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“I’m scared” I hear these words so often at my barn that I have developed a stable of answers,
depending on the situation. But the one I go to the most is : “You can be scared”.
I am usually saying this to someone who is standing on the mounting block about to swing a leg over a horse, often for the first time. We get lots of kids, some with a problem or 2, lots of Girl Scouts, and just generally many beginners, young and old. I can understand when you are looking over the back of a horse, about to get on, and suddenly the ground seems far away. If they have been working with us on the ground, we’ve been talking about being careful of the horses back end, making sure not to get stepped on, and generally keeping their eyes UP. Which of us hasn’t once been that horse crazy kid/adult with the galloping thru the field dream, only to come smack into the reality of a BIG animal who might not share our exact dreams? It can be daunting, and I would much rather have someone with a good healthy dose of fear than the know-it-all who invariably, doesn’t.
There is the other kind of fear as well. When a rider has gotten to the point where they think they know what they’re doing and suddenly finds themselves eating dirt, or worse, truly injured. I tell all my riders that they WILL fall off someday. Many look at me like I’m crazy, others give me the side-eye, and some look shocked. “I’ve come off more times then I care to count, or remember.” I tell them, which is the truth, as often in my life it was my JOB to ride the young ones, the untrained ones, or the mentally damaged ones. Even good riders can have issues with fear, and that’s OK!
Any good rider should be delving into the lives of really great riders. I believe I often say to READ EVERYTHING YOU CAN!! Become educated! There is the saying that it’s not the easy horses that makeg reat riders. I read an article in a respected horse magazine about an upper level rider who talked about how difficult her horse was, and how many times he’d dumped her. Her attitude was “If I want a spectacular horse, I shouldn’t be surprised if I have to learn how to handle him in such a way as to let him shine!”. That made me feel SO MUCH better to know that even this top rider still had falls, but she didn’t let it stop her. “You can be scared.” But keep working to be come a better rider, so coming off is just that, you came off, hopefully someone taught you a good emergency dismount, or to tuck and roll.
It won’t always work, but hopefully you will avoid serious injury. And sometimes you will just have to ride scared. Take a step back and work on things you and your horse are good at. Talk to your trainer about your fears and hopefully she will be willing to help you over come those fears. It’s ok to be afraid, but saddle up anyway.

Lia Sader
Published on 28-10-2020
Farrier, trainer and founder of Stepping Stone Farms School of Horsemanship, a not-for-profit horse rescue, sanctuary, and program center. Whether it's caring for a sick horse at 2:00 a.m., leading workshops for inner-city youth, speaking at conferences, teaching lessons or cleaning stalls, everything falls under my purview. I am an EAGALA certified Equine Specialist and a member of the American Riding Instructors Association.