Sometimes we find ourselves awash in our anxieties and fears, as though everywhere we turn, everywhere we look, we are greeted by strong currents and shifting sands impeding our path to the shoreline. In this week’s blog, RSE Guest Blogger Amanda Gilbank explores the fears of new riders and the ways in which they can move forward. What is interesting, too, however, is that when Amanda reminds riders about the importance of challenging themselves to grow and reach beyond their comfort zones, her words also apply to other areas of life, areas in which excessive anxiety and fear threaten to hinder us from the achievement of our dreams.
Dear Anxious Rider,
I recognize you.
You love horses, riding, and everything in between but can’t quite stop your palms from sweating when you think about getting in the saddle. You can’t control your heart from thudding right down to your knees. You certainly can’t keep your mind from racing and imagining every possible negative outcome and possibility. You have goals, you have dreams, but the seizing fear in your throat makes them seem impossible. You’re frustrated. Why can’t you be like so-and-so at the barn, who effortlessly mounts without a care in the world? Or like the young riders who seem to bounce back from every wrong step, every hard landing? What are you even doing here?
I want you to know that I admire you.
I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “You’re worried about nothing” or worse, maybe you’ve said it to yourself. I’m sure hearing that didn’t help at all, mostly because fear is real. It’s a tangible feeling that won’t go away because you decide not to acknowledge it. It doesn’t reason with you, it just is. That means every time you put your foot in the stirrup you are facing your fear. Have you ever thought about that? You happen to love something that can cause your heart to pound like a hammer, and you do it anyway. Your passion outweighs your survival instinct. You push yourself past what scares you. That’s called bravery.
I want you to know that we’ve all been there.
We’ve all felt those butterflies and imagined something going not quite right. Yes, even the riders at the top of our sport, at the height of their game have felt that cold drive of fear before. We’ve all had ‘that fall’ - the hard one, the one that made us nervous to get back on that horse, jump that height, ride past that corner. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to go to any equestrian event and see a rider who doesn’t nervously shorten their reins, or hold their breath. Your fellow barn mates will tell you stories of past falls with pride - the pride that was earned by getting back to it, getting back on, and beating back their own fears. We’ve all been there, and we’ll likely be there again. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, just another piece of the riding puzzle.
I want you to know that you are right.
It’s not like you’re sitting down with a book or a knitting project. Your fear of a 1,000- pound animal with a mind of its own is more than rational. Be kind to yourself. As your confidence grows you will push your boundaries more and more – but never ignore your gut. Our alarm bells are installed for a reason. The worry and panic that you feel is your body trying to protect itself from possible negative outcomes, ones that we only become more aware of as we age. After all, experience teaches caution. It is more than a reasonable response, it’s an expected one. The good news is, it’s one that you can manage. Find what calms your fears. Is it a trusted steed, the watchful eye of a coach? Is it the walls of the arena? Know your comfort zone well, challenge it from time to time and watch it grow. Recognize that your body wants to protect you. Don’t fight it. Acknowledge it, own it, and you will wield it.
I want you to keep riding.
This is important. Equestrians are unique athletes because it’s not always the ones who have the most natural talent that succeed – it’s the ones who keep on learning. There are so many ways to soak up knowledge outside of riding. Read, watch, listen. It’s a kind of power, a tool to use against your own fears. Never stop learning, and never doubt your journey of learning. Remember that ego will halt progress far more than fear. Take your time, keep trying, and celebrate each (seemingly) tiny achievement and milestone. They are important to your journey, which is uniquely yours, and should not be compared to any one else’s. There will be setbacks. There will be days where it feels like things are going backwards, not forwards. You’ll be frustrated. But nothing worth doing is easy. Be forgiving to yourself, be honest with yourself, and try again. You’ll try over, and over, and over again. Somewhere along the way, you’ll grow. Your comfort zone will expand, and you’ll look back at the rider you were versus the rider you are with amazement. Know that I’m cheering for you. We all are.
You can do this.
Another (Still a Little Anxious) Rider