious that trail riding is dangerous. But if you had walk trail rides for a month, then had a scary trot episode (a mix of white and black marbles for that ride) your subconcious would be telling you that trotting on trail rides is dangerous, but walking is okay and you would be ahead of where you started a way back when you just had a fear of trail riding.

As the instructor it can be frustrating to watch a student pull back and reduce their level of confidence, but it is essential not to push too hard (and ensure the parents don't mention it at all if the student is a child). I've found that by waiting, and working within their comfort zone on skills that will help them when they go forward again I get a lovely surprise and boost when the student says to me "can we do X today?" I've been there myself (in fear of some activity) which helps me to wait patiently for the student to decide to try again.

Good luck to you!
Comment by Nora Robinson on June 4, 2010 at 10:07am
Excellent advice!

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