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How do I stop being such a nervous rider?

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    How do I stop being such a nervous rider?

    Hello! I'm just getting back into riding - rode my whole childhood and into my 20s, and then stopped for a long time (I have 4 kids). I'm now almost 40 and getting back into it, taking lessons with a great instructor. Back in the day I always tended to be more of a timid rider, but since I've started again its worse. When I'm on a calm horse and things are going well I'm fine.But if I get nervous its hard to shake it and then my whole ride is messed up. .Today I rode a new horse and got off on the wrong foot when we came into the arena. He was very tense and spooky when we first came into the arena (He's only been at the barn a week, and he was nervously keeping an eye on an open door and cars driving by outside.) After seeing how nervous he was, I immediately got nervous myself, even before mounting. So then the whole ride was very discouraging. We didn't really do anything more than a walk. He was stopping to look outside, flinching at noises, etc... I could tell he was feeding off me and how tense I was and then it was just like this vicious circle of nervousness. My instructor told me he was feeding off me at that point and I knew it, but in that situation I am just powerless to stop myself She had me take deep breaths and I would be able to get him relaxed and stretching into his walk a bit, but then it was coming to a point where if I heard a noise behind the wall, I was tensing up and then he would as well. It was like I was ancticipating him spooking and I was doing the spooking for him! I came out of the ride so discouraged and down on myself. Does anyone have any suggestions for overcoming this nervousness/tension/fear in myself? Thanks in advance.

    Your instructor is not as good as you think if it puts you on such a horse and then lets you keep fretting trying to ride him when he is antsy?

    Insist on staying with quiet horses, is what fits you best, at least for now.

    No one has anything to prove while learning/re-learning to ride.
    First, stay and feel safe while you learn the finer points.
    Later, if you feel more ambitious and need more horse, many riders never get there, you can ride the fresh and/or more difficult horses.


      I think Bluey may have jumped to a possibly unwarranted judgement on your instructor. Unless you have demonstrated your difficulty in controlling your fear to this extent in the past, and failed to ever improve your control during a lesson, how were they to know. That's for you to decide.

      As for your own nerves there are a few things that might help. Groundwork for one. With that nervous horse hopping off and having some success in keeping his focus with groundwork might give you confidence that you can get him to listen. Then you can remount and repeat the same exercises to carry that over to riding.

      Another would be to articulate exactly what you are afraid might happen, then think about what you can actively do to regain or keep control. Think about what you know how to do - like if your horse speeds up to the next gait you know how to transition down.

      To me the most important one is to DO SOMETHING. You're waiting to see how your horse will react to some situation instead of telling him what you want to do. Every time you catch yourself watching to see how your horse is going to react DO something - a turn, a transition, a bend, anything to make you the priority in his attention. Use a little thought and don't ask him to go up to the scary thing he's trying to run away from or halt when something noisy is coming up behind him - a circle might be better.

      ​​​​​​When you wait to see how your horse will react it's like you just abandoned him from his perspective, so he has to decide what to do. The horses you are riding right now are probably going to be looking for you to tell them what to do, and if you don't they'll be more concerned.

      I've been there - I understand how hard it is to do.


        Just keep riding and honestly, keep “failing”. Getting over being nervous does not occur until you can interject confidence in its place. This happens with riding constantly and having off days and great days. Spooky horses can be hard to ride but know you know this horse. You know that he may spook but it’s nothing that’s going to completely unseat you and make you eat dirt. That’s already a win.

        While ground work can help, understand that nothing is going to really gain you that confidence like handling hard situations and coming out of it alive. The next ride remind yourself that you stayed in the saddle last time and here you are trying it again.

        It takes awhile for your body to remember the coordination of riding but trust your instructor. If it’s someone you trust then know they are not going to over face you.

        Ride with seat and a little less hand, doesn’t matter if you’re jumping a fence or chasing a can🛢


          I think the OP posted because she had been overfaced and was wondering about that situation.
          Generally doing that gets you a stiff and worried if not directly scared student and with reason, the horse was acting up and what the instructor was doing to help there was not working.

          Of course, not being there, it is hard to do more than guess at the situation.


            I feel you, OP.

            My whole childhood/young adulthood, I was pretty fearless.

