Of Horse

Created by Horse enthusiasts for Horse enthusiasts

Get your free account at Of Horse.

  • Vote

    for your favorite new posts
  • Publish

    your own original blog posts
  • Earn

    $15 for your posts voted to Top Posts
  • Sign Up!
Keep Calm and Ride On!
Facebook Tweet Google+ Pinterest Email More Sharing Options

Keep Calm and Ride On!

Last weekend I judged at a local unaffiliated dressage competition. The first horse in the arena was extremely tense and looked as though it would be more at home on the race track than in a dressage test. The poor rider did a very creditable job of hanging onto her horse for the duration of the test and remaining on board, but I couldn't help but think how nervous and tight she looked.

Many riders lose their nerve following an accident, a fall or some other unpleasant experience with their horse. Sometimes the old adage that you should "get straight back on" is not the best strategy. Give yourself plenty of time to recover. Riding is a hobby and it's supposed to be fun! If you don't feel confident enough to get back on today; there's always tomorrow.

Some people are naturally cautious. They worry about the "what if?" rather than enjoying the here and now. If you're one of those riders, try to have faith in your own ability to manage your horse and in him to do as you ask. Think about all the times you've ridden in the last few weeks. How many times did you come to grief? The good rides you had will almost always outweigh the bad.

It could be that the problem you have had is a regular occurrence. If this is the case, why risk a repeat performance? If you know that your horse always spooks in the same place and tries to run away with you every time you follow a certain route out hacking, simply pick another trail! I once had a horse who always spooked, dropped his shoulder and set off bucking around the arena until I fell off. This always happened in the outdoor school, never indoors. So, I simply avoided riding him outside until I found a way of overcoming the problem. There's no shame in avoiding the issue. Better to keep your confidence intact until you work out a solution than risk losing your nerve and allowing a naughty habit to become ingrained.

I've often heard riders say that they feel they are letting their horse down in some way and not allowing him to realise his full potential. A classic example was the girl who loved dressage but wasn't confident with jumping. Others on the yard persisted in telling her that her horse would make a great eventer and that she should "give him a chance to show what he can do". Eventually, she convinced herself that her horse was wasted on her and that she should sell him on to someone who would do more with him. What rubbish! The horse was perfectly happy progressing up the dressage grades and enjoying hacking out. He didn't care whether he jumped or not!

If your horse is inclined to be a stress-head, make sure you are relaxed yourself in all your dealings with him. He must learn to respect you and will take his lead from you as his "herd leader". Remember when you're riding that every action has a reaction. Make sure it's not you that spooks at something you've spotted in the hedge before your horse does!

Nervousness can create a vicious circle. Okay, your horse bolted with you and you fell off but if you get tense and tight every time you ride, he will too and it's much more likely that he'll run off with you again. You can break that cycle before it's too late and your enjoyment of riding is ruined.

Learn to control your breathing. This will help to control your nerves. Horses respond to fear by increasing their respiration rate. This in turn increases their uptake of oxygen. The heart rate increases too to pump the oxygenated blood (and the hormone adrenalin) around the muscles in readiness for flight. If your horse feels your breathing become quicker and shallower, and your heart starts hammering, his flight response will kick in. Take slow, deep breaths. Your body will relax and so will your horse. Make sure that your leg is closed softly and firmly around your horse and that you have a secure, elastic contact on his mouth. Your horse will then feel safe and secure between your leg and hand. Don't hold the rein too short and tight or grip with your leg. You will immediately transmit any tension or nerves straight to your horse. Your mind is a very powerful tool. Use it to drive your nerves away by thinking about something else. Try visualising yourself and your perfectly behaved horse executing a brilliant dressage test or cross country round. See every movement in your mind's eye. Think about how you would ride each exercise immaculately. Your mind will be so busy concentrating on the movie you are making in your head that it will forget all about making your nervous or frightened. Another very useful tactic to put your fears firmly in their place is to have a definite and clear plan of action before you ride. Decide on a sequence of exercises to ride and stick to it. Keep the session brief and don't just end up wandering around the arena worrying about what your horse is going to do. If you keep him busy he won't have time to think about being naughty and you won't have time to worry about it!

I hope you enjoyed my article. Please vote if you did and do feel free to comment!

Yes! Send me a full color horse trailer brochure from Featherlite.

Thanks! Your brochure will be on its way shortly.

