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Restoring rider confidence

18 August 2011 No Comment

Restoring rider confidence
We asked horse training expert Dr. Jessica Jahiel, whose teaching goal is to develop balanced, willing, forward horses and thoughtful riders. More on Jessica

From: Christine

Hi! I am an 18 year old and I have a problem I am hoping you might be able to help me with. My problem is that I have lost all confidence in riding and sometimes being around horses. I should first give you some background information on me.

I quit riding in November of 1993 because my instructor was intimidating me. I was never used to the way he taught and every time I tried to ask him a question, he would just scream at me for doing it wrong. He would never tell me what I was doing wrong and how to change what I was doing. He also sometimes forced me into jumping higher than I would want to. He would almost taunt me if I didn’t jump like the others (who were much more experienced than I was) or you could just sense it in the way that he treated me. He was purely the instructor from hell.

I didn’t take lessons after that. In July of 1994, I test-rode a 9 y/o, chesnut, 15.1 hh QH mare named Beauty. The ride went well (at least that is what I thought) but apparently, the owner of the stable didn’t think so because she said I couldn’t ride her. What really made me mad was the fact that she had never even seen me ride!

I went a year without riding and then I decided to try out a 4 y/o, chesnut, 15.1 hh, QH gelding named Doc’s Bedside Manners in August of l995. Despite the fact that they were both QH’s, the ride was very much different. It all went well until I dropped my iron. I leaned a bit to pick it up but as this was happening, other things were happening at once, if you can picture this. A dog was chasing the horse and this girl, clearing a jump, flashed right before our eyes. I think Doc got kind of confused because he bucked me off. It really hurt mentally and physically but I realized that if I didn’t get back on, that I would lose all confidence all together.

The last time I rode was September of 1995. My friend had this 10 y/o, black, 15.2 hh, THBD mare named Midnight Whisper. It was just a disaster. The first time I rode this mare, Murphy’s Law prevailed. But what really was the climax, was when we were cantering. So here we were cantering, and I DROP my iron. I lean forward to pick it up because I can’t find it and BOOM! She takes off! Everything became a blur, after that. I tried to pull her into a circle because I read somewhere that some horses calm down if you pull them into a circle. Well, not for Whisper. It just made her go faster. And all this time, Kathy is yelling “Sit back, sit back!” But what could I do? I was literally paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t move. Well, eventually I was thrown off. And that HURT as well. I couldn’t move for a while. It was like the wind was knocked out of me.

(I should mention that the next couple of times I went up to the barn, everything went wrong. She got an eye infection one time and another time, she wouldn’t let me catch her.)

Okay, my problem is this: I have no confidence anymore in riding. I don’t even like to jump anymore because it scares me. I want to eventually own my own horse one day but right now I have doubts that that will ever happen. I get this feeling that ” I can’t do it” or “You’ll just screw up”. Somehow, I have some kind of a guilty conscience every time I ride. It’s like I know I’m going to fall or do something stupid. I am almost afraid to ride.

I am hoping you will help me because this summer, I would like to part-board- SUCCESSFULLY! What should I do?

Answer
Hi Christine! You must love horses and riding very much to want to ride in spite of all the events you’ve described to me. Will it comfort you if I tell you that there are many, many riders in your situation?

Don’t be in a hurry to part-lease anything. What you need is six months or a year — at least — of lessons WITH A GOOD INSTRUCTOR. You’ve been pushed too fast and too far, over faced, and put into one dangerous situation after another — you need to begin again and learn correct riding with an emphasis on SAFETY.

I don’t know what sort of instructors are available in your area, but here’s what I would do if I were you.

First, I would call the ARIA (American Riding Instructor Association) and ask whether there is an ARICP-certified instructor in your area who teaches what you want to learn (hunt-seat?). It’s not a guarantee that you’ll find the perfect instructor, but it WILL tell you that the instructor has good basic knowledge and a strong emphasis on safety.

Second, I would go to local schooling shows and look for riders who seem comfortable, competent, calm, and cheerful, and whose horses seem comfortable, competent, calm, and cheerful. Then I would find out who was teaching those riders, and try to arrange a trial lesson with that person.

Third, I would go around to the local riding stables and ask who teaches there and WATCH a lesson or two with each instructor. When you find yourself watching a lesson and wishing very hard that YOU were the student, because the instructor is so clear and kind and sensible that you know you would learn and not be over-faced, ask to take a trial lesson, etc.

You should be able to learn and have fun — learning SHOULD be fun. If it isn’t, then you’ve got the wrong instructor. Take your time, Christine — it may take you several months to find the right instructor for you. But once you’ve found her and taken lessons for several months, you can ask her advice about leasing or part-leasing a horse, and she’ll be able to tell you when that would be appropriate, and help you find a suitable horse.

“Visit the ARIA website, http://www.win.net/aria/, for a list of certified instructors in your area.”

Sincerely, Jessica

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