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How do I get back in the saddle again when I’m paralyzed with fear?

By RAY ARISS/ Horsetrader columnist - September 15th, 2009 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: I’m a 52-year-old woman who has been crazy about horses since I was a kid! I presently own four horses, but I don’t ride. About a year ago, I had a bad fall and developed a tremendous fear that has kept me from riding. Before then, I rode every day and had so much fun. I considered myself a confident, good rider. My friends are trying to help me, but I just don’t trust them or the horses they want me to ride. What’s an ex-good rider to do?
-Barbra of Colorado Springs, CO

DEAR BARBRA: I’m happy to hear you’re OK, and that your instincts are still intact. They are – and will always be — the single most important element that any horseman can have. Of course, you should be afraid of getting back on your horse. You were hurt, and you’re not exactly sure what to do. It’s smart to do nothing until you are perfectly clear about what happened, and how you need to handle what has transpired.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Instead of being hurt by your horse, let’s replace it with your car. If you had a bad accident while driving and got hurt because the brakes failed to work, it would be foolish to get back into that same car and drive away…right? It would only make sense if you either knew how to fix the brakes or had a mechanic to help you. The old saying…If you fall off your horse, you should get back on, only applies if it was your error …not the horse’s. If your accident happened because of a lack of balance, positioning or focus and the horse had no intention of hurting you, then yes, you should get back on. Make the adjustment and learn from the experience.

On the other hand, if the horse had issues or challenges beyond your ability or experience, then stay off. This is the wrong horse for you. Either get it fixed or find a sweet, willing and predictable horse to ride. I’ve seen so many people who try to be tough in dangerous situations, only to end up hurt.

So, good for you, for trusting your instincts and holding your ground. But my suggestion to you is to question yourself: “Should I be afraid of what I am about to do?” Listen to your instincts. If they make sense, then commit to yourself — and stay safe.

I hope you get back on, and if you do, start with baby steps. Do nothing differently than you would do if you were putting a child on a horse for the first time. The young rider, too, needs to be convinced that it will be OK. Then, follow these steps:

Step 1: Lunge the horse first, to get a sense of how the horse moves and acts.

Step 2: Have someone else ride first. This may give confidence to an insecure rider because, again, it may uncover fears or doubts about the horse.

Step 3: I commonly put my young children on our safe lesson horses in order to prove to insecure riders that they will be safe. When feeling safe, riders instantly feel willing to try.

What this will do, is reconcile your instincts to get back on with the reality of being in the saddle again. Sometimes our instincts are not in sync with reality because we are in a phobic state of mind. Until we make that adjustment, things will always seem worse then they really are.

So, before you put your foot in the stirrup, you need to convince yourself that what you are doing, is not dangerous or crazy. Getting back on the right horse, a safe horse, after a bad fall is simply scary. Remember you know how to ride. You have experience and knowledge. This is not about teaching you how to ride. It’s more about learning good judgment. So, simply ask yourself: “Is the horse I’m about to ride sweet, willing and predictable?” If the answer is no, don’t ride until he gets trained. If you don’t know, go through the steps above until you are convinced he is safe.

If the answer is yes, find somebody whom you trust and with whom you can communicate well. They will be handling the horse from the ground and helping you regain your confidence, one step a time. It should be somebody who understands the meaning of the word “stop.” What I mean by that is, when you become anxious or scared and you need a break, they need to allow you to stop instantly. Don’t rush this. The slower and the more breaks you take, the better.

I wish you well, Barbara. Always trust your instincts!


Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horseand human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco, Calif., at his bustling Starbrite Riding Academy, where he currently has 50 horses in various stages of training, including Andalusians, Friesians, Quarter Horses, Paints, Thoroughbreds, Arabs, Mustangs and more. Ray attributes his training success to the support of his wife and partner, Pippa, and a system he calls S.W.A.P., to which he credits his multiple championships in several disciplines. His passionate understanding of the “human-horse” relationship was evident when he took on the challenge of training a wild Mustang and — in just 100 days — produced the highest-priced adopted Mustang ever — $50,000. Does your “horse-human relationship” leave you with a question for Ray? Click here to submit one!

2 comments have been made on “How do I get back in the saddle again when I’m paralyzed with fear?”

  1. PATTY ARISS Says:

    Very impressive! We are all very proud of your hard work and passion for all that you do.
    Your sis, Patty.

  2. Lorrie Grover Says:

    Wonderful advice Ray.
    It is an art to work with people and help them regain their confidence, it is one of my favorite things to do.
    Thank you for working with Ann and Jesse Jane and for doing such a wonderful job of building Ann’s confidence.
    You know she has the right horse!
    Lorrie Grover

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