If you are anything like me, as a horse person, you share almost all of your emotions with your horse - good, bad, tragedy, joy. I know I’m not the only horse person who feels like their life can almost be defined and documented from their saddle. What happens when your fear of riding overcomes the joy?
When I was 17, I was bringing a horse in from the pasture for my barn owner. This horse had not been out of the pasture in quite some time, which I was unaware of. As I was walking towards the gate, we were only a few feet away when the horse bolted, knocking me down and ramming me forward in the process. I ended up with a great deal of facial trauma, losing muscle and skin, and having 52 stitches put in my forehead from the middle of my eyebrows too deep into my hairline.
After four days in the hospital, I was anxious to get back to the barn to see my horse and ride. Due to the immense trauma I had experienced, I was not allowed to ride for two weeks because I ran the risk of splitting my head open again if I got in another accident. Two weeks later to the day, my heart said RIDE, RIDE, RIDE! My head was a little bit more skeptical.
I ended up riding that day, but I remember for the first time in my life, being scared to do so. I remember holding on to my horse and jumping at the smallest, awkward movement. They always say, if you fall off you have to get right back in the saddle, but what if you didn't fall? What if you just had a bad accident? The brain is still wired to have fear. How does a horse person, who experiences all of their emotions including fear through horses, conquer that fear when their coping mechanism is now the problem.
Moving forward from my accident was scary. I had a hard time finding the same joy in riding and found it difficult to spend time with my horse like I did prior to getting hurt. As the years have gone by and time has passed, I've grown more cautious and tried to be intelligent about my practices with not only my horse, but all horses. Not scared necessarily, but cautious. So here are some of the steps that I took to regain my equine joy as opposed to living in fear.
Before I was in my accident my horse did not always have the absolute best ground manners, good, but certainly not great. Moving forward, I would jump and be frightened every time he did anything, which ultimately caused more problems because he sensed my tension. We worked on improving his ground manners. I trained him that I always get to walk through gates or doorways before he does and that even if he stall door is open he stays inside. Eventually we worked up to doing all of these things without a lead line, and sometimes even without a halter. This small step helped my trust grow exponentially. Step by step, day by day, we moved forward, growing our relationship and regaining trust.
Wear a Helmet
As a 4-H raised youth, I always had to wear a helmet whenever riding, but I never had when doing ground work or when working with horses on the ground. Part of my road to recovery was wearing a helmet and taking extra precautions around horses that were not my own in an effort to stay safe. From that point on when I brought in other horses from the pasture, I always wore my helmet.
Ride With a Buddy or Tell Someone Where You are at All Times
When I was in my accident, I ended up having to scream for the barn owner to come and help me while holding my bloody, gashed, open head. If I had lost consciousness - which all the EMT's were amazed at the fact that I didn't - I could have bled out there in the pasture. I got very lucky that people came to help me quickly and I was able to get to the hospital. From then on, I've always ridden with a buddy, told someone at the barn I was going to bring in horses, or on the rare occasion I’m alone, I tell people a time that they should receive a phone call by and if they don't receive one they should call me. If I don't answer it means I’m hurt and they should call for help.
If you are anything like me, you are heartbroken by the thought of never saddling up again, never finding the joy and release that happens on a ride with your very best friend. Don't let anything come between you two! Don't let fear overtake your joy, use these steps, and maybe some of your own, to overcome your fear and get back in the saddle!