by Laura Daly
You cannot control something if you do not know you are doing it. By becoming aware of when, how deeply, and how long you experience fear, you can begin to learn to control it.
The first step is to notice when you feel anxiety while with your horse. Make a list of the times and places you feel fear and record your emotions. This can help you discover your triggers and if your fear is situationally or emotionally based. Then, you can create a plan for overcoming it. Don’t force yourself into scary situations, like taking a five-hour trail ride or galloping cross-country, to discover your triggers. Just hang around your horse’s barn, stall, or pasture. Watch other people work, handle, and play with their horses. Volunteer at a special needs horse camp, or a therapeutic riding center. Observe a schooling show, play-day, or event where many different people will be enjoying their horses. If you have a trainer or a safe horse friend, schedule time to watch them working with your horse. Pay attention to how your horse responds to them and also to the moments when you would experience fear. This will not only help identify triggers, but it will begin replacing fearful memories with positive ones.
After you have started to identify situations that cause anxiety, you can work on replacing fearful memories from the safety of your own home. Watch videos of horses doing the things that make you a little nervous, but avoid those that cause a great deal of fear. Imagine working or riding that horse and visualize safe and correct handling. This creates a new positive memory in place of the fearful one.
When you are ready, head to the barn and do something easy. Simply become reacquainted with the sights, sounds, noises and smells associated with your horse. The more time you spend relaxing at the barn and enjoying your horse’s company, the better you will feel when you start to handle or ride them. Bring other activities to occupy your mind, such as a good book, knitting, or homework. Let the barn atmosphere surround you as you focus on the tasks at hand. By the time you are ready to ride, you will have identified your fear triggers and created new fear-free memories to override the old ones. By taking these simple steps, you can start to overcome your fear today.
Published June 2014 Issue