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Advice to give to a nervous rider who is starting to want to ride again

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  • Advice to give to a nervous rider who is starting to want to ride again

    I guess I could say this is a friend of a friend (who has become my friend) who shall remain anonymous, we will call her L.

    L owns a horse. A Warmblood cross of some sort who is between the ages of 8-10 IIRC. Said horse isn't green as grass but isn't exactly a schoolmaster either, but he seems honest. However, L hasn't ridden her horse in around 6 months. I've been going up to her barn to ride him when I can and her other friend rides this horse as well.

    L and I got to chatting the other day and she admitted to not riding the horse for quite some time and said that she is very nervous to do so. She doesn't seem nervous around him on the ground or doing ground work, though. I think it's just an in the saddle issue.

    I am not sure what advice to give her instead of get on him and ride. She's says that she wants to but is afraid of getting on top of him, freezing with nerves, getting him nervous and just freaking them both out.

    He's never really done anything 'bad' and L recognizes that. I think he just feeds off of her nerves. She commented that her worst fear is dismounting. In the past she had gotten nervous aboard the horse and went to dismount and instead of stopping he would quicken his pace which often ended up with her rolling off of him at the canter (that's how she put it). So it sounds like she's afraid of being to nervous, getting him worked up and not being able to get herself out of the situation safely.

    I think she'd be terrified of riding him in open space so I mentioned that she could start riding in the arena.

    I am not exactly a nervous rider and am looking for more advice to give her. Maybe anecdotes from other COTH'rs, a book to read, etc.

    I just want her to be able to ride her horse again. I know she really loves this horse but is just so gosh darn nervous.

    I recommended lessons and she's thinking about getting back into that again but she just feels that she wants to ride but the minute she gets on his back she'll be overwhelmed with nerves.

    Should she get her confidence back on him? Or another horse first then move to him?

    Just looking for some suggestions to help her out.

  • #2
    Lessons with someone who knows how to handle fear issues. If she hasn't ridden in six months she'd likely blown it up in her head to huge proportions.

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    • #3
      I would get her Sally Swift's book "Centered Riding." The exercises did me a LOT of good when my thoroughly burned out Old OTTB and I were just nervous wrecks with each other. He wasn't BAD, just hot, and the "get on and jump and if he pulls put on the draw reins, flash, standing martingale, pelham, etc*" method of my old trainer was not working. New trainer was a Centered Riding trainer and she worked a LOT with us on basic confidence-building and feeling...well, centered, secure, and calm, and when I was calm, it made him much calmer.

      And yeah, if there's a BTDT schoolmaster around she could work with, also a good plan. When it was clear I was a total wreck, my new trainer put me on the therapeutic program's oldest, most bomb-proof animal and kept me on the longe line for the first couple lessons just so I could readjust to not having panic attacks while riding.

      *Yes, I know these can all be legitimate tools. Heck, I have New OTTB in the pelham as he seems to need a little something different bitwise (it's also the only mullen mouth I have and he seems to much prefer it to the jointed bit.) But NOT as a solution to every single problem, and not all at once!
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      • #4
        what part of MA ? I could recommend some trainers. she could have a lunge lesson, that might help. or work with a riding sports psychologist ? I can recommend the fantastic Doris Worcester in Central MA.

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        • #5
          PM sent!

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          • #6
            Originally posted by ThoroughbredFancy View Post
            She commented that her worst fear is dismounting. In the past she had gotten nervous aboard the horse and went to dismount and instead of stopping he would quicken his pace which often ended up with her rolling off of him at the canter (that's how she put it). So it sounds like she's afraid of being to nervous, getting him worked up and not being able to get herself out of the situation safely.




            Should she get her confidence back on him? Or another horse first then move to him?

            Just looking for some suggestions to help her out.
            Wow, an HR topic I can actually comment on. Thank you!

            Is her fear related to only that horse, or any horse? Has she ridden any other horses since? If not, riding a safe lesson horse could help. It definitely helped me.

            I disagree with the lunging lesson as a categorical suggestion. That really depends. You have to have at least a little confidence in yourself, the horse or full trust in the trainer to lunge successfully. As the wife of a cde driver, I have only moderate trust in the capacity of a string of leather to control a ton of animal. [Nope, not gonna navigate, not gonna drive, no, never. Well, maybe, but I'll need a shot of something the first time.]

            If it's only that horse, the problem isn't just her nerves, but that she fell off or whatever euphemism she used. So, she isn't trusting herself. How about a little dismounting, just at the halt, with someone heading the horse?

            Basically, some behavior modification therapy. Do things that are scary at a level that is comfortable until they get boring, and then push the envelope a little bit. After it works at the halt, walk and then stop and dismount.

