The Fear Monster

fear can be paralyzing

We’ve all faced this one at some point in our riding career. Maybe you had a accident with broken bones and shattered confidence. Or maybe you lost the one horse you felt safe riding and a now faced with the terrifying prospect of trying to find another to fill that void. We all have our reasons. No reason is bad or silly because fear is never rational. If it were it wouldn’t be so hard to overcome. Whatever the reason, know that you are not alone.

#Tipoftheday Fear is never rational. If it were it wouldn’t be so hard to overcome. Click To Tweet

In 15 years of riding and 3 major accidents, I’ve developed more than my share of fears. There are a few keys steps I’ve found that help when confronting the fear monster.

Step 1: Identify the source of the fear

Be honest with yourself even if you can’t say it out loud to someone else yet. When I shattered my arm, it was messed up enough to cause permanent nerve damage in my left side. The horse (Moose) didn’t even do anything. I was mounting my new (used) dressage saddle and couldn’t wait to try it out. I had already gotten on once, but had to get back off to help my handicapped mother get on her horse because she insisted that she just had to go along.

Admittedly, it was my fault. My new dressage girth still hadn’t arrived yet, so I cut corners and used an old English girth that I found lying around (in a western tack room) that probably wasn’t even the right size and was probably a good 20 years old. Yeah, no need to say I told you so. Needless to say, that situation ended in emergency surgery and I may never regain full use of my left arm.

I never have been entirely comfortable in English saddles, but that whole situation made it worse. I still used that dressage saddle once the proper girth arrived, but every time I go to mount, there is that little trill of fear that goes up my spine that may never go away. No matter what saddle I am in though, western or dressage, I am now super paranoid about girths.

This is where honesty comes in. If I am honest about it, the source of the fear isn’t the saddle, the horse, or even the girth. The source of the fear is that it was my own stupid mistake that caused it. If I could blame someone or something else, it wouldn’t be as terrifying.

Step 2: Identify your comfort zone

Once you are honest with yourself about what your fear is and what the cause is, you can define your comfort zone when facing that fear. For me, I will not get on a horse that I did not tack up myself. If someone else tacked up the horse I will undo the girth and redo it before I get on. No one is allowed to touch my girth.

If you are a rider with a fear of cantering, maybe you want to try cantering in a confined area like a round pen or on a lunge line, but not in a wide-open area where you feel like you could easily lose control. Or maybe you just don’t feel comfortable cantering at all.

Don’t be afraid to draw the line in the sand. Knowing your limits doesn’t make you weak. In fact, standing up for yourself and being able to say “no” to something you are uncomfortable with makes you far stronger than if you were to stay silent and just go with it and make your fears worse.

As you grow more comfortable, it is good to try and stretch your boundaries, but only as far as you are comfortable. Never be ashamed to say “no.” If you never learn to canter, jump, or whatever it is that you don’t feel comfortable doing, that’s fine. There is no reason for you to do anything you feel uncomfortable with.

Step 3: Set Realistic Goals

It is always good to have goals. When I was working on getting over my anxiety of mounting with the dressage saddle, my goals were simple:

  • Goal 1: only check the girth twice
  • Goal 2: Get on within 2 tries
  • Goal 3: Check girth once
  • Goal 4: Get on within 1 try
  • Goal 5: Get on without stalling at the top of the mounting block

Like with your horse, break things down into manageable pieces. Above all, be realistic. It would not have been realistic for me to have skipped goals 1 and 2 and gone straight to:

  • Goal 3: Check girth once
  • Goal 4: Get on within 1 try
  • Goal 5: Get on without stalling at the top of the mounting block

That would have been setting myself up for failure. Break your goals down into tiny steps and make sure you write them down. It is extremely gratifying to be able to literally check them off the list one at a time so you actually feel like you’re getting somewhere. It’s a mental game. If the goals are just in your head, it is easy to be too hard on yourself and convince yourself that you’re not getting anywhere.

Step 4: Visualize a Positive Outcome

Visualizing the positive outcome you want to happen is actually a great way to ensure success. It helps keep your mind off the negative possibilities and keeps you relaxed. Again, it is a mental game. While it may sound silly, it really does help.

A mental trick like this helps calm the nerves and increase the chances of success. It boosts your confidence and confidence is the key to success. However, visualizing only works if you have a plan to visualize and having a plan requires clear goals to be set. Setting clear goals requires knowing your comfort zone and knowing your comfort zone requires knowing the source of the fear. So, you see how it all ties together.

A big thing to remember is that fear is never rational. Trying to rationalize your fear will only lead to doubt, a lack of self-confidence, and more fear. Knowing the source of your fear is the only thing you need to worry about in order to begin to overcome it.

An Extra Tidbit

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Members of the EW Community can now download our Fear Monster Goal Setting Worksheet for FREE and begin conquering fears in 4 simple steps. To download to full document, click here.











2 thoughts on “The Fear Monster

  1. Hello Alexi. I admit to being afraid to ride a horse. I have done it several times over the years. But have never enjoyed it, as I’ve never been able to be calm enough to create a relationship with the animal. I would definitely need to take lessons in order to make that happen.

    1. Horses can certainly be intimidating, even at the best of times. I think it’s easier to start as a child because you’re too young to really comprehend everything that could go wrong. As adults we have enough life experience to look at a 1,000lb beast with a mind of its own and realize the dangers. Lessons under a good instructor are the best way to conquer riding fears. It helps to have outside encouragement from an experienced voice. It also helps to have a calm, experienced horse under you.

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