If you have ridden horses very long, you have probably found yourself on the ground, wondering what just happened, at least once. When I was a kid, my trainer used to say, "You aren't a true horseman until you've come off a hundred times and survived." A hundred? Wow! That's a lot!
I took a different approach and, after a couple of injuries, decided that I want to STAY ON, no matter what. This hasn't always worked in my favor. There have been many times when I might have hit the ground and, by some miracle, I managed to hang on and stay with the horse long enough to regain control. Sometimes, it might have been better to bail off and save myself the thrashing up there. It's the times when you do hit the ground, and your head is spinning, that a little something sneaks in. It settles into your brain, and although, you are physically okay, this little something will jump up and bite you one day. You may not even know it is there until the next time you saddle up.
Fear is not your friend. Fear has definitely gobbled up it's share of riders and spit them out. The moment we have an accident, a little trickle of fear can creep in and take root. I'm a mom and before I had children, I was a lot more daring. I didn't really give much thought to getting hurt. I would ride anything, anywhere, any time. When I had these little people expecting me to take care of them, I became much more aware of how I could get hurt and how that would affect them. That can be a tricky place to be if riding horses is your livelihood. For me, it just meant that I became more mindful about the horses I rode and how I worked with them. It also meant that I had to find creative ways to deal with the aftermath of a fall. I had to learn how to get rid of fear and not let it creep in and take a hold.
I went through a series of meditations a few years ago and each session was focused on gratitude and release of fear or worry in our lives. It was a breakthrough for me emotionally, but I only recently discovered how it has truly transformed my riding. I have begun to focus on gratitude and it has completely enhanced my relationship with my horses. I focus on all the things I love about having horses in my life. I replace the fear with these thoughts, and I don't dwell on the what if's or what could have happened.
So, if you are like so many riders who suffer from fear and lack of confidence, I want to share a few things that will help you get back in the saddle. I believe one of the most important aspects of horsemanship is developing relationship first. This can be done on the ground; if you are working through fear of riding, it's a great place to start. Begin by just grooming. Find those places that your horse just loves to get a good scratch. Be kind. Pet him and talk to him. This actually helps calm your nerves and relaxes your horse. Trust begins on the ground. I like to tell them how good they are and how perfect they are behaving. Our thoughts become our actions, so if we think about great rides and well behaved horses, we begin to get just that.
While you're brushing and talking, take deep, slow breaths. As you breathe start thinking about how grateful you are to have a horse to ride. Think about the enjoyable times you've had and remind your horse of them. Be grateful for good weather, a sunny day, or a great trail you plan to ride. Maybe you are working toward the show ring. Envision your next ride in harmony with your horse, clearing the fence, getting the correct lead, or doing the ideal stop. Embrace a feeling of gratefulness while you're just brushing and scratching your horse. This will carry over to when you get back in the saddle.
When you have had a fall, and you feel the nerves creeping in, don't be afraid to enlist some help. A ground person, on the end of a lunge line, can certainly help you gain your confidence again. It's important to review the basics of where you are in the saddle and how you can ride more effectively. Check your balance, your seat, and your leg pressure. Are you tense or heavy handed? Ask your ground person to help you recognize these issues so that you can work through them. Sometimes we just need to know that we aren't alone. Chances are, the person on the other end of that line has been right where you are.
Don't forget to BREATHE! The most important thing you can do is breathe. As you inhale, say, “Thank you for this ride.” As you exhale, “I am confident in my riding.” You will find that, just by saying these words, you will become more relaxed and confident. If you spend enough time in the saddle, you are bound to have a fall. Getting back on can be mentally challenging for even the most experienced rider. I encourage you to begin your road to confident riding, and recovery from a fall, with an attitude of gratefulness. You CAN overcome the fear.