“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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Back to The Near Side
Leslie Potter is Managing Editor of HorseChannel.com. Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieInLex.