Nov 3, 2009

The Fear Factor

Some people read books and others watch television. One of my favorite pastimes is perusing blogs of other horse people. Although I have bookmarked a few in the margin of my own blog, it nowhere near represents all of those I read. While I am in awe of the competitive goals and accomplishments of some of my favorite bloggers – Jonni from Trot on Hank and Tamara of The Barb Wire come to mind - I also enjoy taking "virtual" rides at Mt. Hood with All Horse Stuff’s, Kacy and Wa, and seeing Alaska through the Alaska Pony Girl's Riding Log.

Every so often I’ll read about a rider who has experienced fear of the horse in some respect. Most generally, they are around my age, give or take a decade. A new rider or possibly a re-rider, who has always wanted a horse, dreamed of the horse, and once the horse is in their barn, that person is now afraid to ride. The fear could be a result of an accident, undesired behavior from the horse or just something that rider thinks the horse could do which terrifies her. The rider is usually in turmoil; never sure whether it is the horse or them. They ponder additional training or perhaps a new horse. Some have even given up their dreams of riding at all and are satisfied with just having a horse in their life.

Reasonable or not, the fear is real to that person. Years ago it nearly ruined my dreams of riding. And I did about all of those things I just mentioned. So I feel a kinship of sorts with those bloggers.


We got our first horses shortly after my 39th birthday. Having had horses as a child, just how hard can this be, I thought? We bought, Ginger, the first horse we looked at. "Three-year-old-and-kid-broke", we were told. And it took about a week for this filly to scare the hell out of me! What did she do that was so terrible, you ask? Nothing really. The fear was brought on as a result of a story I read in a magazine. In the article, a lady was enjoying a leisurely ride when her horse bolted. When it couldn't be stopped, she bailed. And she lay broken and busted in the field where she fell. And it was like a switch was flipped in my brain. “That could be me!” The next time I got on Ginger, I got as far as the end of the driveway and quickly dismounted. I was sure she was going to bolt. I was going to be laying there broken and busted, too.

John was confused with what was now my low courage. I told him it wasn’t me. I have been riding since I was a kid (minus a 35-year absence from the activity, but who's counting?) It was Ginger’s fault. "She is going to bolt! Get me another horse! I’ll ride it!" So we bought another horse – a 16hh saddlebred mare - and it took all of 3.5 minutes for me to determine that I'd went from the frying pan into the fire as most likely she, too, was going to bolt! And I wouldn't be broken and busted this time. I.Was.Going.To.Die! Truly, at this point, the only horse I could ride was the kids’ 20-something-year-old mare. And as bad as this sounds, I was comforted in the fact that I was pretty sure I would kill her before she could kill me!


About six months after we bought Ginger, we found Blue. He was then a four-year-old gelding. He’d been professionally trained and had most recently ponied colts at the track. Today I would think that he may have been pushed too young and that four was really young, but at that time, his resume sounded pretty promising. His owner told me, “If you have a problem with him, it’s you, NOT him.” Well, I took that as a bit of a challenge, even though truer words were probably never spoken.

Blue wasn’t necessarily an easy horse. In retrospect, I think it was because he knew more than I did. I had never had a single riding lesson in my life and he couldn’t understand what I was asking from him. But he always tried. He was patient. He was gentle. Other than an occasional spook (which he probably got from mirroring me), he could do no wrong in my eyes. Blue wasn’t the silver bullet or the magic pill that made my fears go away. But it no longer had a stranglehold on me. I didn’t necessarily let go of my fears, but started getting more confident in my abilities. It didn’t happen overnight. It just plain took time.


Because I only trusted Blue, it seemed logical that my boys ride him. So throughout the next few years, both McCain and Case claimed Blue as their own. And we added another steady eddy to the herd, Mikey. Although not without reservation, I started riding other horses. Some good, some not so good. And my fears were compartmentalized. “Reasonable Fear” would rear its head when I was on a young or an unknown horse. “Unreasonable Fear” would crop up every now and then when I THOUGHT I might find myself in a situation where I could die or at the least face severe bodily injury. Many times it was a figment of my imagination, but none-the-less, those I were riding with would have to humor me with whatever I felt was a suitable resolution at the time. Can’t say it doesn’t still happen, it does, but with a lot less frequently.