            Then a series of unfortunate events kept me out of the saddle for several years, despite having a very fancy young horse who I could rarely ride. Long story short, all that time away from the saddle made me scared of my own horse, which in turn, made me a nervous wreck on most every horse.

            The “right” instructor got me out of my head. I needed someone on the ground who I respected, yet also could gently push me without over facing me.

            Also, regular riding is key to keeping my nerves in check. The “what if’s” creep back in after a break.

            From your post, it sounds like your riding might be mostly confined to lessons. Is there an option to lease/half lease a solid citizen mount so you can both ride more often and build more of a relationship with a horse you can trust?
            Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO


              I’ve had this problem. IMO this horse isn’t what you need, at least not right now. You saw him reacting and acting concerned, and it isn’t wrong for that to make you nervous. Some riders aren’t like that. Everyone is different.
              I bought a horse and I had him for several years. He was spooky, and of course he fed off of me because I was scared too. I sold him because it wasn’t fun. You’re just riding a lesson horse thank heavens! Just go back to something you’re comfortable with.
              You can’t tell yourself not to be scared. The truth is that I may have made my horse more nervous, but I learned pretty quick that I couldn’t sit all of his spooks - and they happened with me and others as well. He needed someone that wasn’t bothered by it. I was never going that person.


                Stop riding horses that make you nervous. You're not ready to ride a horse that is tense, spooky, and feeds off your nervousness.

                I had a long break from serious riding and horse ownership, although I still rode occasionally and casually throughout that time. When I started getting back into riding more seriously and taking lessons again, there was a real disconnect between my physical and mental state. My seat and position came back pretty quickly but my confidence and belief in my ability lagged pretty far behind. My instructor would say, "You look great." A trainer working with my horse cracked me up one day when he made a comment that basically boiled down to "Wow, for an old fat lady you've really got a great seat."

                But, I didn't feel it. I didn't feel confident on the horse. I didn't tackle a course of fences like I truly believed I'd get around without crashing and burning. I was nervous about falling off.

                The solution for me was a steady Eddie outgrown kid's horse. I needed to regain my confidence in my riding ability on a horse that didn't make me worry. A horse that I could count on not to spook, buck, bolt, or get upset by me freaking out over the bushes rustling.
                "Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything
                that's even remotely true."

                Homer Simpson


                  To overcome fear you need a great instructor and the right horse. My first horse after the big fall that gave e real fear, was an ex ranch horse, he was never going to set the world on fire, but he was perfect for me. I moved up to a mare who was, as it turned out a step to far, she was reactive, and we wound each other up, sometimes it WAS me, if I knew she would be likely to spook I would get defensive. Sometimes it wasn’t me, after you have ridden past the new mounting block for 10 minutes, having first mounting from it, I did not expect her to spook, that was all on her.

                  i eventually decided that although we were successful in the ring, I just did not want to cope with her any more. Now I have a horse who challenges me, but does not do anything ‘spooky’ and my fear is dialing down after every ride, he is safe, I enjoy him.

                  This is a long winded way of saying, a rerider needs a horse that gives them confidence, a solid citizen.
                  "He's not even a good pathological liar." Mara

                  "You're just a very desperate troll, and not even a good one. You're like middle-school troll at best. Like a goblin, not even a troll." et_fig


                    Original Poster

                    Thanks for the replies, everyone. I appreciate it! This is all very good advice.
                    Texarkana, once a week lessons are all I can swing right now unfortunately. I agree that a lease or half lease would be ideal. I actually had been riding the same horse pretty steadily and was loving him. He's a dales pony with a nice calm disposition who still has a little sass from time to time but nothing that made me nervous. However today my instructor put me on this new horse and the result was not good. She told me the horse is not spooky by nature and he was more feeding off of my tension, but she did admit that it might have something to do with him being new to the barn as well (has been there less than a week).
                    Unsurprisingly, I am kind of a timid person out of the saddle as well so I didn't feel comfortable saying "can I just go back to the other horse for my lessons?" I felt like I shouldn't say that because my instructor kept saying it was good for me to ride different horses and she thinks riding a horse like this will help me grow and be good for me. I see her point, but at the same time I'm kind of like, I have one day a week to ride, I'm a lot older than I used to be, and I want to enjoy i!
                    Unfortunately being in a lesson program I don't have the luxury of choosing and keeping the same horse every week, so I can't really say anything.
                    I so appreciate all of your advice and I'm not going to give up! Thanks!


