I started riding my mare when I was in my early 30s. I first took lessons on her, and I was nervous to canter because of some falls. Then I started free leasing her. My nervousness moved to fear because I didn't have the safety net of an instructor there to talk me through things. Sometimes I would be so nervous driving to the barn to ride on my own I'd be white-knuckled on the steering wheel and doing deep breathing exercises to try to bring my racing heart back in line. I have no idea why. Intellectually, I knew that doing anything around the horse when I was acting like a tiger was about to eat me was completely counter-productive. But emotionally, I couldn't get a handle on it. Having and working with this horse was something I wanted to do SO MUCH, yet I had never felt that apprehensive about anything else since I can remember.
Early on, I was very worried about bridling my horse (not others, just mine. Makes no sense, right?). She would toss her head a little bit, and my mind immediately raced to her bolting away from me, dragging the tack, getting tangled in it and falling, breaking her leg while also causing an accident in the parking lot. Seriously. Not rationale fears. In the first few months I leased her, I had my arm up around her neck/over her poll to bridle, and she threw her head up and caught me by surprise, actually lifting me off my feet. Looking back, I think that scared her as much as she scared me, and she immediately threw her head down, which caused me to land hard on my knees, which hurt like you can imagine. That about sent me over the edge because it confirmed my fears of bridling. For a few weeks, I would only ride when I knew there was someone else there that could help me put the bridle on. Then I just sort of decided I was being ridiculous. I saw small children at the barn bridling horses all the time. Nothing terrible happened. That sort of snapped me out of it.
I repeated conquering these irrational fears through all the ho-hum daily horse ownership chores: catching her in the field, riding alone at the trot & canter, riding on trails in a group, and finally, riding on trails alone (I needed a whole journal here on HF to get through that one!!
). But all along, I just kept thinking that having this horse of my own was literally a life-long dream, so I needed to have healthy sense of self-preservation while trusting my horse and myself. I bought a horse that was appropriate to my skill level and generally sensible and honest, so I needed to stop worrying about the things that were very, very unlikely to happen. Once I did that, I started having a lot more fun, which caused me to carry myself with more confidence, which caused my horse to trust me more- it was all a big self-fulfilling prophecy.
Like many have said, I think for me, it was just repetition and time. And conquering small things successfully. Now, over 4 years into owning her, I can laugh at my early fears and also realize how much progress I've made. And I still feel incredibly lucky to have [and enjoy] her!