Spring is here, and we all want to enjoy our horses. As the weather changes, we start planning barn outings. After the first spring ride, we start to dream about our weekly lessons and bigger events, such as shows, trail rides, expos, and clinics. Fearful riders need to be prepared for the emotional and mental responses to returning to the saddle in the same way we plan for the soreness of physical aches and pains.
Most people expect to be sore after their first few spring rides. They make allowances for their physical difficulties. They plan for the stiff muscles and don’t berate themselves over their lack of stamina or coordination. Most take this physical difficulty in stride, joking and laughing about their aches and their remedies the first few weeks back on a horse. Memes are shared about riders collapsing after a ride in “No Stirrup November.” Horsepeople know it takes time to get themselves and their horses back into riding shape and forgive their shortcomings in the process. They allow extra time to warm up and cool down, and the smart ones stretch before and after. Some horsepeople buy special clothes, wraps, and medicinal remedies. Others prepare with exercise classes, massages, and sauna days. Few riders get upset because of their physical limitations. It’s normal and acceptable to be sore after time off riding.
However, very few people allow for the mental and emotional moments that fearful people experience after time away from their horses. They forget the tools that get them through their emotional and mental soreness. They become flustered, angry, sad, or depressed at their inability to just go ride.
No one likes the emotional roller coaster of fear, but if you take the time to prepare for the inevitable fear spike, you will be just as prepared for the mental and emotional issues as you are for the physical.
Emotional and Mental Soreness
There is a way to stop feeling this frustration, fear, anger, and shame. But it takes dedication and a willingness to be open and honest with emotions. Fearful riders need to plan for their emotional spikes:
Start by deciding that you should not become angry at your emotions and thoughts:
- Plan for these thoughts and feelings.
- Expect them to happen.
3 Look forward to expressing them.
Nobody can eliminate all fear or get rid of the sudden unexpected fears, but as a fearful person, you know those fears exist inside you. The sooner you express and work through them, replacing them with positive moments, the sooner you will be enjoying horse activities in a healthier way. Writing down a lesson plan for how to handle fear spikes will give you the steps necessary to handle your emotions. You may always experience fear, but you will have a detailed plan to address each fearful episode. You will never be caught flat-footed or thrown for a loop when an emotion pops up because you have written down all the steps to deal with the problem before getting near the horse.
Give Yourself Grace
Treat yourself just as kindly about your fear spikes as you do for your sore muscles. Plan for the mental and emotional spikes. Write out the what-ifs, have preplanned actions for each step of the fear cycle, and decide on specific actions to stop the cycle of fear. Don’t let the fear stop you in your tracks. Have “if, this, then that” steps set up for each stage of your first few rides back. (The Riding Fear Free Journey Tracker can help!)
- ♦ Bring your emotions along just as gently as you do your physical muscles.
- ♦ Be prepared to stop instead of pushing past the fear.
- ♦ Have contingency plans if things start to go off the rails.
- ♦ Be ok with stopping at any point in the session.
- ♦ Be forgiving of yourself.
- ♦ Be prepared to acknowledge the fear and express it rather than stuffing it inside.
- ♦ Be as supportive of your mental and emotional needs as you are your calves.
- ♦ Have mental and emotional breaks at each stage of your horse encounter.
- ♦ Laugh at the first hint of a fearful thought.
- ♦ Joke with yourself about how you knew it was coming and it’s over something you do routinely.
- ♦ If a fear spike catches you off guard, do something physical as you feel your emotions rising. Wiggle, shake, or jump up and down to express and release the excess adrenaline that fear brings.
- ♦ Stop at the first hint of emotion and visualize a peaceful scene before you.
- ♦ Being mindful and slowing your breathing.
- ♦ Do something to change your state of mind and keep it from racing out of control.
Have a Detailed Plan
Those are all great things to have prepared, but the best thing for a fearful rider to do is a written lesson plan. Detailed step-by-step plans will help you process your emotions, help curb fear spikes, and give you immediate steps to take. You are never caught completely flat-footed or frozen because you have planned for the fear.
You know the fear is likely to happen during the first few spring rides after your time off. But you are never putting yourself in real harm or danger because you have taken the time to allow for the mental and emotional moments to happen in a controlled and well-planned exercise. This plan allows for the fear to be expressed and released in a controlled and step-by-step fashion. The plan is specifically for your situation because you wrote it. There is no frustration or shame because you are being just as responsible with your mental and emotional health as you are with your physical health.