trainer for Gemini Sport Horses
and a specialist at training
nervous riders. “It’s natural, and
considering the size of these
animals, it’s useful.”
In fact, according to competitive
rider and equestrian mental skills
coach Tonya Johnston, a healthy
dose of fear is necessary in order
for anyone to engage in equestrian
sports in the first place.
“We accept that this is a
dangerous sport,” says Johnston.
“Fear is a warning to sign to make
But fear becomes a problem
when healthy caution gets out of
hand and riders stop enjoying the
time they spend with their horses,
says Joan Caroll-Cronin, BFA,
MSW, LICSW, RLP, a certified
No equestrian stays involved
with the sport very long without
becoming fearful of something.
But fear need not rob anyone of
enjoying the ride. Here are some
practical strategies for staying
joyful in the saddle.
1Plan Your Ride Determine exactly how long you want to stay in the
saddle and what you want to
accomplish while you’re there.
“Choose how you’ll begin your
ride and what you will work
on,” recommends Joan Carroll-Cronin, BFA, MSW, LICSW, RLP,
a certified mentor in sports
psychology for equestrian
athletes and an equestrian
herself. “Then bring your whole
self to it.”
2Start Slowly For some anxious riders, riding at a walk is a good
place to start. But push just
beyond that comfort zone into
the next fastest gait—at least for
a few steps. “Take a challenge
rather than avoiding it,” Carroll-Cronin recommends.
3Be Flexible Having a plan is good, but stay flexible. Keep fear
in check by amending plans to
make the most of your own skill
“Change the priorities—just
for today,” Carroll-Cronin says.
“The point is to build a bank of
4Just Say, “Whoa!” Break fear by stopping negative thoughts in
their tracks. “Choose a word
like ‘whoa’ and say it to yourself
whenever you find yourself
becoming anxious and losing
control,” Carroll-Cronin says.
5Stay in the Moment Becoming fearful doesn’t mean you can mentally
check out. Stay calm, stay in
charge and keep going. “It’s
how the mind and the body
connect,” says Carroll-Cronin.
6Breathe Whether they realize it or not, some riders
hold their breath when they
become anxious in the saddle.
Instead, neutralize nervousness
by breathing deeply. “Focus on
your breathing to relax,” says
7Have a Good Laugh Equestrians should be happiest when they ride,
so it makes sense to push back
fear by laughing out loud. “Even
a fake laugh is good for the
body,” Carroll-Cronin says.
8Imagine Success Visualizing your success helps build confidence,
so actively picture yourself
riding well. “See yourself from
the ground, from the roof of
the barn, everywhere outside of
yourself,” says Carroll-Cronin.
Fear can be
to keep you out
of the saddle.