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October 28, 2022

How to Overcome Fear of Riding as We Get Older

Will it get any easier?

Getting over fear as I age has become more and more difficult. When I was a kid and even in my thirties, I would ride anything. After a pretty bad wreck with one of my horses that put me in the ER, I started to lose some of my nerve. I wouldn't climb on just any horse without knowing everything about them. I have been puzzled by all the riding and training of horses I've done. I graduated from horsemanship college riding hunter/jumpers going over jumps cross country with no fear. Part of it is no doubt losing muscle, gaining weight and way too many hours in front of a computer working.

I have decided to take some advice I received when I posted this on Facebook and take things slow, do some bonding by brushing, spending time, going for walks. Today we did a little lunging. It was pretty windy but it went well. Chip was very reactive so not sure why, probably the wind, and getting use to my commands. He definitely didn't need the whip as motivation. Went for a quiet walk up the road after we were done lunging and came back for some pictures. He was quiet, relaxed and quite a character. Carrots always help!

Competing with April at Bolender Horse Park - Photo by Hal Cook Photography

After losing April in February of this year it's been tough trusting another horse. There's that voice in the back of my head telling me to "cowboy up", just get on and ride. Probably something I could do but I've decided to take it slow and get a chance to bond with my new horse. Pressure by others to ride is sometimes the nudge I need to get back in the saddle but after having Chip spook a couple of times it was then, the fear of going for rides crept in. I would say to myself, "what if I fall off?", "I can't afford to miss work or acquire big medical bills." And it's the fear of not knowing how he will react to new things I expose him to.

I decided it really didn't matter what anyone else thought of how fearful I was but I was going to do what I was comfortable with and what I had time for. I decided to do some groundwork and take it slow getting back to basics.

Chip's not the least bit worried about the tarp

After I discovered Chip had no fear of the tarp I thought I better get some help understanding why he would spook. I enlisted the help of my friend, Wendy, to come and help me work through some simple exercises to desensitize him. she started by working with the flag, moving it up and down quickly near him until he relaxed. She started far away and then moved closer as he relaxed. This is an easy exercise to do. It just takes a few minutes every few days to get him relaxed again. The more I work with this horse the better and more relaxed both of us will be. See Wendy's Video Below:

Please note, the environment should be free of dangerous obstacles. Chip was pretty controllable so she was confident he wouldn't do anything stupid and was easily moved away from anything dangerous. Ideally we would do this in a round pen. Another thing to consider is you need to work both sides of the horse. You may need to start over completely as horses can sometimes react differently side to side.

I purchased Chip as he was presented as a gentle horse, not a ton of energy. I have hopes of working with veterans and their families, giving rides, and those just wanting to be near horses. Even so, bringing a gentle horse into a new environment is always a little stressful for them. Chip does spend time calling for his buddies at the other ranch. Our miniature horse, Chloe, provides a little comfort so he will relax in time. Chip has been great with our dog, really good to work around when feeding and cleaning. He's a bit of an escape artist but we're getting him figured out. I'm sure he's learning to be more comfortable around me as well.

Note: There is nothing wrong with this horse. He's come into a completely new environment so it will take a little time to adjust. All in all it's a matter of wet saddle blankets and daily interaction. There will be more later as I learn to master my fear. What I do love is watching him come loping around his paddock for breakfast.

Karen Pickering
Owner/Publisher Karen’s lifelong love of horses began at a very early age when she wore out a couple of rocking horses before convincing her parents to get her the real thing. That ill-tempered bay gelding, Brandy, was a challenge for the young horsewoman, but it drove her ambition to become a horse trainer. After attending Canyonview Equestrian College’s Horsemanship Program, Karen realized she needed work that was a little more lucrative than training, so she took a job with Customs Brokerage to pay the bills. There, she discovered an affinity for computers and a talent for creating informative, entertaining newsletters. The Northwest Horse Source began as such a letter in December 1995, with a distribution of 1000 copies for its 12 black and white pages.  Now 25 years later, it's an online magazine and website with a reach of over 19,000 per month and growing! Not bad for the results of one woman’s dream to work with horses!

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