There is one question that
keeps coming up when folks look to me for answers. People want to be
around and enjoy horses, but they are so afraid to be on a horseís
back. The attraction to horses and the desire to be close to them is
both a thrill and a curse.
Why is it so difficult for
people to admit their fears? Fear will never dissolve until it is
recognized. Every facet of horse-human relationships can be
sabotaged by fear. The sooner we can identify our area of fear, the
sooner it can be worked through and eliminated or at least
There have been many studies
published listing various sports and their level of danger. Many
give horseback riding the number one position. There are so many
ways we can be injured when we spend time with horses.
Fear has been given to us as
a gift, in the same way we experience pain to protect our bodies by
alerting us to damage. Fear alerts us to be careful and evaluate our
physical condition. Fear not acknowledged is like a mold that grows
in the protection of darkness. Letís shed some light!
Until about five years ago I
could walk out into a pasture full of horses with comfort. Then I
was trampled and suffered a broken hip and was very nearly killed.
Believe me, I no longer venture into a field of horses. This could
be defined as a rational fear. There are, however, less than
rational fears that are just as valid to the individual who suffers
One of my dear friends has
no comfort level riding a horse any taller than fourteen hands. This
is a simple fear to deal with. Donít ride a horse taller than
fourteen hands. But what do you do about being afraid to go faster
than a walk? Well, I believe the first step is to tell the people
you ride with. Donít fret if they scoff at your fears, they are not
being your friends when they do. Find someone else to ride with or
speak out to proclaim your feelings and understand you are
absolutely justified to acknowledge your feelings.
In my latest campaign to
expose and deal with fears, I have found that once one person admits
to fear, itís like a flood-gate and others begin to recognize their
own discomforts. When given the permission to be honest about their
feelings, a tremendous feeling of relief occurs.
Fear is a feeling, and we
have no control over our feelings because they are not an
intellectual process. We own our feelings no matter how we would
like to deny them or even worse, camouflage them.
Itís important to take a
look at what resonates to the horse when we are doing our best to
hide our fear. The horse does not have a complex reasoning system in
place. They are completely instinctual. They are prey animals who
spend their lives in a self-protection mode. When they sense the
fear coming from the person on their back Ė who they consider alpha,
they are in a condition of alert. They donít know why the rider is
afraid, they only sense the fear. This they translate into two
solutions: fight or flight. The nervousness coming from the horse,
increases the fear level of the rider. Clearly this is a situation
in trouble. I have seen my most consistent, reliable horse turn into
a nervous wreck with a fearful rider on its back.
There are such positive ways
to deal with fear once it is accepted. Personally I believe the
rider or riders you ride with are at the heart of your recovery. Our
breed in particular, attracts people who may be new to horses, or
find themselves at an age when an accident on a horse could be
devastating to their retirement. What a tragedy to finally reach
that time in life when recreation and the physicality of horseback
riding can be so enriching Ė only to become injured.
This is not the time to be
training babies. Building confidence in yourself and your
horsemanship is a process. Obviously, the most important move you
will make is the purchase of the horse. Buy the best trained horse
you can afford. Our Mountain Horses are known for their wonderful
dispositions, but some may have a motor that is too challenging for
a fearful rider. Make sure you have a feeling of confidence to
simply be around the horse. Some of our shorter horses are ideal for
this purpose. For some reason being closer to the ground makes the
thought of "leaving the saddle" be less intimidating. Not to mention
the ease of mounting and dismounting.
It has also been my
experience to find the shorter horses reflect the old fashioned calm
characteristics of the Mountain Horses in a special way. Once you
have the right horse, take a look at who you ride with. It is so
important to develop a comfort level for being able to get out and
ride at your own pace and actually experience your true feelings.
When I ride with someone
new, I always verbalize to them to speak up if they have any
discomfort or fearfulness. It is almost as if simply being given
permission to be afraid gives them the confidence to ride and relax.
To those of you who have no
fears Ė be thoughtful of your friends or spouse who might.