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How to deal with timidity?

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  • How to deal with timidity?

    So I just started riding again the last couple of months after not being on a horse for two years. I have been dealing with this fear issue I've had since almost the beginning of my riding career, thanks to some bad experiences on the wrong kinds of horses early on. When any kind of speed was involved, I would feel "choked up" like I couldn't breathe, and instinctively lean forward. I have a wonderful trainer now who has put me on some "steady eddie" type horses, and I'm getting over the fear reaction. I WANT to canter now, which is a huge breakthrough, BUT I'm still having a hard time being assertive. When I need to push the horse, (which I often do and that is the type of horse I need right now) I get nervous that I'll "upset" the horse because he doesn't want to go. I know that's silliness, and the only way I can think to deal with it is just to challenge the thoughts that precede the nervousness just like I did with the whole idea of cantering in the first place. It's very frustrating to me to know that I could be at a much higher level, but I'm where I'm at now because of this mental issue and my quitting at various points in my riding career because of it. Can anyone relate? I feel like the only one who has this mental block.
    I saw the angel in the marble and I set him free. - Michaelangelo

  • #2
    Yes I can relate, and it may take a while, but if you replace your bad memories/experiences with good ones eventually you will work out of it.

    Sometimes it's hard to recreate a specific fear trigger, mostly they just come by accident. For an example my mare from when I was a kid had a tendency to duck out from underneath me if I began to lose my balance, which made a negative feedback loop for me and I got a habit of being stiff. Fast forward many years and the schoolhorse took me over a line of probably 2 foot jumps, small but not tiny, I landed over her shoulder on the last jump and began to panic because my body memory said that the horse was going to move away, out from underneath me, and I was doomed to eat dirt. Well, she didn't, bless her. She cocked an ear back and just stayed right on track, probably wondering WTF this old lady was doing up there - the old lady was thinking Oh! I can just straighten myself up and relax and everything will be fine! I really loved that old girl and I was really sad when she passed unexpectedly.
    Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
    Incredible Invisible


    • #3
      I think a big part of it, is that your mind remembers it to be a bit worse than it was.

      When I first started my mare, I was so nervous that she was going to dump me. I would push her forward and she's pin her ears, bite my boot, and swish her tail. Then one day I had a really bad ride. She did all the stupid stuff I was worried about and I rode through it. Now I could care less that she's going to act up. I got over the mental block and now I'm not afraid to push her.

      Very much like what ReSomething said. I agree with her 100%.

      It's hard to push yourself to do something that you aren't comfortable with, and we all know a little too well the damage that riding can do. My advice would be to not push yourself. Focus on relaxing. As you get more comfortable, and take it baby step by baby step, you'll get used to it! Every ride squeak out a teensy bit past your comfort zone, and just focus on having fun!


      • #4
        Have you tried cantering on the lunge? Then you don't have to worry about cueing the horse wrong or upsetting the horse. You just sit and enjoy the transition. Your trainer can cue the horse to canter.

        Once you've gotten more confident, you and your trainer can practice cueing the horse to canter on the lunge. Slowly you can wean yourself off of the trainer's cues, and soon you'll be the one telling the horse to canter.


        • #5
          I can relate.

          What got me through was a point that my trainer made: I don't do anything super challenging with my horse -- ie, all I want is w/t/c on the straights, some curves, and maybe a few patterns -- and what I'd be asking the horse to do is nothing more than what he typically does on his own. That gave me the permission to be "demanding" during the hour long lesson. The sooner I got to the demand, the less I had to nag, which overall made my horse happier.

          The second tip from someone else that really helped out to overcome the fear and my brain's overactive imagination was say the following to myself whenever the "what ifs" and "oh nos" started to cloud my whole ride:

          "I have a body."

          Stating that out loud puts your consciousness back into your physical self and breaks the stranglehold your brain has on your thoughts. The other thing I noticed when saying that phrase to myself is that I'd almost immediately release a sigh -- it's like my brain had no idea I was holding my breath.


          • #6
            Here I thought i was the only one, you are not alone. I always overthink and "what-if" my self right out of the saddle. Took a very bad fall several years ago and have had a hard time getting back on.

