Horses should be fun, not frightening.
Information in this article is based on medical advice from professionals, but is not intended to replace individual advice for diagnosed anxiety or panic disorders.
Most people aren’t naturally born fearless. Thanks to our genes and probably our cavemen ancestors, most of us have a good fight or flight response. While this ability will help keep us safe if we are being hunted by a saber tooth tiger or are in a dark alley in a sketchy part of town, this fear response is no fun to have if it’s triggered while we are riding.
Some people want to ride so badly but are so afraid to ride that they trigger a panic attack; others want to ride but are afraid to get hurt. Some people keep fear from letting them live the life they want to live.
Anxiety and fear can cause a range of symptoms from shaking, weak legs, sweaty palms, palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea, feeling dizzy, etc. This is no fun to experience, especially if you’re in the saddle. While these symptoms will not cause you any harm, it will feel like you are dying. A panic attack can trigger further panic attacks from anticipating that you’re going to have one. This ends up spiraling out of control and now you’ve developed a panic disorder from something as simple as trying to go riding. Sometimes being bucked off or hurt from an unruly horse will make you fear riding all horses.
Here are some ways to help you cope and get back to enjoy riding.
1. Remember, most people get hurt when they least expect it, like walking down the street and tripping over their own two feet. Because you’re in the saddle, your guard is already up so you will be able to react quicker if something would happen which it probably won’t. Just think of all the times you rode and nothing bad happened. Dwell on those times.
2. Ride with friends and ride horses that will build your confidence before you move onto riding other horses or by yourself. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
3. If you do get a panic attack and feel like you’re about to die or pass out, just remember when you are actually about to die or pass out your body gets extremely calm and blissful. So these bodily emotions you are experiencing (panic attacks) mean you are alive and very well alive. They will pass. Instead of trying to fight the feeling, enjoy the feeling. When we get a surge of adrenaline from something we enjoy, we love that feeling. The rush of a good rollercoaster, the feeling of falling in love, watching fireworks, watching a suspenseful movie — those are surges of adrenaline we enjoy. If you get that surge while you’re in the saddle, just enjoy how it makes you super aware of your surroundings and how your senses are going crazy because you’re really in the moment — and how you’re not thinking of the past or future because you’re so in tune with the present moment.
4. Plant good seeds in your garden. Think of your mind as a garden. Plant seeds of confidence, strength, braveness, happiness, etc. Weed out bad thoughts of doubt, worry, dread and fear.
5. Don’t fear the feeling of fear. Most of us aren’t actually afraid of what could happen but are afraid to feel the feeling of fear. Don’t be afraid of that feeling. Embrace it and enjoy it; once you stop fearing that feeling, it will no longer have such a strong hold on you.
6. Enjoy the ride. No matter what you’re doing or going through in life, don’t try to fight it, just enjoy it. Don’t overanalyze everything. Just go with the flow. Relax and give into your emotions instead of trying to stop them. Once you submit to yourself you’ll be able to get past whatever is stopping you in the first place so you can move on to the next thing.
Sometimes all you need to do are take baby steps, but remember that riding is a journey, not a destination. Hang in there, things will always get better!