About six years ago, I was invited to my first Cowgirl Weekend. It would be the first time I would pull the trailer by myself. The first time I would horse camp without John. I would be responsible for getting my horse there, for its care and I would be riding without my family. I would be totally in charge of my own life and that of my horse and I was up to the challenge. Although I had been riding Bo, a 3-year-old colt, that summer, John suggested I take Blue for this adventure. He didn’t have to ask me twice. I loaded up my True Blue and headed off to what would be my first “Independence Day”. And that it was.


The next year, I slayed the first dragon that haunted me. Ginger. When Jo, the gelding I had most recently bought, had an injury, Ginger was the only horse we had in good enough condition for not only my second Cowgirl Weekend, but my first Competitive Trail Ride. My heart was no longer in my throat. She didn’t buck. She didn’t bolt. She took my breath away as I opened her up and we ran across the fields.


Today, most of my Unreasonable Fear is gone. I contribute it to those horses I trusted the most like Blue and Mikey. Bo and Gunner both showed me that young and green didn't necessarily equate to danger. And to the friends who have encouraged me along the way. Their patience, while I worked through my problems, was priceless. Riding lessons have helped me learn to ride better. My weight loss has helped my balance and my partnership with Windy has made me proud. Sure, I still get fearful sometimes and my heart starts to beat uncontrollably. And yes, sometimes for no good reason that I can come up with. But mostly, it’s “good fear” that remains. The kind of fear that keeps us safe.


The best advice I could offer anyone is to take lessons. If you are afraid of your own horse, start with a lesson horse. That may lessen the anxiety you have about your own horse. Or validate your concerns. A good trainer will not only help you with your horse, they can get into your head and beyond. But no matter what you are riding. Ride. I didn’t let fear keep me from throwing my leg over the saddle. No matter how scared I was, I wanted to ride more. I looked for safe environments so I could continue to do just that.

The other thing that helped me was a circle of horse friends. Other women. Some new to horses like me, others who were veteran horsewomen. We started our Yahoo chat group, Horsetales, which is still so important to me today. These women made me accountable for my own success by contributing to a forum for sharing challenges and adventures. By inviting me to share the trail with them. I couldn’t put riding on the shelf for another time. I wasn’t getting any younger. If I were going to live my dream, I had to do it now.


If you have followed this blog, you’ll know my story continues with Windy, My Dream Horse – who, coincidently, is Ginger’s only baby. I wouldn’t say I’ve finally arrived, heck I may never get there, but I’m having one extraordinary ride.

Feel free to share your story in the comments and the link to your blog, if you have one. I look forward to hearing your story.

Fear Factors Continues... Part 2

Windy, Ginger & Butter


  1. EXCELLENT post. I related to it in so many ways and I feel inspired to tell my story on my blog when I get some time.

    I also had a big break from the time I had a horse when I was a kid until I finally got them again as an adult--about 20 years. And I'd never had a lesson in my life until I was an adult. I had no idea what I was in for. I've come a long way but I have to say that I still have confidence issues. And I'm a barrel racer for goodness sake! We're supposed to be tough! And I hear you about the trailer. My daughter and I are going to a race this weekend without my husband. I have to force myself. I know I can do it but I'm so anxious. It drives me crazy.

    I am looking forward to sharing my own story soon.

    I love Blue's warm black color. You have some nice horses.

  2. Hi, Debi. Thanks for your comments. Whenever I read others issues with fear, I want to tell them my story. So now at least I have a link! :)

    I had fun going thru the pictures of my horses. Mikey had arthritis, so couldn't do the trails we did anymore, so we sold him to a youth who was just beginning. He's in a pasture now where a friend boards. I sold Bo to another friend. He is still my one regret. I wished I would have kept him. He was recently diagnosed with EPM, but last I knew, was doing fine.

    I never bonded with the appy, Jo. I leased him to a friend and eventually sold him. And Gunner, who was by the same sire as my Windy, died in a freak pasture accident shortly after I had my first trail ride on him. :(

    There were others. I went through horses like crazy trying to find "the one". When really, it was primarly me who was the problem.

    Anxious to read your post, too! I'll link over to it when you get it done.