            You don't say anything about her riding ability overall. Is she experienced and just freaked about this horse?

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            • Original Poster

              #7
              She's located in Western MA, think Hadley/Northampton area.

              dizzywriter,

              Her fear seems related to getting on any horse. It might be a little stronger toward her horse but I think she'd be nervous regardless.

              She hasn't ridden any horses since. I don't know that there are any real bomb proof horses at her barn (well, there might be but I haven't really looked into it). I'll see if I can get her to take lessons somewhere. There are a lot of instructors and facilities around so if anyone else has any suggestions on trainers/locations feel free to chime in.

              Perhaps working with the horse and taking it slow might be alright. I've never asked her if she'd sit on him at the halt with me at his head.

              I just wish I could erase part of her memory, lol. I just know, from talking to her, that she's going to get on and immediately think of the negative situations she's been in on the horse. Granted they weren't terrible but they're still negative in her mind.

              I've just recently become friends with this rider but I knew of her previously. She's been riding since she was very young and used to be a VERY confident rider. She did jumpers and eventing. I saw her a lot around the local scene ans she always did well at competitions and looked to be a strong rider. She's just in a rut right now that I'd like to see her come out of.

              She doesn't want to part with this horse and wants to be back to riding him again. I guess it's a good sign that she's wanting to, it's just a matter of curing that mental block she has.

              I'm going to see the horse today and she might be around and I'll see if I can get into the subject a little more.

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              • #8
                I was afraid to ride after breaking my ankle (not a horse related accident). But I just didn't have any confidence in the strength in my leg, and was very timid. I trailered my Arabian gelding to a local instructor and took weekly dressage lessons on him in her arena. I also rode a couple of her school horses while my horse was recouperating from surgery, and built up my confidence gradually. I think I was so concentrating on what I was told to do that I forgot about being nervous and scared. This really worked for me, so I also suggest working with a trainer that she trusts, on her own horse if possible.
                stained glass groupie
                www.equiglas.com

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                • #9
                  Jane Savoie

                  Have her check out Jane Savoie's web site for tips about rider fear, also Jane's book "It's Not Just About the Ribbons" has some fantastic mental exercises to do to conquer fear. Ask me how I know, lol.
                  Last edited by kch7238; Mar. 12, 2010, 12:28 PM. Reason: oops misspelling

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                  • #10
                    I have a book at home I'll have to dig up (because I can't remember the title off the top of my head) that spends a lot of time talking about riders and the mental blocks we can have. There was definitely a section regarding this sort of fear and things one can do to mitigate it.
                    The Trials and Jubilations of a Twenty-Something Re-rider
                    Happy owner of Kieran the mostly-white-very-large-not-pony.

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                    • #11
                      The longe not working really depends on how she views the fear, which is a very personal thing and not rational at all! For me--sure, realistically, the longe line did very little if the horse I was on had decided to do something stupid. But MENTALLY, that gave me a link to the trainer. It was my 'training wheels', so to speak. Plus I was on the world's most placid schoolie, who really was not going to do much of anything she didn't have to, for the first couple lessons. Heck, just having someone hold him while she mounts and dismounts will not, realistically, prevent an accident--but it might make her feel better. If the horse really isn't especially dangerous or tricky to ride, then it's not so much about the lesson/therapy ACTUALLY taking away risk as her PERCIEVING it as a lower-risk situation.
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by ThoroughbredFancy View Post

                        Perhaps working with the horse and taking it slow might be alright. I've never asked her if she'd sit on him at the halt with me at his head.

                        I just wish I could erase part of her memory, lol.
                        She can't erase a memory by trying. But she can replace that bad memory with new, positive memories by trying baby steps. Start with something as simple as just saddling up a few times. Mount, sit, dismount with someone at the head. Keep doing it until it's comfortable.

                        If she's an experienced rider, she's probably also angry and frustrated with herself. And perhaps embarrassed. Confidence is invisible until you lose it.

                        But that kind of anxiety loop is very well treated with behavior modification therapy. It's a standardized technique. I recommend it highly. If she can find a trainer who practices it, that would be best. But she can do a lot of it herself with the help of friends.

                        I can really sympathize. Let us know how it goes.

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                        • #13
                          I had irrational fears that kept me out of the saddle for about 10 years. It was so upsetting and sad to stay away from the one thing that I loved, I decided to just "suck it up." I started by tiny things that I thought I could handle, like walk around the ring five times. Itty bitty baby steps are the most important thing. Next time you're riding him, ask if she would like to cool him off while you lead him. He'll be tired and out of energy, and she won't have to commit to more than 10 minutes. NEVER push her to do more than she's ready to do. The more time she spends in the saddle, she'll realize that she can do it without a major accident happening. Keep looking for easy ways that she can succeed!
                          Kelly
                          Zimpatico - 21 year old Hanoverian

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                          • Original Poster

                            #14
                            I'll recommend the books that were mentioned to her.

