How do I overcome fear issues? - The Horse Forum
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  • 1 Post By sharon1927
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post #1 of 9 Old 06-12-2020, 09:39 PM Thread Starter
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How do I overcome fear issues?

I am 50 years old and have been riding for 15 years. I have tons of experience in the ring but have never been very adventurous. I am not a total "hot house flower" who has never ridden outside the indoor arena, and I used to have my own farm until last fall when my husband and I sold it and relocated to Florida. I used to gallop my Thoroughbred across the wide open fields on our property and it was exhilarating. But as far as going on trail rides in unfamiliar places or exploring the world on horseback, I can probably count on one hand how many times I've done anything like that.

I lost my beloved Thoroughbred to cancer in early February and I've had pretty significant fear issues ever since then. I really don't know what happened. An instructor said it's because I lost my long time partner, and even though I have a new horse now who is very classy, pretty laid back, and for the most part very well behaved, I guess it's the fear of the unknown. I have ridden through a few spooks on him so far - a couple very minor and one a bit scary - and I managed to stay in the saddle and continue on with my rides each time. But when I try to venture outside the riding ring, my hands are sweating and I feel panic coming on. I hate myself for feeling like this! Like I said, I have never been the super adventurous type, but the thought of riding my new horse at a walk down an unfamiliar trail makes me incredibly nervous. Any suggestions? The barn where I board is very empty and very quiet - which is a wonderful thing most times - but the downside is that there is no one to ride with. I think I would feel more willing to try something new if I had another rider on an older, bomb proof horse leading the way. I have been taking lessons off site from an instructor who specializes in overcoming fear and anxiety issues and the lessons are helping tremendously, but they are one one of her lesson horses. The barn I board at doesn't allow outside trainers and I don't own a trailer so I can't take my own horse to the instructor's facility.
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post #2 of 9 Old 06-13-2020, 12:07 AM
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Sorry for the loss of your old, trusted steed. It's such a priveilege to ride a trusted horse, one you know won't do anything majorly 'stupid'.


You know, I wouldn't worry about it too much. I always say it takes at the absolute bare minimum 6 months to even START to get to know a horse. at one year, you will feel much better


In the meantime, riding with a companion will help so much with fear. Hang in there!
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post #3 of 9 Old 06-13-2020, 01:05 AM
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Hi,

After a lifetime of riding anything & everything, training other people's horses, confident as... my brain went to mush after I had kids, and I got so bad I couldn't even THINK of throwing a leg over my horse without getting the shakes. And I beat myself up over how stupid I was too. Finally got over it, but I had to forget what I 'should' have been able to do, for starters.

How? Baby steps. Treat yourself as you would a scared horse or child, and don't 'throw yourself in the deep end' or berate yourself for what you 'should' be able to do. Instead, don't even consider doing stuff that makes you more than mildly uncomfortable for now, & get blase about that, before asking a little more of yourself. Make a point of not even considering doing anything far outside your comfort zone, but 'push' that zone, gradually, in small chunks. In that way, you will get more practice at feeling comfortable & relaxed & in control, so you'll get better, more automatic about it.
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post #4 of 9 Old 06-13-2020, 03:52 AM
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I keep repeating this, but fear and anxiety arenít some malfunction of the brain. They are a crucial mechanism which keeps us alive and they come from an ancient part of our brains. Your brain is telling you that there are too many unknowns about this horse for your not-so-young body to heal from. (No offense meant, I am close to your age).

I was very similar, and still am on new horses. I just took a very long time to get to know my horse and slowly, slowly she gained my trust. There are still some situations in which I donít ride (at night, in high winds, on ice...). Just take your time and donít push yourself. If you do flood your brain it will take even longer.

Seriously, there are some facts of life that we struggle to really accept. Older bodies get broken much more easily and take much longer to heal. There is a greater chance of catastrophic failure than in young people. (And our brains know it, deep down - hence the fear). My first instructor is 58 and fears nothing. She is breaking and training TBs for races. And barely has a fully functioning limb. She got injured more in the last 3 years than in her whole life combined. This is a reality and there is no use hand-waving it away. Take it slowly. If the horse turns out not to be suitable, get a new one.
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post #5 of 9 Old 06-13-2020, 05:03 AM
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for your not-so-young body to heal from. (No offense meant, I am close to your age).
Wait... I unconsciously registered OP was a lot older than me. Then I read that... then I looked again at OP's age. And realised I'm... 27V this year! What happened to the last 20 years??!!
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post #6 of 9 Old 06-13-2020, 02:50 PM
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Give yourself permission to turn back. Or even to get off.

Sometimes leading instead of riding can make you feel safer about your horse, giving you an idea of how he might react to things.

Be kind to yourself. You want to survive, after all.
(Some day you will think, as I do now, "Oh, if I were only just 50 again!")
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post #7 of 9 Old 06-16-2020, 09:18 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you everyone. Your responses and suggestions helped a lot. Tinyliny, I love what you said about it taking at least six months to start to know a new horse. It has not even been three months with my new gelding. He is really a good horse and is for the most part a mellow guy. I have no complaints with him. I know that sometimes I am not the most confident leader, so I need to work on that. But with each ride or groundwork session, things get better and better.

Loosie, thanks for the suggestion of taking baby steps and pushing just a little bit out of my comfort zone gradually. It kind of gave me permission to be proud of my small victories - like riding him at a walk down an unfamiliar trail - even if it is only 20 or 30 yards and we turn around and come back to the ring. I tried that yesterday and repeated the pattern several times: a few minutes in the outdoor ring, then a little jaunt partway down the trail, then back to the ring, then a little bit farther down the trail, and so on.

Horsef, you make very valid points. Sometimes I forget how old I am! haha

Beling, I took your advice the other day. Instead of riding my horse down a new trail with horse pastures on both sides, I opted to hand walk him down the trail and back. He was a perfect gentleman, which certainly makes me feel better about riding him down that trail in the near future.
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post #8 of 9 Old 06-17-2020, 03:22 AM
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Originally Posted by sharon1927 View Post
It kind of gave me permission to be proud of my small victories - like riding him at a walk down an unfamiliar trail - even if it is only 20 or 30 yards
Yes! Not just permission to not do something & not feel stupid about it, but permission to reward yourself, YES!! You DO deserve it! In the distant past, I studied behavioural psych & learned just how important positive reinforcement(reward) is to *attitude* modification, even if it's from yourself. Apparently the top sports players & the like often visualise doing a good shot & saying 'great shot Bob' - sounds silly, but it's been shown to work.

Once on a trail ride, when I was just... getting my mojo back, my horse shied - just a little one, that previously I would have laughed about, but it was a real achievement that I didn't loose my stuffing over it. I said an enthusiastic 'Good girl!!' and my riding partner laughed & said 'You goose, you're riding a gelding!' I had to explain I was saying that for ME not him.
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post #9 of 9 Old 06-17-2020, 04:44 AM
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Originally Posted by sharon1927 View Post

Horsef, you make very valid points. Sometimes I forget how old I am! haha
We are not old, we just have a lot experience being young :)

50 isn't properly old but it does require some ongoing calibration to our risk assessments.
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