Overcoming Horse Riding Fears by Faith
Director, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre
Anyone who has ridden for any length of time would be dishonest if they told you they have never felt fear.
If you have any common sense at all, you
should have a certain level of healthy fear whenever you get on a new horse. Call it respect if you prefer, but there is always an awareness that the 1000-pounds or so of bone
and muscle you are sitting on is, physically, more powerful than you are.
Horses can jump sideways in the blink of an eye, rear, buck, or reach speeds over 25 miles
per hour in a matter of seconds. They are also capable of using that physical power to perform incredible athletic feats like jumping, dressage,
cutting, or reining. Our desire to become partners with our horses in those athletic endeavors makes us willing to take the risk of being thrown off or finding ourselves on a panicked runaway.
Having a bad experience, usually something that could not have been avoided no matter what the
rider did, can turn healthy respect to fear. Once a rider has been physically hurt in an accident or
even just really frightened, it can take a while to rebuild confidence. The old rough-and-ready,
cavalry-style philosophy promised that if you just got right back on again, everything would be fine. However, suppressing fear seldom works. Neither does it help to tell someone to just get over it.
Fear is usually related to the rider's skill level. The best way to overcome riding fears is to work on
developing a completely independent seat. An independent seat gives the rider the confidence the
he or she has the ability to ride through just about anything the horse might do. Riders also need to
develop habits that allow them to stay mentally and emotionally centered in a rhythmic and relaxed
way when their horse becomes excited or frightened. One of the partners has to stay calm in order to bring the other back to that state.
It is hard to get past your fear when you work by
yourself. Finding a competent instructor who acknowledges your confidence crisis without either belittling it or catering to it is important. You need
someone who understands how to back up and find the point where you are comfortable riding and how to help you work forward again from that point in a logical
progression to regain your confidence.
Having the right horse or horses available can also be critical when you are trying to rebuild confidence.
People who are afraid of riding often have good reason to be, they may have realized that they are over mounted on their own horse. Trying to work through
fear on the same animal that caused your fears can be very difficult. We are fortunate here at Meredith Manor to have the luxury of 130 to 150 horses to
choose among when our instructors sit down to make weekly horse assignments for individual students. When we get a fearful student, we can put them on goldie oldie
school horses that give them a lot of positive reinforcement and gradually rebuild their confidence by moving them onto horses that take greater skill.
Fear around horses is not limited to riding. Many people feel intimidated when they have to catch, lead or groom an unruly, ill-mannered horse. Even if they manage to dominate the horse using a
chain lead shank or other artificial means, they may still have a queasy feeling because they know
they are not really in charge of the situation. Here, again, a good instructor should be able to help a
fearful student learn how to confidently and safely work around and re-school a spoiled horse with bad ground manners.
Training methods aimed at making the trainer dominant work only as long as nothing scarier or
more dominant than the trainer is in the horse's immediate environment. Handling techniques that
depend on chain shanks or war bridles do not result in permanent changes in the horse's attitude or true confidence on the part of his handler. We use a groundwork system we call heeding because
it teaches the students to pay attention to their horses at all times and teaches the horse to pay
attention to its handler at all times. Through consistent handling with rhythm and relaxation from the
moment they enter a horse's stall until they put him away, they learn how to develop a rapport with
their horses. The goal is to make the horse feel like the trainer or rider is always the safest place to be whenever exciting or unusual things happen.
Learning how to approach and work with horses on the ground in a rhythmic and relaxed way not only keeps the horses calm, but also teaches the students how to relax and stay calm. Using
rhythmic breathing and rhythmic movements while they groom or lead their horses becomes a habit
they can carry into their riding. The habit of staying rhythmic with their breathing, their seat, or their
reins when things start falling apart helps both rider and horse relax and become calm again more readily.
Every rider must eventually face fear and overcome it. Fear is not something to be ashamed of or to hide. When it happens to you, find an instructor with the right attitude, the right program of
progressive skill training, and the right horses to get you back on track again.
Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre
Meredith Manor is an equestrian
vocational school dedicated entirely to producing professional riders, trainers, instructors, and farriers for the horse industry. All programs and courses are
designed specifically to prepare you for a successful equine career. Our programs range in length from 3 to 18 months, and our students spend 6 hours a day in primarily hands-on, skill
based classes with additional time spent in the barns and with the horses. Students don't have to excel in
academic, classroom based classes to be successful in our programs, but they must have a passion for horses and a dedication to having a successful equestrian career.
Meredith Manor's name and reputation are known by serious horse people throughout the world. Students from the ages of seventeen to sixty-three have attended the School from every state and
many foreign countries. Meredith Manor strives to provide a climate of learning in which each student may identify and accomplish his or her goals. We have continuously researched the horse
industry, designed the facilities, and developed the educational programs that will give our students
the training, experience, and confidence needed to have successful, life-long careers with horses!
Faith Meredith has successfully trained and competed through FEI levels of dressage during her more than 30 years as a horse professional. She currently coaches riders in dressage, reining, and
eventing in her capacity as the Director of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre.
Contact: Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre
147 Saddle Lane
Waverly, West Virginia 26184
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