Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse News

FALL 2007

Great Gaits


Fear of Riding, Revisited

by: Barbara Weatherwax

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 acknowledged.

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 from them.

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.


Please contact me on my email:  with your specific questions or thoughts about the Mountain Horses. And Happy Gaiting!