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By Kelli Paulson
Weekly, I receive calls about rider’s fears. These calls are very similar, people think they are the only one that struggles with fear. Fear is common. Discussions at clinics often turn to fear. Fear can be found everywhere. Unchecked fear ruins our fun, stops us from enjoying our horse and causes us to make excuses not to ride.

Do you remember summers when riding was fun and carefree? For many of us it was when we where kids. Somewhere along the way something changed, somehow fear was allowed to take over. What changed in us? The stresses of life? Being an adult?

I repeatedly hear these statements: “I am the bread winner.” “I have to be responsible.” “I have to take care of my kids.” “I can’t get hurt.” The concerns are real, but don’t validate these fears by letting them affect your relationship with your horse. The funny thing is we can get hurt anywhere. Just last week I tripped on a hole in the sid

ewalk and bruised myself up good.
Fear is a mental battle. It affects all areas of our life. It seems to be an epidemic. lists 19,906 different books about fear! The bible mentions fear over 1000 times and it tells us to FEAR NOT 63 times.

The question is “What can we do about it?”

First, we must admit we have fear and assess it. Second, we make a choice to overcome our fear. Third, we make a plan and implement it.

Assess the situation.

Are you in danger? Some fear is meant to keep you alive while other fear just holds you captive. Ask yourself these questions: Am I equipped to handle this situation? Is my horse obedient and properly prepared? Am I prepared? Should I get off? What is the safest way to handle this situation? How can I adjust the situation to be safe? Should I lead the horse over the bridge instead of riding over it?

Be Real. Do you have the right horse for you? Is this horse in your riding ability? In order to have fun and be safe do you need training, lessons or a different horse? Minor issues can be worked out through lessons and clinics with the right instructor. Issues beyond your abilities may require a trainer. Be a part of the training process. Make appointments to watch and take lessons during that time. Our horses’ problems often come from us. We may have too change also. If it is a serious mismatch consider a different horse. You may enjoy reading the article “Selecting the Right Horse for You” on

Make a choice.

Over coming fear is a decision. The decision is easy. Taking action is difficult and requires a plan.
Pay attention to your self-talk. Control your mind. We are our own worst enemy. Imagine the following story: I was riding with some ladies this summer when I heard them begin to talk in fear as we were riding over a ridge. “What if my horse falls off the ridge?” As the nervous conversation continued I observed that they had nice, sensible trail horses. I then asked, “Does your horse listen to you?” “Yes.” Does your horse move away from your legs?” “Yes.” “Can you control where his feet are?” “Yes.” It made me realize how rampant fear is in the riding world.

Why do we put ourselves through this? Why do we allow fear to control our lives? Left unchecked at some point our fears may come true. For instance, if we are fearful of going over the edge of the ridge we will look at the bottom of the ravine. What happens when we look at that ravine? Our body turns. When we turn our bodies we are telling our horse to turn towards the bottom of the ravine. Being uptight and worried tells our horse to be uptight and worried. Do you see where this is going?

The logic of the situation is this: Does a horse randomly fall down a ravine when they can walk across the top of a ridge? No! Why would the horse hurt itself? Horses have a strong sense of self preservation.

Solution: Trust your training, trust your horse and all the time spent with him, take a deep breath and look across to where you want to go. This applies to any obstacle. It is just like looking ahead as you lope a circle. Look to where you want to go. Believe you are going there. Tell yourself positive things. “I can do this. I am prepared. My horse rocks. I am fearless.”

Make a plan.

Get the skills you need. What skills do you need? What do you need to improve? Lessons and clinics with an understanding, effective instructor will build your confidence and skills. It is often the most efficient way to learn new skills. Reading and watching videos can be great aides but keep this in mind: Watching football does not give you the actual abilities to go play with the pros. Comments about what you are doing from a live person is important. They can see the things you are missing or doing wrong. I take riding lessons to keep myself from developing bad habits and to help me add finesse to my horses.

Build your confidence. Do you trust your horse? Does your horse trust you? Learn to work with your horse, understand your horse, develop the trust, and learn your horse’s strength and weaknesses. Learn to be the kind of leader your horse trusts. Horses often take on the persona of the leader: solid and thinking or spooky and reactive. Scared, fearful, reactive horses run. Solid, thinking horses wait for instruction. Be the right kind of leader. One your horse can trust. A good leader may be afraid but they don’t quit leading. They have a plan and they do it.