                            I met with her the other day when I was up riding her horse and she said she might try and take lessons elsewhere on a school horse. We went over some possible locations for her to do so. I think she might want to get some of her confidence back in lessons on a school horse then transition back to her horse. Which, I think is a fine way of going about it.

                            After I rode him, I asked her if she wanted to sit on him and cool him out and she looked like she wanted to for a moment but then declined. I didn't want to push the subject but threw it out there anyway.

                            I plan on riding him on Tuesday and told her I have a tight schedule that day and asked her if she could groom him, tack him and walk him around the arena (on the ground) for me so I could just get there and hop on. She seemed willing to do that. So that's a small step, just having her tack him up and hand walk him.

                            So, we'll see where she ends up lesson wise. I can tell she wants to, which is good. I know she has to be frustrated because she was a great rider when she used to ride regularly. She has just taken a major blow to her confidence. She's very knowledgeable and a great rider like I said, so I think one day, she'll get back in the saddle.

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                            • #15
                              Booze.

                              LOL

                              Seriously? Get her on a horse who she has no experience with but has a stellar track record. A nice steady eddy. She has it in her head that this horse is CAPABLE of hurting her.

                              Let her build up some experience on another horse WHILE riding WITH the current horse if possible. Let her see some positive rides while she has some of her own.

                              That would be my vote.
                              A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

                              Might be a reason, never an excuse...

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                              • #16
                                Originally posted by dizzywriter View Post
                                She can't erase a memory by trying. But she can replace that bad memory with new, positive memories by trying baby steps. Start with something as simple as just saddling up a few times. Mount, sit, dismount with someone at the head. Keep doing it until it's comfortable.

                                If she's an experienced rider, she's probably also angry and frustrated with herself. And perhaps embarrassed. Confidence is invisible until you lose it.

                                This last paragraph really rings true for me- when I started riding regularly again, I was seriously embarrassed by how nervous I was. I have been riding since I was six years old; I was the 'go-to-girl' for nervous riders who needed someone to work through their horses issues, the test pilot for new, unknown quantity acquisitions, etc. It was humiliating to be frightened riding a gentle schoolie on a trail ride, and I didn't really discuss it with anyone because of that.

                                I'm still a much more nervous rider than I was but opening a dialogue about both my fear and embarrassment was a life saver. Other things that have helped me greatly- being very gentle with myself as far as my expectations for a ride. If my horse seemed hot and snorty, or I was just not feeling terribly confident on a given day, I'd set a goal to walk once around the ring. That's it. I built up from there- the next time she was UP, I might walk once around the ring, dismount and hand walk a bit, and then maybe get back on for another lap. Next time, add a trot lap. Repeat and increase as it feels comfortable.

                                I started riding with an Ipod turned down pretty low- when my brain started to get the better of me, I tune into the music, sing along, whatever, and focus on that, which made it impossible for me to get my mind going a bazillion miles an hour with things that might go wrong.

                                I also started using a western saddle occasionally (gasp, the HORROR!) This accomplished two things for me- it felt slightly more secure than a pancake CC saddle, and it also really put me in a different mindset. Totally psychological but it works for me, sort of tricking myself into thinking this was just a casual plod around the ring, nothing to get all excited about, which helped the ride become a casual plod around the ring with nothing to get all excited about. We weren't riding today to accomplish a training goal; no building up for a test or show, just doing this for fun.

                                Best of luck to your friend. It's sort of remarkable to wake up one morning and discover that you are no longer a fearless rider, but sudden-onset-excessive-self-preservation syndrome doesn't have to be the end of a riding career. It's good of you to help her.
                                bar.ka think u al.l. susp.ect
                                free bar.ka and tidy rabbit

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                                • #17
                                  I would recommend that she see a sports psychologist. They can also help determine if she should/could see a doctor for anti-anxiety meds.

                                  I have had a few students who had severe fear issues and anxiety about riding and as sympathetic as I am, and as much research as I did on the subject... they really needed professional help. She sounds like she is having a lot more fear than the average person might experience.

                                  In fact, I encourage ALL OF YOU who have said that you are afraid to ride and it is stopping you to consult w/a doctor or psychologist. It's a shame to stop riding because of fear.. some fear is natural, it's a dangerous sport - but when you are paralyzed by it, you need help. Good luck to all of you.
                                  "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
                                  ---
                                  The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.

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