2 Quick Tips For Coping With Irrational Fear While Horseback Riding

I often hear from horseback riders that they have irrational fears about being out of control or getting hurt when riding. The fear seems irrational because they've never actually had an accident or injury. So they wonder where the fear comes from.

For what it's worth, I used to have "irrational fears" about flying. It was so bad that I would only do clinics within driving distance. It turns out that the fear of flying was just a convenient "hook" to hang stuff on. It allowed me to express fear, anger, or even grief.

Apparently, my mind thought that fear of flying was an acceptable way to express those emotions. After all, no one was going to tell me I was crazy to be afraid to fly. After all, how weird is it to go hurtling through the air in a huge cylinder? What holds that thing up anyhow?

By the same token, no one is going to say you’re crazy to be afraid of being out of control on a horse. After all, horses significantly outweigh you. Plus they’re reactive creatures of flight. They don’t operate "logically".

So hanging other fears, anger, or grief on something like flying in an airplane, heights, or bolting horses is something we can justify to ourselves. No one would ever say we were "crazy" to be afraid of those things.

So here are two quick tips to help you cope with irrational fear while horseback riding.

1. Here's one I use that I learned from Susan Jeffers who wrote Feel the Fear…And Do it Anyways.

Since fear is future thinking, our self talk often takes the form of "What if" questions. What if my horse bolts? What if I get tense when I ride? What if I fall off?

Preface your "What if" questions with the word "So". Then answer yourself with "I can handle it".

Here are some examples.

So what if my horse bolts? I can handle it.

So what if I’m tense? I can handle it.

So what if I fall off? I can handle it.

Because the truth is that you can and will handle it. You have no other choice.

2. Try scheduling "worry time". Sometimes it’s better to acknowledge and give permission to your fears than fight them.

Tell your fears they have 15 minutes a day to make themselves uppermost in your mind. Then worry your head off. At the end of 15 minutes, stop.

After time is up, if the fears return, acknowledge them but tell them they have to wait until your designated 15 minute "worry time" period tomorrow.

A Happy Horse

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Comment by Cathy Godfrey on December 28, 2013 at 11:30pm

I came off my gelding a couple years ago and broke my back

I'm now 62 and have a perch/tb x mare with a big unbalanced canter

when going right,,,I get nervous and my legs go up and I sit forward...

Comment by Jane Savoie on October 6, 2009 at 7:54am
Glad to help!
Comment by Sue Kehoe on October 5, 2009 at 11:44am
I have read that somewhere before. It makes good sense, especially the "future thinking" aspect. I am in my fifties and only got back into riding four or so years ago. I actually have only fallen off once and it was my clumsiness, not my horse's fault and I wasn't really hurt. My fear is "anticipatory". Once I'm on, I'm fine. I do competitive trail riding, but I had a setback last year when I had to put my horse down and look for another. Getting my new horse put me back to square one and I'm still working through it. I don't ride nearly enough. I'm concentrating on groundwork to build my confidence.
Comment by Jane Savoie on October 5, 2009 at 11:28am
Great, Mindy! Check out the video I just posted too.
Comment by Mindy Walsh on October 5, 2009 at 11:05am
Thank you Jane! After an accident and then another cantering my greenie, the fear bug has bit. Of course, on just my horse. I find your insights helpful and am coming out on the other side. Funny, how fear strikes you harder as you get older. I have more to lose...single mom, so injury, WELL, never mind,
"I can handle it!" (Cause I sure am not giving up!).... jacksonsgrrl.blogspot.com

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