A certain level of fear is healthy — we call it common sense. Fear compels us to focus, to direct our attention to the present moment while attempting to push our personal limits by bravely testing the water outside our comfort zone. However, too much fear will inhibit you from advancing your ability.
By living within your comfort zone, growth will elude you. There is never an end-destination to becoming a horseman. There will always be another personal best to achieve, another goal to reach, in order to become the rider your horse deserves. It is the ride of your life.
Worries are chronic fears. There’s fear of getting hurt, fear of getting back in the saddle after being injured, and fear of judgement by others. We have to be a watcher of our thoughts — keep your eyes on what you want to accomplish, not on what created your fear.
Knowledge replaces fear. Seeking help demonstrates a willingness to be vulnerable and builds a teachable spirit. You are not in a race. Be patient with the pace required to learn, and let go of the need to compare your progress to that of others. There will always be someone more proficient than you, so learn from them. Concentrate on each step of the lesson and break it down as much as you need to. Let go of the outcome — the outcome is merely a side effect of one’s personal commitment to mastering each task at hand. Progress ensues by becoming proficient at the little things. However extraordinary your home may be, if steps had been skipped during its foundation phase, the integrity of the entire house is compromised. Cracks will surface and continue to increase in severity until addressed. When cracks appear, always go back to the foundation. When I’m training a horse that pulls on the reins and is unyielding vertically, I break it down. I let go of the vertical resistance and begin by working on lateral exercises which soften the neck, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters. By working on each body part separately, vertical softness is a byproduct of all my lateral work. I am in no hurry. I know my effort in this area will be rewarded in the next.
Fearful riders create fearful horses. Someone in this relationship between horse and rider must have more confidence than the other. Effective groundwork builds trust in each other. A recent study of dressage horses in Germany found horses regularly worked on the ground were more relaxed, they exhibited lower heart rates while being ridden. Generally, fearful riders are more comfortable working on the ground. Fear causes the rider to constrict their breathing, tense their shoulders, and tighten their jaw as well as their abdomen and legs. The horse feels their tightness. On the ground, the rider is able to monitor their breathing and relax their body easier. Additionally, they learn timing because they can both see and feel the correct response when given, enabling them to release their cue earlier. This gives the horse a clearer understanding of what is expected when under saddle, and it builds his confidence as he progresses to the next level of training. While on the ground, you can teach lateral softness, speed control and a stop which that you can build upon while in the saddle. Once the horse is responding well to all cues willingly, then it’s time to ride.
If your goal is to get back in the saddle again after an injury, it’s time to get started once you have healed — and the reason for the wreck has been remedied. Even though this is what you have been working toward, fear may cause you to replay the events that led to your injury. Redirect your thoughts. Again, focus on the task at hand. Today we are just going to get your foot in the stirrup. Act as though you are going to hop up, then release your foot and walk him out a few steps. Walking him out will help you both to relax, and then repeat. Repeat as many times as it takes for you to be relaxed, and that may be it for today. Repeat these steps the following day. When you both are relaxed at this level, add getting in the saddle and sit while rubbing his neck and rump, then dismount. The next day, repeat all the above steps until both you and the horse are relaxed. Now ask your horse to take a few steps while you relax and breathe. Bend your horse to a one rein stop and dismount. Congratulations on your first ride. Every day, add to your time in the saddle and only stop once you and your horse are relaxed. Focus on your progression each day.
Keep looking ahead, not behind.