Leave a Comment

  1. PonyGirl
    PonyGirl
    Nice blog. I've found that if I take a deep, slow breath or two, it will help settle a nervous horse I'm ponying even though I'm not nervous at all. They begin to match their breathing to mine, which in turn relaxes them.
    Log in to reply.
    1. autumnap
      autumnap
      Thank you kindly. x
      Log in to reply.
  2. jst4horses
    I must challenge this post. While a slightly nervous horse is one thing a horse that bucks until it gets you off is another. It is one of the biggest rifts with naturalhorsemanship to stay aboard. GET OFF and get that horse trained. If not getting your own neck broken, you could harm the horse or someone else. I used to have a young friend who thought it was really funny to tap his horse in a certain place that the horse hated, it would buck and buck and buck. He was a young paramedic and thought it was funny. That horse was used by a young girl who thought he was the nicest horsey. I thought what is going to happen one day if she happens to touch that place and the horse explodes. It happened, she got hurt, and she never rode again, because she was afraid. Horses who do not know it is not OK to change direction, speed, or altitude without permission are not trained and are not ready for the show arena, and I do not care how many award winning riders have that age old attitude of don't get down, ride it out. It is the ONE thing I have EVER seen Pat Parelli yell at someone for. A woman had a very hot thoroughbred, way too much horse for her experience, or ability, the horse was starting to act up, in a crowded arena of clinic riders, She was asked to get down, but did not, would not, and the horse got worse, she was told VERY sternly GET OFF THAT HORSE. There are reasons some of us have forty or more years of lessons and training with NO serious injuries to horse or human........this is an area where ground work is essential, and I was taught NEVER let a horse get away with bad behavior, it re-enforces it. This horse bucked in the inside arena, got away with it, the next time .......got away with it, and soon, the horse thinks that is the expectation. Also, the horse should not be telling riders what to do, or it is not trained. It is just tolerating, until it decides not to. That is not a trained horse or a safe one. Even the most amazingly trained horses have an off day, or surprise inside, but I really do not believe in the stay on and fight tradition. If that horse had to be ponied for ten hours inside with a rider and without, it should have been trained properly, before someone, or the horse itself was hurt. Sometimes this type of problem needs a professional horse trainer. Many riders, ribbons and awards aside, are riders, not horsemen or horsewomen, and not trainers.
    Log in to reply.
    1. autumnap
      autumnap
      Oh I absolutely agree! If in doubt, always get professional help. There's no shame in that at all and it's better for all concerned. This post was more about helping nervous riders overcome their fear and learn how to put themselves and consequently, their horses, at ease in situations which could be frightening. I don't think it's practical (or indeed sensible) to just get off your horse out hacking every time it spots something that might be slighly alarming. Horses learn very quickly how to avoid work. I had one that just took off round the arena because he knew that his rider would very quickly get off and put him away and another that would spook violently at nothing in the arena knowing that this frightened his rider who would then get off and put him away. He was bomb proof out hacking, oddly enough!
      Log in to reply.
  3. jst4horses
    I must challenge this post. While a slightly nervous horse is one thing a horse that bucks until it gets you off is another. It is one of the biggest rifts with naturalhorsemanship to stay aboard. GET OFF and get that horse trained. If not getting your own neck broken, you could harm the horse or someone else. I used to have a young friend who thought it was really funny to tap his horse in a certain place that the horse hated, it would buck and buck and buck. He was a young paramedic and thought it was funny. That horse was used by a young girl who thought he was the nicest horsey. I thought what is going to happen one day if she happens to touch that place and the horse explodes. It happened, she got hurt, and she never rode again, because she was afraid. Horses who do not know it is not OK to change direction, speed, or altitude without permission are not trained and are not ready for the show arena, and I do not care how many award winning riders have that age old attitude of don't get down, ride it out. It is the ONE thing I have EVER seen Pat Parelli yell at someone for. A woman had a very hot thoroughbred, way too much horse for her experience, or ability, the horse was starting to act up, in a crowded arena of clinic riders, She was asked to get down, but did not, would not, and the horse got worse, she was told VERY sternly GET OFF THAT HORSE. There are reasons some of us have forty or more years of lessons and training with NO serious injuries to horse or human........this is an area where ground work is essential, and I was taught NEVER let a horse get away with bad behavior, it re-enforces it. This horse bucked in the inside arena, got away with it, the next time .......got away with it, and soon, the horse thinks that is the expectation. Also, the horse should not be telling riders what to do, or it is not trained. It is just tolerating, until it decides not to. That is not a trained horse or a safe one. Even the most amazingly trained horses have an off day, or surprise inside, but I really do not believe in the stay on and fight tradition. If that horse had to be ponied for ten hours inside with a rider and without, it should have been trained properly, before someone, or the horse itself was hurt. Sometimes this type of problem needs a professional horse trainer. Many riders, ribbons and awards aside, are riders, not horsemen or horsewomen, and not trainers.
