Rider Fear: Do It Now


Getting back in the saddle takes confidence and strengthA major injury-causing incident can shake a rider’s self-confidence to the core. But there are also other situations that can pose threats to equestrians’ poise, such as failing to master a new skill or lacking the assurance to correct a misbehaving horse. And though practice in the saddle hones physical skills, it’s important to build confidence, too.

Here’s how to do it ride-by-ride:

Think positively: Whether learning a new skill or venturing out onto a new trail, Dr. Paul Haefner recommends keeping negative thoughts at bay. “Thinking positively helps you focus your mind on things you can do,” he says. “Thinking negatively reinforces what you shouldn’t do, and you become more tense or fearful, and a downward spiral begins.”

Be aware: Sometimes it’s impossible to let go of everyday job or family stressors. And ignoring them can get in the way of staying focused for a good ride. So Haefner recommends cultivating an awareness of what’s inside before every ride. “Accept what’s inside you — stress, fear or frustration — in a nonjudgmental way,” says Haefner.  “Spend some time on emotional fitness.”

Look for options: When you’re stressed, it’s best not to tackle something new, Haefner says. Instead do something familiar and easy. “Maybe you don’t want to ride that day,” he says. “Maybe you just want to groom instead.”

Be visionary: When the time is right to tackle a new skill, Haefner says not to disregard the power of mental imagery. Getting a handle on the process — and repeating it in your mind — can help build not only skill, but confidence, too.

“Visualization is a powerful tool not just for relaxation, but for learning a new skill,” he says. “Usually people will go for a riding lesson once a week, and the rest of the week nothing happens — even if they’re riding. When you’re learning a new skill, practice it until you get the feel for what it’s supposed to be,” he recommends. “Then rehearse it in detail in your mind over the course of the week.”

Conjuring a mental image is useful when something unexpected arises during a ride, too. Envision an image that represents a situation in which you’re calm and relaxed, Haefner advises. “For example, picturing melting butter often leads people to ‘melting’ into things. Mental imagery can help when you’re in an uncomfortable situation.”

A new attitude: Finally, Dr. Janet Edgette says an attitude of gratitude can help set the mental and emotional stage for a satisfying ride. “Just being grateful that you have the opportunity to take part in equestrian sports helps,” says Edgette.

Back to Get Your Head Together.


  1. Thank-you so much for this article and the “Get Your Head Together” article. I leased a horse for a year who had some very serious spooking issues and lost most of my confidence. I recently just bought my own horse and am bringing old fears into my new horse, which is neither fair nor acceptable. After reading these articles I have found that there is more than one way to overcome my fears, and I won’t be judged to do so. Thanks again!

  2. I loved this article! Twenty-five years ago I had a fall that developed a terrible fear. I am slowly gaining more confidence with a friend that is also and instructor. She is very understanding of my fears. Also, one thing that I do is practice riding on an exercise ball. Sounds weird but it is an excellent form of visual imaging. Also, it does a great job helping me with posting and using leg aids.

  3. I had a bad fall when I was 19, I started riding again, got over that fear, but stopped riding because life interfered. After my last divorce I bought a horse, a 4 yr old. It was a bad experience from sickness to running away with me. I spent alot of money on 3 other horses never lasting more than 1 yr. I boughta 1 1/2 yr old that I was working with for a trainer I worked with. She is now 3 but I have become fearful. She is sweet, not mean, kind but spooky. So am I I am trying so hard, so after reading this article I guess I’m doing what I feel comfortable with. Everyone is away at Red Bud, and we are starting from ground up. I hope to get over this fear. We’ll see. At least I know I’m not being stupid.

  4. I really loved this article. Funny I read it after I regained my confidence. I got my horse 4 yrs ago and had a bad experience and did not ride for about 2 yrs. I moved recently next door to a friend that has not only built up my confidence but has also not judged me and has been working with my horse and helping me understand their behaviors and now I am working with her and we are back on the trails. If I can do it anyone can. You just have to admit your nervousness to someone who will not judge and be willing to help you work it out. I hope you all find a kind and understanding trainer like I have.

  5. Thank you for posting this article… I have a friend who was trampled by her horse a few years back. Even thought it was an accident, she is still very afraid of him. She thinks that now that he has run over her once, he’s not afraid to do it again, which is not true at all. He’s as gentle as could be. now I can give her better advice on how to get over that fear! Thank you SO much Horse Channel! if anyone has any more advice, i’d sure be glad to hear it!


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