Start on the ground. Groundwork makes life easier. It is the foundation for everything you do with your horse including trailer loading, problem solving and riding. Groundwork teaches our horses so many things: go forward, be light and responsive on the rope, to pay attention and listen, respect our space, respond to our request, and control their feet. It teaches us: to be handy with our lead rope, communicate clearly, expect respect and responsiveness, timing and to direct their feet.

With the basic groundwork completed you can build off of those skills in a manageable way and work through areas where your horse spooks or is uneasy. By dealing with these issues effectively on the ground you are increasing their confidence, bravery, willingness, responsiveness, and your partnership while being safe.

Send your horse over new things such as tarps, bridges and water. When you send them first it is no big deal if they rush, leap or jump. Continue sending them until they are quiet and thinking. After your horse is listening and willing on the ground, ride them over. At this point it should be no big deal. As you and your horse grow in confidence and teamwork you will develop boldness and bravery.

Tack. Well fitted, functional tack in good repair is important. Tack should be simple and functional, avoid gimmicks. Check out your tack, make adjustments and repairs before it is time to ride.

Exercise. Be physically fit. Take the time to increase your core strength with sit-ups and walk or run daily. It will help you become a more balanced and secure rider.

I need to improve my skills and confidence so I can enjoy my horse.
*Assess my horse and my abilities
Ask a qualified friend or trainer for their opinion
*Learn Groundwork and how to direct my horse’s feet. Attend a groundwork, horsemanship and trail obstacle clinic
*Learn to trust my horse.
Spend time practicing what I learned and getting to know my horse better.
Practice every Monday, Wednesday and Friday
*Have fun. Find some friends to ride with.
Schedule ride time
*Improve my self-talk.
When I brush my teeth I will say, “I can do this. I will not live in fear. I am prepared. I trust my horse.”
1. Ride in the Novice division of a Trail Rider Challenge.
2. Enjoy my horse.
3. Spend time with like minded friends

Once you have made a plan share it with a friend. Check-off each item as you get it done. Set goals. Have fun. Celebrate your success!

Proper preparation is important. A few summers ago I was riding over a bridge when the horse I was on stepped off the side of the bridge despite strong resistant from my leg. We fell four feet into four feet of water. Getting myself and the horse out of the water was quite a battle. For a month afterwards I held my breathe while my heart pounded as I crossed the bridge. I realized I had to change the situation. First, I assessed. Was my fear real? No. I had crossed this bridge a 1,000 times before without incident. Why did it happen? I broke my own rule of proper preparation. If I can’t direct a horse’s feet to cross a 20 inch wide 12 foot long plank, I have no business going over a bridge. I skipped that step. I could not direct that horse’s feet. Lesson learned: I do not need to be afraid of the bridge. I do need to stick to my rule of proper preparation.

For us that forget the first rule of proper preparation, trust your gut. I had another dunking. My gut told me to get off and send the horse into the pond. I decided to skip that step. I kept asking and eventually the horse leaped into the water, jumped four feet up and 8 feet sideways in a split second launching me into the water. After I retrieved my horse I sent him through the water a few times from the ground until he was calm. Then I road him through calmly and flawlessly. Lesson learned. Proper preparation. Trust your gut. I made a mental note. This horse will move very quick when under pressure and not properly prepared.

Sometimes to deal with a situation we have to find confidence outside of ourselves. When things are going to get tough I take a little time to get properly prepared. First I get out my “Super Girl Chaps”. You might laugh but here is the deal. The chaps are part of my Super Girl suit that gives me security and an adds a boost of bravery. They are made of a good leather that sticks to the saddle. I have never come out of the saddle wearing them. This works for me.

Do what you need to do to overcome your fear. Prepare yourself. Make a plan. Get some skills. Learn from your mistakes. I just told you few of mine. Enjoy your horse!

Kelli Paulson teaches horsemanship, groundwork and trail obstacles clinics where you can accomplish more with your horse than you ever imagined. Kelli is a Regional Ambassador for Purina Feeds. “I believe in Purina feed. I want my horses to be focused and thinking. Strategy keeps the horses I am working with level headed. Strategy works for almost every horse in the barn, keeping chores simple. It's top quality. I trust Purina.” - Kelli
Contact Kelli to ride in or host a winter riding group or clinic.
Kelli’s web site is: or call 402-889-6042