When I was little, I loved horses. I rode them as much as I could – at the local showground, or galloping down steep sand dunes. Despite my pleas, mum and dad never bought me my own pony…so I kept one of those banana-shaped pool toys in the shed and fed it grated carrot. I even rode a broom up and down the driveway to practise my jumps!
Like any rider, I fell off a few times (off horses, not brooms). I was winded once, when my pony spooked at a garden hose (best bit: the showground owner’s son looking after me in the reception while I waited for mum. I had the biggest crush on him, and felt like the star of a Saddle Club episode.)
But I never feared horses. So when I decided to get back into the saddle last week, some 15 years later, I was shocked to feel shaky. Scared.
“Don’t worry,” the instructor told me as I shared my fears. “Billy is our beginner rider horse. He’s lazy, so you might find it hard to get him moving.”
Err not quite, lady.
Billy spent the lesson ignoring every command. He bucked, throwing me forward (thankfully instinct kicked in, and I leant back to stay on). The other horses joined in the frivolity, kicking up their hind legs and acting like clowns.
And the more Billy the Beast mucked up, the more panicked I became. And if you know horses, you’ll know they are super sensitive to our vibe. Act freaked, and they’ll spook too.
But if you know anxiety, you’ll know you can’t just force yourself to be calm.
So let’s just say my first time back in the saddle was a disaster. It was also bookended by a stressful drive: I used a car share hybrid for the first time which took forever to figure out, I got lost, stuck in traffic, and the road up to the riding school was so pot-holed, I was freaking out I’d lost a tire and have to pay a huge fee to the car share people.
By the time I arrived, I was already 15 minutes late so only had time to jump on the horse and start riding…not exactly an ideal situation for keeping calm. And it left no time for my usual tricks: deep breathing, visualisation, grounding exercises…
So, this isn’t one of those posts where I share my top tips for dealing with a similar situation.
Instead, I want to start a conversation about grown-up fears. As we get older, we become more risk-averse. The things that never worried us as kids suddenly become SUPER STRESSFUL SITUATIONS!
We expect the worst, and sometimes (as Billy and I so elegantly demonstrated) manifest those fears.
As a grown-up, my default assumption is “I’m totally going to die.”
But I don’t want to live like that!
So how can we adopt some of that childlike brazenness? How can we look at new situations as fun and not freaky?
At the end of my horror lesson, I went straight into the office and booked another one. So last night, I allowed more time for the trip out to the stables, brought along my hubby for moral support, did breathing and visualisation exercises in the car, and smiled all throughout my lesson.
Happily, my horse behaved and we were a cool little unit. Of course, I was still a wee bit scared (that’ll probably take a few more lessons to overcome). But I tried to clear my head, and just focus on the ride and tuning in to my horse. It helped.
Are you a worry warrior like me, who needs to do a tonne of preparation to feel in control? Then do it. If that helps, research your little heart out.
I spent the week between lessons watching endless YouTube videos. I read other rider’s stories about managing their anxiety, and how to control the horse better. I went into my next lesson feeling more capable, confident and informed.
And I had a damn good ride.
What are your biggest grown-up fears?
How do you manage them? Got any tips or insights to share? Join the conversation in our private Facebook group, or pop a comment below.