How to Instruct Fearful Riders
by Laura Daly
Being an instructor of truly fearful riders takes a positive attitude, courage and self-control. Your job is to help build up the rider and show them that they can think through the fear and still control the horse and their emotions.
An instructor’s first task is to ensure that the rider is balanced and safe and that their horse is safe and easygoing. This may mean they need to start by riding one of your reliable lesson mounts to build a good foundation. It is harder to build knowledge and skill in a fearful beginner, but with just a little tweaking to your already existing lesson plan, you can teach them the required horsemanship skills.
Once you have a balanced rider on a safe horse the next task is to begin to work on fear issues. Think of it like training a young colt: expose the rider to something new and/or scary and then remove the scary object or activity. “Approach and retreat” is the key to developing a fear-free rider. In order to overcome fear, the rider does not necessarily have to face the fear physically; it is more important for them to deal with the idea of it mentally.
Do not discount the power of suggestion. Ask the rider to try a scary activity you know they are capable of handling, but do not let them do it. Just the suggestion of physically doing a task can raise the fearful rider’s emotions. Instead of letting them do the fear-inducing task, go back to the original exercise and help them see that they need to work through more fear issues before they try the suggested exercise. The approach and retreat method helps the fearful rider learn to control emotions. It also teaches them they can function despite their fear.
Published September 2014 Issue