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How to Relax while Horseback Riding & Overcome Riding Anxiety

 While horseback riding is an enjoyable sport and everyone starts horseback riding because it appeals to them as fun, it’s normal to encounter anxiety or difficulty relaxing in the saddle. Many riders struggle with the anxiety about riding during their lifetime or struggle with the effect that not being able to relax has on their ability to grow as a rider.

Horseback riding is a dangerous sport, and if you’ve recently had a fall from a horse, it’s common to deal with some level of anxiety when getting back into riding. Fortunately, there are several ways to help overcome your anxiety so you can get back to doing what you love.

Woman on a brown horse with arms outstretched and smiling.

1. Find a Good Riding Instructor

One of the most important things you can do to help yourself overcome anxiety while horseback riding is to find a good riding instructor. Your riding instructor will be a huge part of your riding experience as they will set the tone for each of your lessons.

A good riding instructor who lessens your anxiety is crucial; however, as everyone is different, you’ll likely need to have trial lessons with several instructors before finding the perfect trainer. For example, for some, a strict trainer with a black and white mentality may be anxiety-inducing, while for others, the rigid structure of their rules may provide security. On the other hand, while many may find a relaxed riding instructor soothing, others may feel anxiety surrounding the situation because they don’t feel like they’re being given a sufficient instructor.

Learn more about things to look for in a riding instructor.

Communicate with Your Trainer

If you already have a trainer and you’d like to keep working with them, but they’re doing some things that are causing you anxiety, tell them. Your trainer cannot read your mind, and chances are if you let them know that something is stressing you out, they’ll be more than happy to change it. They may also have some great advice on lowering your anxiety in different situations.

2. Spend Time in the Stables

Sometimes what can start as a specific anxiety, for example, jumping, can begin to bleed out into all areas of riding. To combat this, spend as much time as you can in the stables and around the horses as you comfortably can.

Caring for horses, going for pleasure rides, and just enjoying your time in the stable can help you to relax and have less anxiety by reminding you of the fun parts of riding and why you became interested in the sport in the first place.

3. Talk to Other Riders

One of the most challenging parts of riding anxiety is feeling alone. Seeing the other people in your lesson group flying over jumps while you’re still feeling nervous trotting over poles can be hard. However, although you may feel like you’re the only person dealing with this, you’re not.

Fear and anxiety associated with riding are very common, even a fear of horses is common. After all, riding is a dangerous sport, and it can be scary, especially if you’ve had an accident.

By talking to other riders about what they’ve gone through, you’ll be able to feel less alone. They may also give you tips and tricks that have helped them move past their anxiety.

4. Pick the Right Horse

If you’re a nervous rider, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to pick a good, calm horse. Yes, it may be tempting to ride an exciting hot horse, but when you’re first starting out or if you’re dealing with some anxiety after an accident, it’s best to work with a calm horse that isn’t going to spook and make the situation any worse.

Your trainer will be able to help you pick out a horse that is a good fit for you, taking your riding level into consideration.

Sometimes if your anxiety has developed around a specific horse, it’s best to switch around which horse you’re riding until you’ve gained your confidence back. This can be a tough decision to make, especially if you own or have a long-term lease with the horse you’ve been riding. Sometimes you’ll be able to work through your fear on the horse that caused it, but sometimes that’s just impractical and will take far more effort than if you simply switched to a new horse.

nervous looking Woman on a brown horse that appears anxious.
A high energy horse probably won’t be a good fit if you deal with riding anxiety.

5. Try New Disciplines

A lot of the time, jumping is the thing that first scares riders. After all, it is one of the more dangerous equestrian sports. If jumping, or another specific discipline, was the thing that initially freaked you out, then it may be a good idea to switch to a different discipline for some time until you get your confidence back.

Dressage is a great way to do this as one of the most important things you’ll learn in dressage lessons is how to control the horse fully. It’s all about precision, and you’ll learn lots of valuable skills that can eventually transfer over to your original discipline should you decide to go back.

If even dressage sounds intimidating, you can also try switching to Western riding. It’s completely different than English riding, and because it’s so different may allow you to get used to riding again without all the anxiety associated with your original discipline.

Overall learning a new discipline or just a new skill, in general, can help to take your mind off your anxiety. It will allow you to focus on what you’re learning instead of the fear. It can also be an excellent opportunity to try out some of the previously mentioned tips, such as finding a new instructor.

6. Consider Speaking to a Sports Psychologist

If your anxiety surrounding riding has become severe to the point where it is preventing you from riding or even being around horses (and you want to change that) then it may be time to speak to a sports psychologist.

Sports psychologists specialize in helping athletes from all sports overcome anxiety that may be impairing their performance. They can give you unbiased feedback and provide a safe space to process all your emotions without fear of judgment. Once you’re ready to get back to riding, they’ll also be able to provide you with professional advice on how to handle your anxiety once you actually get back in the ring.

Key Takeaways

Remember, if you’re experiencing riding anxiety you’re not alone. Most riders will experience some form of anxiety surrounding the sport in their lifetime and just talking to others about your experience can help to alleviate your anxiety.

Make sure you’re spending time around horses and in the stables when you’re not riding, and try a new discipline. Both of these things will help you to remain comfortable in other aspects of the sport until you’re ready to try again.

If your anxiety becomes severe and you feel that it’s only getting worse then consider speaking with a Sports Psychologist. They will be able to provide you with guidance on how to move forward and decrease your anxiety with riding.

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