“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
~ John Wayne ~
Fear is an emotion aroused by potential danger. It is an emotion that, as riders, most of us experience from time to time. Horses buck, take off, spook, rear and these things can be frightening. When a thousand pound animal is misbehaving, it can be terrifying. Or even when the horse is behaving just fine, our trainer could be raising the jumps past our comfort zone; or at a show, we might have to ride in a place vastly different than what we are used to; or maybe we have fallen off recently and keep having flashbacks. All of these things can cause us to feel afraid, or nervous. It is normal, and happens to the best of us; but when it begins to significantly affect our riding and enjoyment of the sport, it becomes a problem. A problem we must face.
Horses can feel our every emotion. They are like mind-readers. They know when we are afraid. Many horses will wonder why we are afraid, and if they should be afraid too. When they feel our fear, they can assume that there is danger and begin to act out. I have experienced this so much with Chance, particularly at horse shows. When I get nervous, he gets nervous. Working through my horse show nerves this year has made a huge difference in how he behaves at shows. It took me a long time to be able to admit when I am feeling nervous. I worried that people would think I am a wimp, and have no business riding. There is this preconceived notion in the horse world that if we are afraid or nervous, we are weak; and that we can only become good riders if we are tough, which lead so many of us – myself included – to deny our fear. But denying it does not make it go away, and it certainly does not help us to overcome it; for we cannot deny it to horses. They feel it. They know if we are afraid or nervous. I have learned over the past several months, that admitting when I feel nervous or fearful (even if it is just to myself) actually helps me to ride through it. And if I need to take a step back, I do. I think that I have always had a slight timidity with riding. I am able to work through it, but it still exists and makes things difficult for me at times. Along with that, this is the first year I have shown consistently since 2008! I have been a little rusty. As much as I would love to be one of those people who is never phased by anything, who can take years off of riding, or be bucked off fifty times, and still get right back on like nothing happened; I am not. I have to work through things at my own pace. I ended up showing Chance at a lower level this year than I had planned, but I still showed and my love of competing began to replace my nerves after a time.
Yesterday, I jumped Chance around for the first time since my fall last week. I was a nervous wreck! Luckily, he was a perfect angel. A couple more good rides should get me back to normal. I am always a little nervous riding after a fall, but I work through it because I do not want fear to keep me from doing what I love to do. The truth is, I will fall off. I have many times, and sometimes it is difficult to mentally bounce back. What matters though is that I do, even if it takes some time. I know that before long my love of riding will replace my fear of falling, as it always has. We all know the saying, “if you fall off a horse, get right back on.” That is how we can face our fears: get back on. Even if we are afraid, we must simply get back on and do what we can. Eventually our fear will fall away.