Certainly a hard, painful injury sustained while riding can make the whole subsequent riding experience less carefree, that`s just a normal reaction. One moment you are happily riding, and seemingly the next, you`re in a hospital bed, maybe in a cast, maybe in a halo, certainly, though, not where you wanted or expected to be. Now what?
Fear, it seems to me, is based upon the apprehension that something bad is either apt to happen, or, worse, about to happen. So if riding a horse makes you afraid, what, if anything, can be done to lessen or eliminate that fear?
Partly, I think, fear afflicts some people much more, about all sorts of things, than it does others. Not everyone is cut out to be a high risk taker. Not everyone can jump big fences from a fast gallop, just as not everyone can jump out of airplanes. So if taking big risks isn`t something that appeals to you, I guess I`d ask myself what propels me to push so far out of my comfort zone, and who I`m doing it for, and why.
Because, as Jack Le Goff, my former USET coach once explained to us, there are at least two kinds of fear, the real physical fear of imminent injury or death, and the fear of failure, often in some public place or situation. A good example of the first would be that you are a passenger in a car being driven by a drunk driver, speeding recklessly along a narrow road overlooking a 500 foot cliff to rocks below.
The second might be the fear felt by someone about to come on stage to speak before a large audience, with television cameras, and public scrutiny. This second kind can feel almost as debilitating as the first, although the potential results are far less deadly.
So I would think that the first, the physical fear of riding injury, is greatly contingent upon the temperament of the horse you`re sitting on, and upon what you are doing. There are horses so quiet that you have to kick them to get them to walk. They stand like rocks as you mount. They`d PREFER to stand like rocks when you ride. Taking one of these for a walking trail ride is almost like sitting on your couch, except that you probably don`t have to cluck to your couch.
If I was living in fear of starting to ride again after being hurt, this is clearly the way to start riding again. Do this until you are so bored you can`t stand it. If you never get bored, stay there. DO NOT climb on some fresh, or nervous or flighty, or aggressive, or hot one. That`s just stupid. Do you want to be both scared AND stupid?
As for the second kind of fear, the fear of messing up, of failure, of embarrassment, this isn`t so bad. Sure, our 50,000 year old “fight or flight” mechanism can`t really tell the difference between getting eaten by a sabretooth tiger, crushed by a wooly mammoth, or getting twos and threes in dressage, but you actually will survive the most vicious dressage judge.
So assess the source of your fear, and take tiny little steps on the way back. If these tiny little steps make you crazy with boredom, take bigger steps. If they don`t, don`t!
The hardest part isn`t knowing what to do. The hardest part is getting gradually higher and higher octane horses to progress on until you reach the level that makes you at least mildly comfortable. It`s when you skip the in between steps that fear can take over and plunge you down again. So it`s better, I think, unless you are a hard nosed risk taker, to go too slowly rather than too quickly.