    Log in to reply.
  4. Tessa Logan
    This particular entry hits home with me. I just recently had an accident on my horse, which she spooked and threw me off and I broke my arm. I'm out of commission for riding for 3 mos. I am very anxious to get back on, but I know I will be very nervous when the time comes It is my own horse that threw me. We've only been riding together for about 8 mos. , but she is very skittish. I tend to be nervous when I'm on her b/c I never know what may set her off. We mainly do trail rides and would love for us both to be comfortable in our surroundings. Any advice??
    Log in to reply.
    1. Jane
      Could you walk her out in hand while you're out of action? If she gets more confident in the surroundings that way it could also boost your confidence to see her more settled. It may also improve your relationship so when you come to ride her again you are both more relaxed. If you can't lead her due to your broken arm maybe a friend could? If you have a horsy friend with a dog try trading off by volunteering to walk the dog if your friend leads your horse. Walk her in a bridle rather than a headcollar if you think she's liable to spook. Take time to let her look at things, approach scary things slowly and get comfortable with them. You don't have to walk the whole trail, you can start off with a short time and let her build up her confidence. I find that doing this with youngsters and very nervous horses can help build their confidence not only in their own surroundings but in subsequent situations, especially if they build trust in you. If anyone you know has a quiet horse than can accompany you, that can be a help both when you're walking her in hand and when you start riding her out again. If walking her out in hand is not an option, are there ways that you can introduce some scary things at home? Dogs, lawnmowers, bicycles, prams, plastic bags- anything you can think of that will be a challenge. Obviously you might want to remove the baby from the pram temporarily lol! Can you get the horse lorry running and let her have a walk around the outside of it? When she settles with that get someone to get in and rev it up a bit. Do whatever you can think of but make sure you introduce things slowly so that you're building her confidence as you go. A number of years ago I helped a friend break a horse that didn't mind the weight in the saddle but freaked out with any kind of movement. You could barely twitch without him losing the plot. We tied a plastic bag to either side of a roller and turned him loose in the arena. He couldn't hurt himself, they would just tear if they caught on anything but it did the trick just perfect. Try to identify if there's a particular thing (or multiple things) that bothers your horse. Unexpected or loud noise, sudden movement, feeling hemmed in, varying surfaces underfoot (including water), other animals- or all of the above! You can begin to address all of those at home in some way if you can't walk her out. Tie a couple of plastic bags to the arena fence that will blow about and rattle, maybe add some brightly coloured balloons too. Turn her out there and maybe feed her there. If there is a more experienced or more confident person who could ride her while you're out of action that might help to build her confidence and get some schooling in too. I didn't intend to write an essay (sorry!) but I hope some of this is helpful. Working with your horse on the ground is a huge part of relationship building and confidence boosting for both of you so the time off from riding might not be such a bad thing!
      Log in to reply.
      1. Tessa Logan
        You've included lots of valuable information that I plan on trying. I usually ride with my husband, who is very experienced, which always makes me feel more comfortable. I haven't spent much time with her on the ground, we've just been riding and overall she has been great. She's a great horse.....very smart, so she is very good at picking up my nervousness. I'm not able to lead her around, yet, but I am spending a lot of time with her.....grooming and just loving on her. Really working on our bond. I have 6 weeks to get my nerves in order. I trust this horse, I just want her to trust me as a rider. I'm dying to get back in the saddle. Thank you so much for you insight.
        Log in to reply.
        1. autumnap
          autumnap
          I had a bad accident with my last horse. I was in the process of mounting when he bolted (a habit he had when I bought him, although the dealer neglected to tell me this, shock horror!). I came off and broke my arm very badly including damaging the nerves to my hand so that I couldn't use it properly until the nerves grew back 18 months later. When I could use my arm again, I did loads and loads of longreining in the arena with him. We set up obstacle courses galore until he was pretty much unfazed by anything we came across. It took me several goes at actually getting back on board though even with someone holding him - I just couldn't pluck up the courage to do it and I didn't trust the horse at all. Luckily the yard I was on was managed by a natural horsemanship trainer and she helped us tremendously. Eventually, with the horse having been re-schooled and safely strapped into a pelham, just in case, we overcame our mutual issues and were just beginning to really get ourselves together when he contracted grass sickness and died. Hope all goes well with yours. xx
          Log in to reply.

Sign Up to Vote!

10 second sign-up with Facebook or Google

Already a member? Log in to vote.