In The Saddle: How overcoming fear can be a massive hurdle

Anita Marsh
Anita Marsh

Confidence around horses is something I take for granted, but I talk to a lot of my non-horsey friends who admit to being quite scared of them, despite admiring from a distance.

I try to understand but it is hard when you’ve never had a fear of them on the ground.

In the saddle though, well, that’s a different story altogether.

I had my first brush with danger and lost my confidence when I was loaning a horse around fifteen years ago. I think something ‘spooked’ her, but to this day I’m not sure.

The horse bolted. The more I tried to pull her up, the more it fought against me and soon I was flat out in gallop on a 60mph road - out of control and terrified.

In what seemed like hours trying to pull up, she eventually swerved around a road sign, throwing me onto her neck.

I remember hitting the ground with the poor horse panicking and trampling me before heading home on her own.

The whole thing must have been over in thirty seconds, but it’s something I will remember for the rest of my life - not least because of the perfectly shaped horse hoof scar in the back of my left leg!

I don’t think there is one rider out there that doesn’t have a scar to show you or a story to tell. It’s part of being around horses.

Last weekend April, my horse, and I were happily riding on a country lane when a horse shot out from behind some trees we were passing.

That was enough to spook April making her snort and dance sideways.

The more nervous I felt, the more April picked up on it - horses look to their riders to be their leaders because they are naturally flight animals.

I wasn’t leading April and telling her it was OK.

I was so scared she’d bolt, I had tightened my grip on the reins and was no doubt hunched up in the saddle.

If I’d not had the accident years before I wouldn’t have been worried.

It’s such a funny thing fear. It can cripple you in seconds and you can lose all reason.

If someone could bottle confidence up and sell it they’d make a fortune. Sometimes nerves can set in before shows too, hindering your usual performance. In what can seem like a perfect dressage test at home, if you suffer with nerves it can totally change the way you ride.

Even the top riders for the British Olympic team can suffer. I think if you channel it right, it can make you focus more. I find if nerves do kick in to imagine everything being perfect, be it the dressage test or your horse spooking.

Sometimes with spooking you don’t have chance to ‘imagine and ride the perfect outcome’ but you can fake confidence, and learn to breathe. Singing is a great way to ensure you don’t hold your breath and start to relax in the saddle, as crazy as it sounds.

Thankfully by ‘faking’ I was confident, my horse believed me and once she relaxed I finally did too.

I did laugh a little later at how silly I was.

Life must be so much easier if you’re into shoes and handbags, but for me it wouldn’t be half as fulfilling.