                      I totally understand your dilemma, but I still think it may be worth talking to your instructor. You are right - it should be fun! He may have been feeding from your anxiety, but it is
                      very hard to learn when that is going on.
                      Riding has taught me a lot about myself. I think when I started riding, I assumed that taking lessons would make me more brave. That happened, but only so much. As your seat gets better and you get more secure in the saddle, you do start to feel more brave. Cantering isn’t scary. Sitting the trot doesn’t feel like you’re going to bounce off.
                      I’ve taken a lot of lessons, but I hit a wall. There are horses I just do not want to ride. Sometimes I think that our sixth sense, so to speak, tells us when something is too much.
                      Instructors often push, and as an adult woman I want to be pushed to try hard and I want to be pushed to be the best I can be, but I don’t want to be pushed into riding a horse that scares me. I heard many times that my nerves were making my horse nervous. You know what, though? He was a nervous horse. I could feel that about him. The times I fell off, I never saw what he spooked at until after I fell ... and I wasn’t particularly nervous. He was just the type of animal that startled easily and was athletic enough to make sudden moves as a result. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt. However, a much less nervous rider rode him, and she fell off too. To ride him, you really had to accept the risk that you might fall if something startled him. That is true of ANY horse, but in his case it was a larger risk because more things startled him than the horses I enjoyed riding. The lady that also fell off couldn’t wait to get back on and try again. That wasn’t my reaction. I want to ride a steady horse - a horse that doesn’t get his confidence from his rider. You may be able to learn to do that and enjoy that. Be aware, though, that the pros we take lessons from are usually naturally sensation-seeking, brave people. They might like those quick, reactive horses. They may not be able to relate to what a nervous person is feeling or capable of, and for that reason they may totally inadvertently put you in a dangerous situation. It may be a lot easier to say, “Hey, I really love my lessons and my time at the barn, but I just don’t think I’m a good fit for that horse right now. Maybe I will be in the future, but I didn’t enjoy my last lesson on him as much as the other lessons and I felt that I wasn’t in control of my fear.”
                      I’m sorry to write a book about this but it took me several years to accept that I didn’t want to learn to give a nervous horse confidence because I didn’t want to take the risk. Make no mistake - it’s a risk. When a horse is acting look-y and nervous, that horse is more likely to unseat the rider than a horse acting cool as a cucumber.


                        Original Poster

                        Thanks Casey09 - You are giving me the courage to speak up!


                          Look up Confident Rider . Jane Pike has an online programme and does amazing work.


                            Being around horses means different things to everyone.
                            For some, it is the horses, riding just what we do for many of us, doing something with the horses, but just being around them is what we love.

                            For others, maybe it is to prove to themselves that they can do this or that, overcoming what we are striving to overcome and gaining what we are after at a personal level.
                            This will happen anyway as a side effect of being around horses and doing things with them, but for some is a bigger part of why they like horses, just not for everyone at every stage of their life.

                            Right now OP doesn't seem to want to ride to become a more confident person at any cost and looked for such a program.
                            That also is not feeling right to her, right now.
                            That little voice on her shoulder is making her uncomfortable about the situation.

                            There are several choices.

                            One to decide against her personality to assert herself with the horse and cowgirl up.
                            That will add to her anxiety and requires taking chances she doesn't really want to take.
                            There is real personal risk there the horse and her part company.
                            She may also gain new skills to handle these kinds of situations, seems is what the instructor was after.

                            Or to assert herself against her personality and insist the trainer doesn't push her on a new horse that is not quite now a safe, quiet school horse she feels she can learn with.
                            Her bad lesson made that clear, why she is posting for advice.
                            Should she continue against her discomfort?

                            Some students are at a cross road there.
                            Some adults have too much else going on in their lives and find reasons to just quit riding.
                            It is not worth the worry when they are not enjoying their time around horses but is causing them stress.

                            As an instructor, you should be careful who to push and how and how much.
                            New school horses with problems like the one the OP was put on and insisted it keep riding?
                            Those are not the kind you use your tentative students to test and train them, in lessons, but train first until they become suitable?
                            Someone else should have been riding that horse until he is good enough for lessons.
                            If nothing else due to the liability question such situation poses.
                            What if the horse had shied out from under the OP and she did get injured?
                            How would this have been sorted out, legally?

