Confession: I’m not scared to ride horses.
Referring to myself as a timid rider results in a few different reactions. Certainly, admitting this to others leaves me open to comments, opinions, and rarely even derision. The most common reaction is others assuming I don’t know how to ride a horse, something which I find incredibly frustrating. I have ridden it all: spooks, bucks, rears, bolts, quick horses, slow and stubborn horses. I have the skills to ride. And yet when I refer to myself as timid the response is an assumption I’m afraid or don’t know how to control a horse.
Being timid can actually be a very good thing. More, we should be proud. Why? Because we are aware, cautious, and open to being a partner to our horse. We are sensitive in the very best of ways.
I’m not timid in all situations and in fact my confidence has grown significantly with owning my own horse and building a solid relationship with him. He has taught me much and I’ve earned his respect. Many days I have confidence. Still, some days I vary between one of the following tenets of timidity.
Overthinking is a classic mannerism for many riders. That little voice in your head that doubts or worries. Am I doing the right thing for my horse? Is he stiff or lame? Do I look like a overweight beast in these breeches? These are just a few examples of a thought that may be bouncing around in our brains.
Riding often quiets my anxious thoughts and helps me to ground myself in the present moment. Occasionally anxiety pops up anyway. Many of us end up overthinking our riding lessons, dressage tests, or our own riding aids.
How do we prevent overthinking? What I find works for me is to do the following:
- Take a deep breath.
- Clear my mind of all negativity.
- Focus on the positive. Instead of imagining or thinking of bad things, I try to turn it around and focus on what I’m doing correctly. For example, instead of wondering if my leg is in the correct position I ask myself, is my horse moving off my leg properly? Am I effective? Then I adjust as needed and celebrate when I do something well.
If I simply cannot shut my brain off and give myself a break, then I reset. I leave the arena and take a trail ride or dismount and play horsemanship games. I choose to be a pleasure rider and I only have myself and my horse to please. That being said, even top-level competitors need a break. Haven’t you seen Charlotte Dujardin take Valegro aka Blueberry out on a hack?
The dreaded “what-if” scenario can create anxiety and be the downfall of every timid rider. Anticipating something that may or may not happen can in fact, cause it to happen with enough tension. Our horses read us easily. You may refer to yourself as a timid rider if you have thought any of the following:
- Will that cat jump out of the bushes at the same time my horse passes?
- Will my overthinking be too much and my horse react?
- Will my horse kick out if I ask for the canter.
- Will my horse buck if we attempt a flying lead change?
- Will my horse trailer ok?
- Will my horse do well with other horses?
As you can see, I tend to anticipate my horse having a reaction. This does both of us a disservice and the feeling is rarely correct. However, when channeled properly we can desensitize ourselves and our horses to build confidence. Despite my timidity, or perhaps because of it, I love to introduce new things and new situations. This allows my horse to become used to change and I can also see how he reacts and how quickly he becomes accustomed.
Clicker training, horsemanship, or other ground training tactics all provide useful tools to increase both our and our horse’s confidence.
Caution is one of the basic tenets of being a timid rider. I gladly admit to being careful, especially as I’ve grown and become a mother. By nature I am a planner and organizing keeps me from being too anxious in life and in the saddle. I often will visit the barn with a plan for a riding exercise in mind, then adjust as needed if my horse tells me he needs something else or the arena is too crowded.
Before moving to a new barn I researched how to transition a horse properly and talked to as many people as I could for advice. I asked about their experiences and I took as much care as possible so I would be prepared for any eventuality- which of course, occurred.
A recent example of my careful behavior is our first trail ride at the new barn. I didn’t just jump into it and expect it all to go well. I don’t work like that. For several days I acclimated Ferrous to his new surroundings. We explored at a hand walk, then progressed to lunging in the indoor, and then in the round pen. The night before the trail ride, I backed him first and we did some exercises in the indoor arena to give him a good canter and get some of his energy out. The morning of the hack we were ready and had set ourselves (but especially me) up for success. Some at the barn would likely have thought I put too much thought into it, or laughed at my preparation. But that’s okay. I’m a careful rider. My horse and I had a successful ride and that is all that matters to me.
For me, this is my biggest hurdle, letting go of control. Timid riders often find that it is not injury we fear most, but the loss of control that then results in the injury. So we overcompensate and try to control our horses too much, causing increased tension, and inevitably leading to the vary thing we feared.
For a long time my biggest fear was getting hurt in front of my children. Then in 2018, after a simple canter gone wrong, I flew through the air landing hard and breaking multiple ribs, while bruising a lung. I was laid out flat on the ground with my trainer and the horse above me. Before I knew it, my daughters came running. My biggest fear had been realized. On a funny note, they could care less about my fall but were searching for gum. After all the worry, my worst fear realized. It gave me a certain freedom. Three weeks later I was riding again, although not nearly as assertive as I had been. My confidence was shaken and I didn’t want to risk a repeat. I was being too careful and too controlling, and it wasn’t good for my horse. I didn’t trust him or myself.
I often have to tell myself to relax and give my horse a little room to make mistakes, or to give me a chance to trust him.
5. AVOIDING JUDGEMENT
It is a fact well known that equestrians have opinions. A lot of opinions. As a timid rider I recognize that I am more tense when others are watching, even my trainer. I ride better when I am alone. I resent unsolicited opinions and those calling out suggestions for my riding technique or offering up ideas for my horse and I to improve. This isn’t just common with equestrians but also with motherhood. You PTA parents probably know to what I’m referring. They often mean well but can do damage to our sensitive brains, which are often much more critical than an observer could ever be.
If I want an opinion I will take a lesson. Or I ask. The more someone gives me their unsolicited opinion, the more I go out of my way to be at the barn when they won’t be there. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially in those instances that the opinions are well meaning. However, as an introvert I am decidedly uncomfortable with confrontation. So telling someone that I am uncomfortable makes me much more tense.
I do not love to compete and thus feel no need to challenge myself in that way. The few schooling shows that I have done resulted in insomnia for a week beforehand, extreme nausea, and little fun. Decidedly not worth it in my opinion.
However, there are many that compete in dressage, showjumping, eventing and more that are timid riders and choose to accept the opinions, constructive criticism and more. They are truly strong and for them, the love of competition largely overrides this avoidance of judgement.
It is important to note that in no way do I refer to someone’s ability to ride. Ability has nothing to do with timidity. In many ways being timid can increase our focus, result in more progress, and set us and our horse up for success. Why? Because we are hyperaware. It is not uncommon for introverts to be timid riders.
Being a timid rider isn’t about being scared or fearful. It is okay to admit that we are cautious or careful. So, if you have done any of the above then I welcome you into our fold. It’s a good place to be and your horse may even thank you for thinking things through and taking your time. #beBold.