ID MyHorse

Fearful in the Saddle? (Part 2)

Straddle Your Steed With Self-Confidence!

I spent an enjoyable couple of months sewing very girlie hobby horses for 3 of my granddaughters. The stick horses came complete with a matching Western cowgirl vest with a heart applique. The older two have already been on a horse, mine among others.

My daughter called me recently and told me she was (at least temporarily) pulling the girls from gymnastics and enrolling them in riding lessons. The older two took some lessons from my Kansas trainer, but they now live in Wisconsin. My daughter wanted to know that she was choosing the right instructor, so I called the gal she planned on using. I asked the instructor about her goals, methods, and philosophy. I really liked what I heard.

She will start my granddaughters off with a pony befitting their size. They will do grooming and some ground work, learning about developing a relationship with the pony. Next, she will put them on a lunge line where they can learn balance and a proper seat. Whereas this instructor can ready them for a show career, that is not her primary focus. She is very interested in giving them a proper foundation for a future of equine enjoyment.

How to LOOK but not how to RIDE

I had many lessons as a child. My instructor was showing at Madison Square Garden when she was still in single digits. Showing was the focus. Sadly, I learned more about how to keep my heels down, toes in, and head up than I did about how to really relate to my horse. If he needed a correction, she’d tell me what to do and I could do it, but I didn’t really understand what I was doing.

Eventually, I moved away from that barn. Within 6 months, my “relationship” with my horse had fallen apart. That’s because we didn’t really have a relationship! A man who had been helping my previous instructor took me under his wing. He had been a stable sergeant in the Army for decades. I used to say he had forgotten more about horses than most people knew.

Essentially, he started me over. He helped me to understand feel, something that really can’t be taught. Ultimately, I showed against my former trainer at the State Fair and actually beat her! My high school horse was not an expensive mount. If we placed, we did so on merit, not a beautiful Arabian head! We had become a team and that is why we were successful.

I waited a lot of tables to save enough money to buy that tailor-made burgundy English riding habit. My dad made a point of telling me he had never owned a tailor-made suit!

I have continued to take lessons in my adult life. There is always so much to learn, and I want to be the best rider I can be. We are all on a continuum. It is not a competition, but it is a self-journey. The goal is to get better every day. It doesn’t matter what discipline you enjoy, just try and consistently improve and deepen your relationship with and appreciation of your horse.

A different horse, or a different rider?

I bought my Arabian, Kadeen, 11 years ago. I wrote extensively about my journey with him in a 5-part series. At one point, we were doing so poorly together that I was convinced I had the wrong horse. I decided to sell him and set out to find the “right” horse. I very quickly realized that I had an amazing horse at home… the problem was me! Consequently, I ramped up my efforts to improve my riding and my understanding of my horse.

There was a recent thread on one of the Facebook groups I follow. A gal posted that she had purchased a new horse a month ago. She was struggling with him. He was behaving similarly to her previous horse, which is why she had sought a replacement for that first horse. She described her new horse’s “naughty” behaviors. Truly, there was clear evidence of a real disconnect between the two of them. And that disconnect dramatically raised her chances of getting hurt, as well as being fearful in the saddle.

My immediate response was to focus on the possibility that he really was a “naughty” horse. As I mentioned last week, we all see things through our own lens. I spent two years on Finn, a horse I also wrote about in past blogs. (Part One and Part Two.) He simply was not the right horse for the discipline I enjoyed… trail riding. Ultimately, I sold him to a guy who defused bombs for a living! Apparently, they are doing great, and even enjoying some trail riding. But Finn was not right for me and he DID make me fear for my safety.

Several other readers of the thread pointed out to me that the original poster had only spent a month trying to get to know her new horse. They also pointed out that she was the common denominator of two different horses that didn’t work out… Truthfully, I put two years of hard work into Finn before I cried Uncle. I spent enough time with him to finally take my blinders off and see that he was never going to be happy as the lead horse going down the trail. And I wasn’t going to be happy with a horse afraid of a potential bear behind every tree…


I had intended to enumerate some of the suggestions for getting over your fear in the saddle. However, so many of them boil down to the absolute necessity of having a relationship with your horse. And like any relationship, that takes time, and effort, and commitment. And knowledge! So maybe, if you are struggling to feel comfortable doing whatever it is that you are doing with your equine buddy, you could seriously benefit from some professional help.

Riding lessons can take place in a more controlled environment. (More on controlling your environment next week, and hopefully some of those suggestions I promised!) Lessons can improve your balance, and improve your understanding of how to react when your horse does something, either positive or negative. Knowledge is power, and when you know more, you feel more in control of what you are doing.

Fear after a wreck is a different thing, as opposed to fear because you never really felt comfortable to start with. Next week I really will get to some concrete ideas. For instance, have you ever heard of EMDR? See you next week!

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