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You’ve had an equine related “wreck” that scared you so badly, you don’t think you even want to ride again. Ever. But is this true? Can you overcome riding or just being with your horse? Do you want to?

The thing about fear to remember, is that we should have it. Without fear, we’d not survive and we’d run recklessly toward our ends a whole faster and with no thought. Fear is important, just as the ability to feel is important. Imagine not feeling pain, for example; how would you keep from doing serious harm to yourself? With fear, we are able to consider what might happen, and this can sometimes be to our detriment and why this article is being constructed.

Fear of the future can be taken a bit too far, and we see this when we find ourselves not wanting to do something because all we can imagine, picture and envision happening is terrible, scary and uncontrollable. 

As a trainer, I’ll tell you that every single client comes to me due to fear, and each one has had one of these considerations driving them:

  • They will get hurt.

  • Death will result; or worse, incapacitation of their body or mind.

  • Their horse will be harmed due to their doing something wrong; either physically or mentally.

  • Fear of a past event; they’ve been hurt before and want to ride, but can’t get up the courage.

  • Their horse will purposefully harm them.

  • They will look bad and people will ridicule them.

  • They’ll be rejected and their horse won’t like them.

  • Rejection by people they like will result from their mistakes and they want to look good. 

  • The list is endless, really, but suffice it to say all are legitimate and real. And all are based on perception of a future they don’t want.

How do we get past, through, over, under, or around our fears? There are hundreds of articles, books, videos, podcasts, memes, poems, and movies about how to overcome fear and the list is so long and extensive that I can’t begin go through them all here. But all can be boiled down to a few major points, or even just one: You Must Want to give up your fear and accept that you have little to no control over any outcome.

Another major point to consider and accept is that this is a healing process, not a marathon to be won. 

Once you can say with certainty what specifically you are afraid of, you can employ one of the many ways to come to grips with what you must do to move on. At this point, it is important to take the competition element out of the equation. You may reach the end of your introspection with the realization that keeping your fear is your best option. It’s not imperative that anyone ever do something that terrifies them, but it is important to stay safe. When dealing with a 1,200 pound animal whose own self preservation system is fear-based, anything can, and will happen. 

When you are clear on your goal, begin by identifying what most frightens you about riding. Be as specific as you are able and narrow the answer down until you find the future you most dread, then, go one step further and ask yourself if you truly want to give up the fear, and then pick your method of moving through the trauma that is quite real in your mind. 

Here is a list of things you can try; choose one or more of them and immerse yourself in healing from the “hits” you usually get blindsided by fully immersing yourself in and through the process. Remember to be kind to yourself. Remember to go slowly and forgive your body for its unwanted reactions—you have no control over that happening. Remember to stop if it gets too overwhelming. Remember to allow yourself to quit the process and the horseback riding altogether if you must. Remember that this is not about winning or losing, it’s about healing and if you need to stop, you are not a failure. Again, be kind to yourself and remember that we all heal at different paces. 

Okay, now for the list:

  • Write about what happened to cause your fear in complete detail. Put it away, do the exercise again and again until the “hits” stop.
  • Go to counseling. Choose carefully and remember that quitting is allowed.
  • Find an alternative medicine practitioner who is willing to work with you using methods such as EMDR, NET, Reiki, etc.
  • Try relaxants such as CBD oil, or perhaps a small glass of wine before riding.
  • Spend time with your horse, but don’t ride. This can include walking him, allowing him grazing time, ground work, etc.
  • Experiment with new training methods, such as Liberty work or Clicker Training.
  • Force yourself to get on, then get off immediately. Repeat. Do not take any steps until you feel ready to move. (Your heart rate must be lower!)
  • Try hypnosis.
  • Use self-talk to help yourself as though you are training your horse a new task.
  • Create a new “movie” in your mind.
  • Read something funny to your horse while with him, and laugh heartily. (Watch his reaction; this one is fun!)
  • Sing to your horse even if you can’t sing. (This one is fun too, especially if you can’t sing very well!)
  • Play a musical instrument to your horse.
  • Blow bubbles for him, but not at him. Watch his reaction and learn how he overcomes his own fear if he’s scared of them at first. Laugh!
  • Be creative, do things that are sensical and fun so you and your horse have fun.

Once you are ready to ride, take your time, go slowly, remember this is not a competition. Be kind to yourself. Look to your horse for help and ask for his assistance. If you feel your heart rate increase, your palms sweat, prickles up your spine, short and fast breaths, or any other signal from your body telling you that fear is rising, stop. Go back for a bit and do something that makes you feel secure. 

  • Before getting on, play a short clip in your mind envisioning the perfect ride. Play it in a loop. Believe it.
  • Release the fear of the future and all the “what-ifs” that could go wrong.
  • Believe that only good will result in your riding. Nothing bad is allowed into your mind.
  • Breathe.
  • Trust your horse. We always talk about the horse trusting us, but do we trust him?
  • Start by using a different horse if you feel it would help. Steady Eddie is a good choice for your healing to begin. Thank him when you are done riding.
  • Hire a compassionate and qualified trainer to help you.
  • When you are ready, ride in a round pen if that feels safe to you.
  • Get off if you feel too anxious. It’s okay and you didn’t fail!
  • Timed rides that are only fifteen minutes long.
  • Walk only.
  • Celebrate your successes. Every single one, every time!
  • Work on cues to transition from halt to walk and turns.
  • Practice creating a silent and invisible cue system to get the desired action from your horse, on the ground and in the saddle.
  • Move into the arena and begin riding specific and short patterns. Walk only, at first.
  • Ride with a friend, or better, your trainer.
  • Go slow.
  • Go back to something you are confident in doing if you begin feeling stiff, scared or worried.
  • Three steps forward and two back is not a bad thing!
  • Think about keeping your horse safe first, and you reframe thinking about your own safety.
  • Celebrate each success. Yes, I said that already, but it’s really important. I tell my students to say it aloud, “I did good!”
  • I’ve saved the last tip for last, because it’s the most important of all for those who have fear due to a fall. The scars from a traumatic fall are more than physical and can last a lifetime. So the advice is to remember to Ride Today’s Horse, the one you are on right now. Sounds simple enough, and stupidly clear, but when we suffer a bad fall, the post traumatic stress we are left with is ever-present. When mounting a horse, be mindful and remember to ride him, not the one that caused you to suffer injury. In severe cases, I suggest getting back on by choosing a horse of a different color. Literally. Don’t get back on your horse or any horse that looks similar until you get past the “hits” you feel when thinking about looking at the mane and neck of your horse while mounted. 

As always, if you would like to chat, or want a little more help, please contact me through my website:

Your FREE Goodies for today is a Relaxation Technique Tip Sheet to overcome fear. Get it here:

Do what you can do when you can do so and have fun with your horse, Happily Ever After!

~Tanya Buck

Tanya Buck
Published on 20-04-2020
Tanya Buck is an equine advocate, an author (101 Ways to Die with a Horse or Live Happily Ever After and White Horse, A Novel), horse trainer, coach and riding instructor. And if that list isn't long enough, she is also a member of the Front Range Animal Evacuation Team in Colorado and founder of the Horses Happily Ever After Project. Tanya believes that a holistic approach incorporating the horse's physical, mental and emotional state combined with reciprocal communication is most beneficial in creating the bond of champions. Her ongoing work to better the world for the horse drives her to keep doing what she does!