Aug 12, 2009

Fear and the Rider

This will be only the first in a long and ongoing series revolving around fear and horseback riding -- my own personal fears, my struggles with reconciling those fears with being a successful rider and instructor, my coping mechanisms, my experiences with fellow riders and trainers and their attempts to belittle / undermine me for having these problems, my disbelief at finding few texts willing to address fear and riding, and, foremost, my empathy for fearful students, which has resulted in some very successful methods to help conquer their own personal demons. All of this probably sounds self-helpy, but hopefully that will prove to be farthest from the truth. Let me say it now: I do not find that visualizing a good ride will ensure that I have a good ride. Repeating positive statements to myself do not, in fact, boost my self-confidence and create positive endorphins. Maybe I have more than my share of skepticism at such methods or maybe I just believe that, at least in my case, my fears and anxieties have taken such a deep hold on me that positive-thinking is about the last thing that is going to have any effect on me.

Anyway, my hope is just to challenge a lot of what is fundamentally wrong about how we think about, speak about and teach horseback riding. But first, I want to spend the remainder of this post making a few confessions / declarations:

- I have been riding all my life and yet there are many a day when just the prospect of mounting a horse has struck me with a paralyzing, incapacitating fear. I can remember having a particularly bad day in which the best I could do was walk around the arena a couple of times, mounted, and then call it day.

- I am an excellent rider with great talent and exceptional feel, but my trials with overcoming fear have: caused me to consider myself worthless in comparison to other instructors, lost me many an opportunity to further my riding education, and caused many of my peers (and people whom I considered friends) to call me a 'pussy,' stupid, weak and that, more generally, I didn't really want success enough if I wasn't willing to overmount myself.

To add insult to injury, I do not, nor have I ever, shied away from saying, "No, I don't feel confident / strong enough to ride that horse,' or ' You know what? This may seem silly to you, but I'm too scared to do that right now.' But years of experience with this have taught me that people do not perceive knowing your limits as a strength, but a major fault in your character. To this day I have never, ever heard uttered from a professional rider's mouth, the words 'I am afraid.' In equestrian culture this is taboo. I think this is patently absurd and by making these declarations, I hope it will, at the very least, open a dialogue. Maybe a few people will recognize themselves in my own experiences and if I can help just one person, that would be worth it. And if that one person is only myself, well so be it...


lovedbytwohorses said...

I could not agree with you more. I wish I would have spoken up and said that I was afraid 4 months ago...would not have broken my leg in multiple places, surgery, and I am still on crutches today. I learned my lesson the hard way. People who say you are "weak" or call you names are not the people you want as friends, mentors, etc...

dressagerider said...

I commend you for posting about your fear. It's more common then people think especially with adult riders. I think others will find your series beneficial and feel reassured that they aren't alone.

I've also had days where I've refused to ride a certain horse, jump, canter, etc. I feel that it's important to listen to my gut and it may only be a self-confidence thing but why risk it?

It's a very real fear and shouldn't be ignored.