Riding Fear Free Help for Fearful Riders and Their Teachers

From Groundwork to Riding Fear Free

My horse and I are a real team on the ground. I can do anything with him on the ground, but I still get fearful when even thinking about getting on. How can I go from groundwork to riding fear free?

First of all, congratulations on putting in the time to develop a good partnership with your horse on the ground. It’s never a waste of time to build a solid foundation and develop a true partnership. The time you have worked with your horse has helped to create good memories to replace some of the fear in your brain.


People who have put in a great deal of time and effort with their horse but still feel fear have usually neglected to work on their emotions. If you always keep things quiet, comfortable, and in control, you will be left with underlying fears. To overcome fear, you must practice raising and lowering your emotions. You need to bring those fears out of your subconscious and address them. This can be accomplished by several means.

Groundwork with Visualization

One way to deal with your emotions is by doing exactly what you have been doing, but as you work each groundwork maneuver, imagine you are riding the horse. Once you no longer feel fear while imagining you are riding, saddle and bridle your horse. Continue your groundwork and visualization.

Riding Fear Free
People who have put in a great deal of time and effort with their horse but still feel fear have usually neglected to work on their emotions.

This mental preparation of saddling and visualizing will go much further to rewrite your fear memories because you are addressing your emotions, not just doing groundwork. After saddling, think about exactly how you would mount step-by-step. Hear the leather squeak. Feel the fender bend and twist as you turn the stirrup. Feel the strength in your legs as you step into the saddle. Imagine swinging up and gently settling on your horses back. Feel yourself lifting the reins and reaching with the off foot to pick up your other stirrup. Finally imagine settling your seat and adjusting as you prepare to walk on.

If you take the time to go into minute detail, you will reduce the fears without ever having to get on.

Feel the Obstacles

You are still doing groundwork but mentally riding your horse. Lunge or round pen your horse in a circle and continue visualizing. Feel each step of the horse and the bend in your body as you accommodate the circle. Send them over a pole and visualize yourself passing over it. When you add speed, adjust your visualization too. Feel the jog or trot as you maneuver the horse around you. If you are backing your horse, you need to feel yourself atop them shifting your weight in the saddle, adjusting your hips at each step.

With each obstacle, picture what you would be doing and feeling as the horse maneuvers through it. Notice your breathing. Are you holding your breath when you add visualizing to your routine? Do your muscles involuntarily tighten even just a tiny bit? Take a moment to breath deep or shake your muscle loose and then continue on with your groundwork. If things get even more emotional, you may need to completely remove yourself from the obstacle that brought on the fear spike. Visualize yourself dismounting and relieving the pressure. It’s this release of pressure and shaking off of the tension that helps reduce your emotions. If you force yourself to push through despite your fear, it just reinforces the impression that the body and mind need to protect themselves. So you will feel more fear next time you encounter this obstacle, not less. Each time an emotion surfaces, recognize it, release it, and purge it from your subconscious. Movement, bursts energy, an exuberant yell, and even a hearty laugh can reduce your fear spike to ashes.

Riding Fear Free

The Riding Fear Free Journey Tracker

Using guided assessment questions, the Riding Fear Free Journey Tracker can help you analyze your horse's behavior and training level and prepare lesson plans to get you to your goals. You can also use this journal to record and think through your emotions as you work through your fears.

Add a Rider

Once you can put your horse through its paces while picturing yourself riding and you have no more emotional spikes, you are ready to watch someone else sit on your horse while you do groundwork. The person you pick to ride doesn’t have to even know too much as long as they can sit the horse without interfering with your groundwork. The key here is that you are still in complete control of the horse. You are using the rider as a stand-in. This gives your subconscious more feedback that it’s safe to trust your horse. You are still in complete control, and you can see how the horse reacts with a rider. You can see for yourself how your horse handles a rider without the pressure of getting on yourself.

You may even ask the rider to describe their experiences.

  • ♦ How does it feel as the horse works an obstacle?
  • ♦ Do they take each obstacle in stride, or does the horse feel choppy or stiff?

Getting another rider’s feedback can help you mentally prepare to ride yourself. You may even want to do this several times. The more you can see your horse performing your groundwork sessions with a rider, the more your fears will be replaced with confidence in both your horse and your ability to control him.

Riding Fear Free

If you have enough confidence in your friend, you can ask them to do simple groundwork exercises with your horse while you watch. If the horse is just as obedient with them, you may want to be the passenger as they put the horse through his groundwork session.

The next step may include your friend walking with you as you ride. Your friend is guiding the horse, but you can still stop at any time. Ride the horse in the arena. Do not ride the obstacle yet. Do not attempt any maneuvers or obstacles. Just walk around, visualizing riding over them as your friend walks beside you.

Time to Ride Fear Free

Finally, you can take control of the horse. Have your friend walk with you as you do the same exercises you’ve been doing as groundwork exercises. This way, if you do experience any emotions, including overwhelming joy of finally riding fear free, your sidewalker is right there for emotional support. After each obstacle take a moment to celebrate and hug your horse. Treat each obstacle as its own individual ride and its own triumph. As you keep building good memories with solid safe rides, your side-walking partner can move farther away from you and your horse.

What next? Learn how to do these arena exercises the riding fear free way.

Laura Daley

Laura has a God-given passion for horses and for helping riders in their horsemanship journeys. She grew up on a large-scale Arabian breeding ranch and has spent her entire life learning about horses. Her first horse-training experiences came as a child, but she never stopped learning. As an adult, she became a Brandi Lyons Certified trainer. Laura firmly believes in continued education and shared experiences, and she often attends clinics with highly respected trainers such as Pat Parelli, Richard Shrake, Ken McNabb, Raye Lochert, and John and Josh Lyons. In addition to her horse training experience, she is knowledgeable about natural hoof care, equine massage, and chiropractic care. She believes in and merges conditioned-response training methods with physical therapies to create a balanced, peaceful, and willing equine partner.

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