            Finding all the comments very helpful too, Thanks for posting.
            "They spend 11 months stuggling to live, and 25 years trying to die" my farrier

            "They are dangerous on both ends and crafty in the middle"


            • #7
              I can relate too. I have never fallen off my horses but the fear gradually came on me that I might after riding with a friend in regular lessons. She fell off her horse every. single. lesson. We could even be just trotting around doing lateral work and before you knew it she would be on the ground. No one, herself included could figure it out. I even used to ride her mare for her a couple times a week but every time I would take a lesson with her I would get tense and I wasn't even the one falling off!

              After we moved from that barn I had a hard time finding a trainer that had the skills to help a fearful rider which I had become. Then we moved again to our current farm and I don't have anywhere to ride and with all the work we have to do to make our place the way we want it, I don't have the inclination to deal with my issue. So my story doesn't really have a happy ending. I still have my horses, I see them all the time when I go outside but I don't ride them. I enjoy caring for them and they seem to be enjoying their life of doing nothing, so I guess it's ok.
              My blog: Crackerdog Farm


              • #8
                Might I suggest that you look for a clinic with Mark Rashid? I have seen him work magic with a woman who cried at the thought of getting ON her horse, in case she fell off!
                Mark teaches one how to accept the nervousness, what effect it has on the body, and how to overcome it by redirecting her energy. It was magic to see a woman cry with happiness when she realised that she had mastered and discarded her fear.

                He has written a book, Horsemanship Through Life which also describes his involvement with Aikido, a Japanese Martial Art.


                • #9
                  I can relate..And this is going to sound like Im bragging but Im not really..

                  Im fairly competant rider.. I 'did' well in the show ring (before marrage,kids,health etc) As in I always pinned nothing below a 3rd. Had stickability probably due to my mare who could toss anyone who did not ride her 'her way' even in medal rider off's.
                  Could do 3'6" or 9" easly..
                  BUT could not ride alone still cant.. not a lick. Nothing above a trot. Probably because of mare.. If no pressure of lesson, show etc cant ride my way out of a wet paper bag. I lose it. I forget everything I ever learned.
                  So I am starting over on a steady eddie pony,between size and gait taking it one step at a time..I hope to be cantering soon...
                  Friend of bar .ka


                  • #10
                    I have had similar fears of jumping, though luckily nothing so extreme that it's crippling (all my "bad" falls were when I was still an invincible, bouncy little kid). My first pony was a beast when it came to jumping...I swear he was a TB in a previous life. But if you didn't ride him exacty. right. to every fence, he'd stop dirty. It did teach me to stick, but it also really taught me to be scared of the possible refusal. It got so bad that I started anticipating it, so even on other horses, I would end up causing the refusal.
                    I ended up getting some great lessons on my trainer's horses, and while I'm still not fearless, I am at least confident enough that I know I won't DIE every time I go over a jump. So the horse I was on really snapped me out of it. Sounds like you're doing the same thing on your steddy eddie. Keep it up, don't beat yourself up! Sounds like you've already come a long way


                    • #11
                      I find having a horse who's less/unreactive is probably the best thing. Lucky is lazy. He would rather disobey by stopping than by pitching a fit. If I want "forward" I have to WORK for it. Being a contrarian, this means I want to go forward now.
                      Author Page
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                      Steampunk Sweethearts


                      • #12
                        OP: Been there. Done that. Got the Tee Shirt.

                        Have your trainer help you break down the canter cues to a few simple steps. You know, pre-flight checks.

                        Before you ride, go over it again and again in your head visualising the successful canter, and the feeling of competance and security you WANT to feel.

                        If, on the way to the barn you don't "feel right" about it, give yourself a free pass for that day. But if you commit to it for the lesson, make yourself see it through even if you start to wimp out in the saddle. Repeat the pre-flight checks. Breath. Kick on.


                        • #13
                          I maintain that all of us re-riders are scared shitless.

                          I took 35 years off after the usual fearless horsey childhood. And so it came to pass that they delivered my fancy new horse to my fancy new barn, handed me the lead rope and drove off into the horizon. I looked up at him. He appeared to have grown several feet since I'd tried him at the seller's barn. I realized with a nasty shock that I was terrified of him. I could barely lead him to the paddock. Needless to say that horse got my number right off the bat and bullied me relentlessly for about 2 years. I taught him to, very reliably, buck me off and spook at everything. Misery ensued.

