Ask the Trainer: Back in the Saddle

A reader asks how best to overcome her fear after being bucked off of her horse on the trail. Trainer J.F. Sheppard Explains step-by-step how to get back in the saddle and out on the trail.

I’ve owned my 6-year-old Paint Horse mare for about 10 months. I’ve done a lot of ground and arena work with her. I keep her on pasture during the day and stall her on my property at night. I’ve ridden her on the trail three times, close to my home.

Follow these steps to overcome fear after a fall. When you’re ready to hit the trail again, ride with a buddy for support

On our third trail ride, I rode my mare for about six hours. Just before the end of the ride, a bird flew out of the bush and spooked her. She blew up, reared, and bucked me off.

Now, my self-confidence is shattered. I’m not afraid to work with my mare on theground, but I amafraid to ride her again, even in the arena. How can I overcome my fear?
Pam Goodman
Seattle, Washington

Pam,?what you’ve described is common. Even experienced riders can become fearful of riding after an accident. I commend you for wanting to overcome your fear and get back in the saddle.

First, know that fear is real. Being afraid is nothing to feel embarrassed about or ashamed of. Being hurt by a horse is a traumatic event.?Give yourself credit for not being afraid to work with your mare on the ground.

Here, I’ll give you a step-by-step technique to overcome fear. I also strongly suggest that you?seek help from a qualified trainer/riding instructor in your area. Note that your confidence level will increase the more you practice these steps. Be patient.

Step 1. Think positive. This is a tall order, but you must try to think of your accident in positive terms. Did you walk away? Is your mare okay? What lessons did you learn? Turn this event into a positive learning experience.

Step 2. Build the bond. Get to know your mare better by doing ground work. Go back, and build a much deeper bond of mutual trust and respect. Start off slowly?with small steps. As you work, hold a positive image in your mind of what you’ll accomplish in each step. Keep a positive attitude and give you and your horse positive credit for completing each session. Think about the positive work with her that you’re accomplishing.

Step 3. Become the herd leader. Groom your mare. Then outfit her in a nylon or leather halter and a 12-foot nylon lead, and lead her around your property. As you do, make sure she knows that you’re the leader of the herd. Decide what you want her to do, and follow through. Do?forward-motion?walks, stops, and backups. Be consistent with your cues. Maintain your focus on your mare.

Step 4. Longe her. Regularly longe your mare, asking her go through her gaits on your cues.

Step 5. Lead her to accident scene.When you’re sure your mare trusts you and accepts you as the herd leader, slowly lead her to the bush where she spooked. If she acts tense or nervous on the way, stop her, stand with her, tell her it’s okay, and give her time to calm down. Then continue on to the scary bush. Each step will build her confidence, as well as yours.

Step 6. Confide in a friend. Select an experienced riding buddy with a reliable mount who’ll be able to ride with you for a few days. Over coffee or tea, tell your buddy every detail of what happened and how you feel. Hold nothing back. A true friend will understand and support you. Ask this buddy if you can ride his or her horse in the arena.

Step 7. Ride your buddy’s horse. The next day, head to the arena with your riding buddy and his or her horse. After your friend works the horse, mount up, and practice your riding skills. Start at a walk, then slowly progress to a trot and lope.?

Step 8. Ride your mare. When you’re comfortable riding your friend’s horse, saddle your mare, mount up, and lead her to the arena. Ask your riding buddy to ride with you, staying nearby. As you ride, set small, reachable goals, and end on a positive note. Don’t rush this step.

Step 9. Hit the trail. When you’re comfortable riding your mare in the arena, head back out onto the trail. Ask your riding buddy to come along. If you’re still nervous about a possible spook, find a qualified trainer/riding instructor to help you.

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