  3. Loved this post. It seems like you have read my blog! Teehee...

    Yes I have a fear, and it is very hard to explain. I have no fear of my horse, my fear comes from what she COULD do! And this is what i have to get over, because, personally, I don't think she would do anything...:))

  4. The dreaded fear. I have it. I am not afraid to admit it.
    I am actually not afraid to ride any horse. I am afraid of one horse, and it isn't just being afraid, it is more of lack of confidence from what happened. My Paint Fritzy dumped me 3 years ago. She had been in training and had never shown any signs of bucking. So when I got on her and walked around my temporary arena at the time, she just full on exploded. I knew I wasn't going to be able to stay on. I had just recently recovered from knee surgery, so I was very concerned about getting my foot out of the stirrup. I did come off and was injured pretty severely. Thankfully, I had my helmet on and if I didn't, well, let's just say the huge horseshoe shaped crack in the back of my helmet would have been my skull. I would have had a severe head injury. I did end up with a bulging disc in my neck from that fall.
    I have been having a really hard time riding Fritzy since that day. She has NEVER tried bucking since, so we think she was stung by a bee. It also shows that a horse can explode at anytime, even if they are "bombproof".
    I do ride Fritzy and have been doing groundwork with her. She is a very dominant horse, and I always have felt a little intimidated by her. Just in this last year, I have really built my confidence with her by doing groundwork and I am determined to get back on the trails with her. That is a goal I set for myself. I did do a blog post on Fritzy and my confidence quite awhile ago.
    I totally believe that time is a huge factor. Everyone handles fear differently and it is always good to hear others talk about this subject.
    My boyfriend just doesn't understand why I feel this way, he wasn't the one that was thrown and received severe injuries. He is still a beginner rider and I hope he never has to go through that, but he is a guy, so I am sure he wouldn't go through the same fears I do.
    Thanks for the great post! Sorry I have rambled on for so long!

  5. Paint Girl - Can understand your reluctance with Fritzy. (And glad you were wearing a helmet). Once the trust is broken, its hard to get back. Had a similar experience last year with my Black colt. And it was back in the round pen for us. I hope you continue to make strides with Fritzy. Sounds like the want is there. I'll have to go back to your blog and read the story you mentioned.

    I've been hurt a couple of time, but not as I would have expected. I'll do a part 2 to this post about those experiences. It's funny, but my fears do not come from any incident in particular - only in fretting what could happen.

  6. tv, you had, and have, a lot of nice horses. I think fear diminishes as the rider becomes a better rider, a more confident rider, a rider with experience. You have all of those, Tammy, and watching you ride, I don't see a person riding with fear. Maybe start thinking, as you ride, "I'm not afraid, I'm cautious, I'm careful, etc, but I'm not fearful" and the fear will be replaced with another emotion. Confidence! I know that is becoming true, as that is what I see. You are a natural rider.

  7. Oh Tammy...LOVED this writing all about your Equine partners and yhubby JUST got home...busted, gotta go for now but THANKS so much fro mentioning me! I was reading along and I jsut went..OHWWWA! Youre so sweet!
    Be back and I may have a story to tell...but not as well as are very good!
    KacyK w Wa mare~

  8. Okay...the fear is building...jsut after I read this, I rode two separate toime in tow diff arena's...and My mare is now back to her Leaping into the air and rearing. IT FREAKS ME OUT! She has my number and I must find the code!
    I made myself aske for and get canter 3 more times(really scared though) after she launched in an all out attmept to dislodge me...grab strap in both fists, I remained ON...stirrup now on the ground..had to get off breifly-kick her on the butt, put the stirrups back on ,me back on...and back to it...just to be able to say, I got what I wanted and lived!
    But now sore afraid all over to body will not survive...need a western saddle and iron clad mentality!

  9. Tammy, I just reread this story and enjoyed it all over again. I read some of it to my husband about how we re-riders are in TURMOIL because we don't know if it's us or it's the horse... Oh man, so true! He said, "You're not in turmoil, you're just skeerd." Ha ha, that's something I wrote about in my story. I just put it up so go take a look when you get a chance. I'm going to read your Part Two now.

  10. I am so glad always to read posts like this. I took a part loan of a former racehorse in my twenties without so much as a thought and came a cropper for my in my late 30's and with 2 kids I think it would have to be a pretty special and sensible horse for me to have the confidence to get back out there on my own. Like you say, I keep at the lessons, keep riding somewhere safe until after a while, safe feels a little too safe, then I'll venture farther. Thank you for your post!


I am so glad you stopped by and look forward to hearing from you! Do come again.