                          Finally I wised up and sold him to a much more capable 11-year-old girl against whom his wiles were futile. I found a decent H/J trainer and bought the horse I should have had from the git-go, a docile children's packer. After many months of fear and loathing, I progressed to hopping over cross-rails on this excellent mare. My troubles were over! I bought show clothes.

                          But uh-oh, I got too cocky. One fine spring day I wasn't paying attention, bungled my approach, and the mare tripped over the fence. She went down on both knees, caught a foot in the reins and reared because she thought her head was stuck. If I had stayed with it another couple of seconds everything would have been fine, but unfortunately I decided to totally freak out instead.

                          Later, everyone agreed that my emergency dismount was flawless while I was in the air, but alas, points were deducted when I didn't stick the landing. Blew out my ACL and my confidence.

                          Back to square one! I didn't mount up again for at least 6 months. I started riding again about a year and a half ago, but the very thought of jumping still flips my entire wig. So the sturdy, sensible packer and I amble around in the woods, stop and smell the roses, watch the furry woodland animals frolic, etc. If there's a log we go around it, not over it. Once in a great while we bust out into a trot.

                          Until the other day, out of the blue, a strange thing happened. We strolled down to a big flat pasture, whereupon I suddenly felt for some reason that a little gallop might be in order. So without thinking much about it I gave her a bit of leg and off we went. It probably lasted all of 15 seconds, but it was awesome.

                          The moral of the story is that with enough time and the right horse, a comeback is possible. Even if the "comeback" is just a 15-second gallop in a hay field. Tomorrow, if it isn't chilly or windy or cloudy or anything, I'm gonna do it again. In my show clothes, dammit.
                          Dreadful Acres: the chronicle of my extraordinary unsuitability to country life


                          • #14
                            First off you have to be kind to yourself. Beating yourself over the head with thoughts of "where you should be by now" are extremely unhelpful. Stop it. Now. Instead look back at the progress you have made. You WANT to canter now - celebrate that!

                            I lost the nerve to jump and worked through that so I do understand your feelings. I also teach a few adults who are relatively new to riding and have helped them to work through their own fears.

                            One of my adults wanted to canter - that was her entire goal. I did start her on the longe once I felt she had the necessary basics and today she is cantering around quite confidently on her own. Some days she backslides a little bit, but she is determined.

                            Another had a fear she was upsetting her horse and wouldn't push for anything. I explained to her that really the horse would prefer to follow the rider's lead, but the rider has to lead and push when the horse tests to see if they mean it. She's got kids, and I pointed out that if her kid was running towards the road and a truck was coming she wouldn't just call the kid back nicely, she'd run after him and grab him. Riding is like that. There will come a point when you NEED the horse to respond to you NOW, and the only way to ensure that you get that kind of response is to get it all the time. The side benefit is that you gain confidence that the horse will respond.

                            One of my adults had a similar fear response to speed that you describe. I told her she needed to trust herself, and her horse. She KNEW how to slow the horse down, how to halt. When she started feeling the horse was going too fast she needed to remind herself that she COULD slow the horse down. At first we did actually halt the horse, then went from trot to walk, then changed the speed within the gait. I used to throw in random halts throughout her lesson just to enforce that ability in her subconscious. And I gave her permission to slow down at any time if she felt things were getting too fast - I wanted to make sure that she wasn't getting trapped into "doing the exercise" because it's important to keep the challenges small and build on each. You can't face it all at once. Once she had that permission she found she could remind herself that she could slow the horse down when she wanted, and so she started letting the "too fast" moments go on a bit longer and a bit longer because it was HER decision, not mine.

                            All this comes from my own experience with the jumping issue. I gave myself permission to be chicken and jump little tiny jumps, or not jump if I felt I couldn't that day. I stopped reminding myself of what I used to be able to do. I kept reminding myself that I had the skills to do the little stuff. I worked on riding actively and telling my horse what I wanted him to do instead of waiting for him to do something and reacting to it.

