We’re all riding into the New Year with a new set of goals and renewed hope for more fun and adventure.
One common stumbling block to interrupt the enjoyment of any rider is fear. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about; many riders (particularly adult riders who are somewhat new to horsemanship) naturally experience some level of apprehension.
Luckily, there are several things you can do to help alleviate feelings of uneasiness and increase your comfort level with your horse!
Acknowledge your bravery. Focus on positive steps. Spend more time thinking about real progress and accomplishments (even small ones) than you do rehashing anything negative. When you talk or think about fear, you breathe new life into it. Suffocate those unproductive thoughts with actions that reinforce realistic positivity.
Get help. Muddling along on your own is often a sure path to frustration and/or injury. You will have to pay for experienced, proven help, but it is well worth the investment. You’ll have more fun, your skills will improve, and your confidence will grow.
Find the best help to suit your riding style. The greater Salt Lake area is blessed with several top-ranked trainers to choose from:
- Jim Montgomery at Universal Equestrian Center (West Bountiful) is accomplished, successful, and is always generous with truly useful advice that’s both timeless and priceless. The ideal coach for western riders who take their horsemanship seriously, Jim’s teaching style is direct and honest.
- Joe Ruiz, located in Taylorsville, is, like Jim, an IRHA Hall of Fame cowboy and offers expert horse training as well as instruction for Reiners and riders in assorted western disciplines, from cutting to roping and even barrel racing.
- If you prefer to focus on dressage and classical horsemanship, Meisja Wagner (also a stellar barefoot hoof practitioner) has a wealth of experience, a great eye for detail, and a fun, encouraging teaching style.
- Hunter-jumper riders would do well to meet with Denise Tilley (Tilley Show Stables are based at Rockin E Farms in Bountiful). Denise has a remarkable ability to bring out the best in English riders of all ages and all experience levels.
- For the thrilling sport of eventing (it combines cross country, stadium jumping and dressage), the team of Todd and Adrienne Smyrl (Gemini Farm, Rush Valley) are incomparable. Offering both horse training and rider instruction, these two have an impressive track record and are an absolute joy to work with.
- Western riders in the Tooele/Grantsville area can work with Bob Toomer, a cowboy whose faith and expertise are sure to be appreciated, while the area's English riders will want to contact instructor Jaime Topham at the pastoral Pegasus Event Center (on Race Street, Grantsville UT).
Be selective about your associations. By all means, avoid spending time around riders who repeatedly discuss fear, who seem to have an endless supply of pointless horror stories, those who have an aura of off-putting negative energy (your horses will really pick up on this) and anyone who's chronically rushed or tackles their horse-related activities with a thoughtless degree of hurried panic. Real horse people are calm, confident and typically teach by example (fewer words, a lot more action). Horse activities are always best when shared with friends; just be careful who your friends are.
Partner with the right horse. A horse is a living animal that deserves respect and the best care possible. That being said, you deserve a horse that is safe and the right fit for you. Be very careful in your choice before you adopt any horse. Make sure your existing skills will allow you to safely handle that animal and that its background and training are commensurate with your current abilities and personal goals.
A young horse needs someone who is VERY experienced, who has impeccable timing and enough confidence to share with that animal. New riders, regardless of their age, need an older horse that is seasoned, quiet, accepting and calm, one that has vast experience and exposure. We cannot stress this enough: the wrong horse/rider combination can be extremely dangerous. At the very least, it’s just not fun (for the horse or the human).
If you don’t have a lot of experience and are not positive about what type of horse you need, enlisting the help and guidance of an expert truly is essential. Trainer Jim Montgomery is an absolute genius when it comes to pairing the right rider with the right horse. Having the input of a real horseman can save you a lot of anxiety, money, wasted time and even save you from serious injury.
Work within your comfort zone. If you feel too nervous to ride, don’t ride. You can do groundwork and play with your horse in a round pen, or take it out for lead-line walks around your property if you really cannot bring yourself to get in the saddle. Check out Parelli Natural Horsemanship’s “Seven Games” to help establish a greater connection with your horse and learn how to engage his mind as well as his body. Clinicians such as Clinton Anderson (his article in the January issue of the AQHA magazine may be the best thing ever written), Ken McNabb or Julie Goodnight have helpful information that may aid your basic handling abilities (a nice supplement to the hands-on practice time you'll want to put in with a respected local trainer).
Ride as much as possible. Ground work is great, but the only way to improve your riding skills is to ride. If you do not have a horse that you feel comfortable riding, take lessons on a calm, quiet, been-there, done-that schooling horse. You can also lease a trustworthy horse at many training facilities; this is a terrific way to become more comfortable around horses and increase your personal skill level without making the very time-consuming and costly investment in your own equine.
Horse activities do carry a certain degree of risk, they’re expensive, and it’s a huge time commitment. You owe it to yourself and the horses you work with to make this experience as enjoyable as possible! Ride into your New Year with a sense of playful adventure, a productive plan, and a positive outlook.
And remember, if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.