So I have a confession to make. I have been around horses for over twenty years, and still deal with fear frequently. I am not afraid of the horse itself, but I’m afraid of what they might be afraid of. Knowing full-well that they are reactive animals, I will often subconsciously scan the environment around me for what might spook them or cause a dangerous situation.
But here’s the thing: worrying about what might be a problem creates the problem.
One of my biggest fears is indoor arenas, which is hilariously ironic, considering how much it rains here in the Pacific Northwest. As a young rider, I had a horse who spooked on me during most of our indoor arena lessons. And not little spooks either–full-blown gallops around and around the arena that weren’t always easy to contain.
While I learned a lot through those spooks and got a really good seat, I also picked up a lingering trigger with indoor arenas. And needless to say, my first ride on another horse in an indoor arena reflected that. And until I realized how much I was tensing up and letting my nerves take over, I wasn’t allowing any other horse I rode in the indoor arena a chance to be fully relaxed.
All horses will be afraid of something at some point, and we cannot control exactly what they can be afraid of. What we can control is our own fears, our personal triggers, past experiences or destructive imaginations that wreak havoc on our conscience and manifest in our bodies.
In the same way that we might be lopsided in our riding seat, we can throw our horses off with our internalized fears. And in the same manner that we could blame our horse for favoring their left side until we realize the next three horses we ride also favor the same side, we might be blaming our horses for the fears we introduce to them.
Horses are so tied to us when we ride them, not just because their physicality is affected by ours, but also because they read and react to our emotion at a deeply intuitive level. If I presume that a horse is going to be jumpy and flighty in the indoor arena, despite any past evidence of it, my own nerves caused by that trigger will drastically increase the chance that my horse will also be nervous, creating a self-fulfilled prophecy.
So whatever the trigger might be for you, there is a way for both of us to keep our triggers from becoming our horse’s triggers. We can address the internalized fear to keep us and our horse as confident as possible.
In order to keep my mind and heart positive through any given fear, I follow these three steps. I know you can do these, too!
- Get a Determined Mindset: The first step is to decide your outcome as soon as you realize you have a trigger in the situation. Your fear is already telling you the worst outcome, so you want to turn the tables and decide on the best outcome possible: a confident horse and rider duo sailing through the situation.
- Identify and Process the Emotion: Ask yourself what you’re afraid or what you think your horse will be afraid of. If you’re a verbal processor, share with your trainer, a friend, our out loud to your horse. Get those emotions out in the open! You will be surprised just how much this helps you move past the trigger. Firstly, it will dismiss the any irrational or highly improbable fears immediately. Secondly, you will be able to set in your mind how to deal with said fear should it come to pass.
- Be Who Your Horse Needs You To Be: Once you’ve expressed your fear and made your contingency plan, let it go and be who your horse needs you to be. Instead of worrying any longer about what could trigger our horse, be calm, present, empathetic, and encouraging. All of these things will inspire your horse’s confidence in you as their leader, and will be relaxed enough to learn and work with you in the lesson, workout, or trail.
Our horses need us more often than we need them. Part of establishing a strong partnership is doing all we can to not add to any fear they already have. By being aware and responding well to our own fears and concerns, we can be responsive and not reactive in their times of need. Furthermore, we can turn our fears into strengths by learning how to overcome them, and teaching our horse to do the same.
What are the fears that frequently come up for you when riding? How do you overcome them? I’d love to hear it at firstname.lastname@example.org
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