                            Your fears come from the subconscious, and the subconscious doesn't respond to logic statements, only experience. Do you know the marbles in a jar analogy? Where every time you have a god experience you're putting a white marble in the jar, and every bad experience is a black one. When you encounter a tough situation you are sticking your hand in and pulling out a marble. If you've had lots of good experiences you're more likely to get a white one, and manage the tough situation just fine. So you want to put as many white marbles in as possible. I like to use the fear of riding outside the ring as an example. Say you decide you're going to conquer that fear, so you get a buddy to ride around the field with you. You're nervous, but you walk around okay. Your buddy encourages you to trot, and while you don't want to, you're determined so you do and it's fine. Next your buddy gets you to canter, and again you don't want to, but are determined so off you go. And your horse bolts, spooks and you fall off and hurt yourself. Net result = black marble and a subconscious that screams "riding around the field is DANGEROUS!!" With me so far? Okay, so go back to the walking around the field with a buddy bit. If you quit there and do it again a few times your subconscious starts to have the idea that "WALKING around the field is okay." (white marbles) So then you dare to trot, all goes well and you quit for the day, and repeat that ride a few times (white marbles). Your subconscious starts to say "WALK and TROT around the field are okay." Next comes the canter, and your horse bolts, spooks and you come off and hurt yourself. Your subconscious message from that is going to be "CANTERING in the field is DANGEROUS!!" but you know "WALK and TROT are okay" because you have lots of white marbles for walk and trotting around the field and they counter the black cantering marble when it comes to riding around the field.

                            What I'm saying with this marble thing is that if you canter around the ring, or even just do a few strides successfully it is OKAY to stop cantering for that day if you feel really nervous about doing it again. Let it soak into your subconscious that you did it successfully, and then do it again the next time you ride.

                            Hopefully something in this novel helped you.


                            • #15
                              try studying mindfulness meditation to deal with fear. Its also called Mindfulness based stress reduction. Really helped me! Its more of a passive process of change rather then a "take the bull by the horns" process.

                              Also what is key for me: a trusted trainer, knowing when i can push myself using my intuition, and getting a horse that I am very well suited to.

                              baiscally I realize i may always have fear of some sort, my goal is to work with it and still enjoy my riding. Part of mindfulness is acceptance and also not judging feelings as good/bad.

                              Also regarding the cantering issue-- I bought a horse with a fantastic canter who is very ridable. I find I love cantering now and can sit much better. Yes, have had to push myself to canter in the beginning but now its my favorite thing to do.


                              • #16
                                I completely understand where you are coming from! I bought my first horse about 3 years ago and dealt with randomly getting bucked off at the canter. Sometimes he would go 6 months without an issue and then BAHM...bucking after the jumps. I finally ended up selling him before I got seriously injured. It takes me a while to trust a new horse either on the ground or under saddle. One thing that my trainer will do if I am riding a new horse is she will get on first and do all the things that I might do (fall on their neck after a jump, lose a stirrup, fall off, lose my balance) I even had her test out the crop and spurs on my new horse before I tried them. seeing that my horse didn't react with her eases the tenseness some.

                                Maybe you can have your trainer get on and ask for the canter how you think you might and see how the horse reacts. Also as mentioned before maybe start on the lunge line until you get the feel and get more comfortable
                                The Love for a Horse is just as Complicated as the Love for another Human being, If you have never Loved a Horse you will Never Understand!!!


                                • #17
                                  try studying mindfulness meditation to deal with fear. Its also called Mindfulness based stress reduction. Really helped me! Its more of a passive process of change rather then a "take the bull by the horns" process.

                                  Also what is key for me: a trusted trainer, knowing when i can push myself using my intuition, and getting a horse that I am very well suited to.

                                  baiscally I realize i may always have fear of some sort, my goal is to work with it and still enjoy my riding. Part of mindfulness is acceptance and also not judging feelings as good/bad.

                                  Also regarding the cantering issue-- I bought a horse with a fantastic canter who is very ridable. I find I love cantering now and can sit much better. Yes, have had to push myself to canter in the beginning but now its my favorite thing to do.


                                  • #18
                                    also, its taken me almost a year to get comfortable pushing my new horse so be patient. Good luck!


                                    • #19
                                      Love when the Crone appears!

                                      Here is my story: Grey Horse Finds His Courage: an essay on horse and rider confidence and the creation of bad habits

                                      Four years later, Grey Horse and I now gallop carefree through hayfields and have recently even begun to jump some stuff


                                      • #20
                                        Crone- that is my story exactly, even to the 35 years. Sometimes you just have to invent a new reason for riding and go with those pleasures instead of the ones that used to motivate you.
                                        To the initial poster, don't beat yourself up. Do what's fun. If the other stuff becomes possible, great, and if not, you still can have a great relationship with a horse.