                            There are times you push students, is part of teaching to push and part of learning to be pushed.

                            The reason OP is posting is, this situation was questionable to her.
                            This is how she experienced it, not a normal but scary situation and if so, what to do about it.

                            Well, there have been enough answers to decide now what may feel is best going forward.


                              How long have you been back riding? It may just be too early to switch to new horses. I agree that riding different horses will make you better, but not before you are ready.

                              It is your money, and you are not a child - you do have to advocate for yourself. And your instructor should WANT to listen to you (or I agree that she is not as good as you might think.)

                              Some programs are just not that great - and just have cookie-cutter instruction on mediocre horses. It might not be possible for you to know (yet) if this barn is like that, but you will have to be the one to decide if it's working for you or not.

                              I would definitely speak to your instructor and say that you do not want to ride the new horse again. Depending on how long you've been back in the saddle it might be worthwhile to switch up horses, so long as there are appropriate horses to ride. If not, I'd stay with the original horse for now.


                                Dear OP, once a week is not enough to get your seat back. As a rerider myself, it took getting my own horse and riding 4-6 times a week for a while to get my seat to where I could sit out a spook (mild).

                                A newly arrived horse at the barn may very well be 'look-ey' that settles down once familiar with his new home.

                                what helped me was to have a mental took kit - if the horse looks outside at a window or a gate, what would you do? Turn his head to the inside, keep legs on, look forward to where you are going. (practice at the walk until you are comfortable)

                                As another poster said, it sounds as though you are waiting for the horse to make a move rather than asking the horse to do what you want.

                                This is easier for me to say than to do, so completely understand the rerider nerves. Good luck
                                Forward...go forward


                                  For me it is fitness. I get nervous when things happen when I know I am going to have issues and I am not physically able to handle it. I suggest if you can only ride once a week to do yoga or something to help you body.
                                  Jacobson's Saddlery, LLC
                                  Society of Master Saddlers Qualified Fitter


                                    It is a balancing act for sure. It sounds like the nervous horse and you survived without any big incidents. Remember that and Congrats!

                                    That said, it sounds like the instructor pushed you too far out of your comfort zone and was unable, during the lesson, to give you tools to make you feel more in control.

                                    I think you need to speak up and give her the feedback about what you felt and believe you need. Please be aware that you will need to be a little uncomfortable to progress. You can continue to ride the same pony but, while you may develop better balance, etc., you may get stuck only being able to ride that one type of ride. (Which ma be okay too!) Ideally, she can provide a slightly different type of horse that can provide a different learning experience without being too nervous.

                                    When I got back to riding (in my 60s!) I decided that I didnt need to deal with nervous, looky horses. Yes, I needed the skills to deal with the occasional tense moments or legitimate spooks, but I was not going to ride horses that were well above average in nervousness.


                                      Try another barn ~ you will build your riding confidence with the right instructor and horse and time.

                                      * Please try another program and tell them you are working on building your riding confidence as well as skills.

                                      Good Luck ~ you will enjoy riding again as soon as you find the ‘right’ program for you.
                                      Zu Zu Bailey " IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE ! "


                                        I agree with Bluey ... personally I think your instructor, probably unintentionally, overfaced you.

                                        If you had the opportunity to work with this horse more regularly, AND you had the desire to "move up" to a more challenging ride, this horse might be a great option to grow your skill set. But that would be with 4-5 lessons a week, lots of support from your instructor, and lots of focus on how to get and keep this horse's attention. The horse would likely settle in, you would have daily reinforcement of how to manage a ride like this, and the opportunity to develop more muscle memory around such a ride could build your confidence.

                                        With weekly lessons, frankly,I just don't think this particular horse is going to let you progress much, at least not until he is settled in a lot more than he is currently. You are already nervous, and this horse is reactive; that is not a combination headed for success. My guess is riding this horse right now is only going to ingrain that fear because he is causing you to ride defensively. And let's face it, even if you KNOW that "it's all in your head," and "he's just feeding off you," it's not like you can just flip a switch and suddenly sit in a relaxed fashion.

                                        For now I would ask the instructor to let you ride something easier and less reactive, which will help your confidence. Once you find that ride a bit boring, it will be time to move up to a new challenge.
                                        We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.