Rider Fears

Rider Fear

“When I was a kid, I used to bomb around the fields, bareback and helmetless, on my half-broke pony. I’d fall off a dozen times every ride and just laugh and get back on.”

The archetype of the fearless kid with the devious pony riding recklessly and without a care is one of the most enduring icons of our equestrian community. And while I suspect some of these stories are fish tales, they persist: You’ll hear these crazy pony kid stories around the barns at a horse show, in countless blog posts and comments on famous riders’ Facebook posts, and even here on HorseChannel. (You’ll also hear them from people who haven’t been on a horse since the Carter administration. “Oh, you ride horses? I used to ride horses. Why, back in my day…”)

I was not that kid. Set aside the fact that I never had a pony of my own or any unstructured time with horses. Even if I had had a horse, I doubt I would have been pulling any crazy stunts. I was a shy and fearful little child, inexplicably drawn to horses like a bug zapper, thrilled to be around the animals but dreading the moment my instructor would push me out of my very limited comfort zone with a chipper, “Let’s trot please, ladies!” My favorite activity was trail riding because we were only allowed to walk on the trails, and that was my speed.

I know I’m not alone. I’d even bet that we of the white knuckles make up a larger proportion of the riding-school populace than those with the seemingly defective amygdala.* But our stories aren’t as good, so you don’t hear about our childhood equestrian antics quite as much.

“Cool story about the time you jumped your pony bridleless over a picnic table. Did I ever tell you about the time the lesson horse I was on stomped especially hard at a fly and I started crying?”

Fortunately for me, I eventually outgrew my paralyzing fear. I didn’t ride much in my latter middle school years, and when I returned to it in high school, I was eager to learn and improve and I think that was enough to push me through any nervousness that would pop up. But fear is still a factor. I switched from saddle seat to jumping as an adult, and I’m constantly dealing with the tug of war between my desire to master (or at least become semi-competent) the discipline and my persistent lizard-brain fear of pointing a horse at anything bigger than a ground pole and hoping it will end well.

Even former crazy pony kids will admit to acquiring some fears as they age, whether due to a better grasp on their own mortality or simply having more to lose if they do get seriously injured. I’m sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, fear is something all riders deal with.

So here’s where the crowdsourcing comes in.

Have you successfully overcome a fear of riding? That can be a fear of riding in general, or of a specific part of riding or working with horses: riding in the open; galloping; jumping; riding new horses; etc. Leave a comment or send me a note at hc-editor@luminamedia.com and share your story. We’ll compile some of your responses for an upcoming article, and hopefully we’ll be able to help other riders struggling with fears of their own.

*I recommend this episode of Invisibilia, which explains the biological reasons behind fear and includes a really interesting story about a woman who is incapable of feeling fear. That sounds awesome, but it turns out to be more of a liability than an asset. Interesting stuff.

<< Previous Entry

Back to The Near Side

Leslie Potter is Managing Editor of HorseChannel.com. Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieInLex.



  1. I ride in the hunter world and love riding. Last summer I had a nasty incident while jumping that made me become very anxious about jumping. What happened was I was in a lesson prior to a massive horse show and my trainer told me to jump some jumps. One of which was four foot. My horse stopped at the base then begin the angel she was took a massive leap to get us over it. Ever since I have a meant all break down if I jump anything bigger then 2’6″.

  2. I’m a mixture. Fearless as a youngster hanging out at the barn most days. Riding alone, knowing so much about horses and couldn’t wait to get to the barn again. Fast forward to the present day. I went over 30 years without a horse in my life. Life happened and now things are slowing down some. While I am better than ever on the ground, grooming my mare with a ridiculous smile, when I get in the saddle, my legs shake. I know this will be better in time. Sigh…I just know it will.

  3. I am 67, and still riding, the last few years, I still ride the young horses I rescue, it seems you get to know their minds. I will still hop on my Arab bareback and without a halter or bridle, “but” when I see them flying across the field, I do wonder, “if” I could still ride like that.

  4. This is an interesting topic to offer to your readers. My experience with this is that many people are silent about their fears and anxieties about riding. They tend not talk about or acknowledge that have these feelings.
    Some feel they are the only ones who feel this way, they might tend to isolate or avoid certain situations or people, and there can be feelings of shame & embarrassment attached to this fear.
    They feel there is nothing out there that can help them change these feelings of fear and anxiety. It might even become a point of frustration for them and their riding instructors. The saddest things to me are those that make the choice to stop riding and get rid of their horses because of it.
    I am not a riding instructor or trainer. I am a stress reduction specialist and I have worked with people with traumas and fears for many years. After meeting many riders with these issues I developed my Back In The Saddle Rider Recovery program that can help riders dissolve these fears and anxieties and allow them then to a make more confident decisions about their riding. I have been doing this with riders in person and by Skype and phone.
    I know some riders have found their own way of getting over or dealing with these feelings. That is a good thing. For those that haven’t and still feel stuck, know there is a way and I would love to help them return to their joy of riding. You are welcome to contact me at Jane@bitsrr.com if you would like more information. (I hope I am allowed to put my contact info in here.) Thank you for introducing this topic.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here