I'm terrified of my new horse and shouldn't be - help!

Hey Everyone,

This is really hard for me to write, but I’m sitting here with big tears rolling down my eyes after my first ride on my new beautiful horse (a birthday present from my husband). I was in a really bad riding accident in 2011. I actually had two bad ones around that time - the first resulted in a concussion and broken sacrum, but I was back to my old riding self within 2 months. The second was a different story. I ended up with a severe concussion, complete amnesia for 10 hours, a broken shoulder blade, broken pelvis and every joint of my ribcage was sprained. The concussion was so severe that I had a hard time reading, my personality changed and I was a mess for almost 6 months after.

Horses are my absolute passion so I made it my goal to get back to riding at that same level as soon as I could. I rode my Dad’s old bombproof horse every weekend and would literally shake and cry because I had such severe PTSD, but all I wanted to do was ride. The doctor’s said it would be harder to recover because I don’t have any memory of the accident, so I can’t make sense of it. The fear comes out of nowhere and is a natural reaction to riding.

I slowly regained most of my confidence and learned how to control my nerves when I felt them creeping up, but today I just couldn’t. My first ride on my new horse and he got a little huffy going down a hill and I was completely terrified. I’ve never wanted off a horse so bad in my life. I used to train problem trail horses (which resulted in my accident eventually) but I can hold my own. I’m so disappointed that after my first ride I feel like he’s too much horse for me, but I’m also worried every horse will feel that way.

Am I ever going to get back to how I was before the accident? Being a great rider has been my dream and passion since I was 3 years old. Now I have the horse I’ve always wanted and I’m scared of him. I can’t explain how heartbreaking it is to be afraid of the thing you want most, but I am. Can anyone relate? How did you over come this?

Did you have an opportunity to participate in picking out your new horse? Perhaps at a different point in your riding career you would have felt more comfortable with a nice but unknown horse. However, it sounds like this season of your riding is one where it is really important to have the right match.

Did the horse come from a situation where you and your husband could go together and see if there is a more suitable horse? I wouldn’t think of it as “I can never have the horse I always wanted” but rather “This is the perfect horse for me in a different season of life. Right now I need something that helps me get my confidence back”.

In a very simplified version of events, I ended up with what I believed to be the horse I had been waiting for and ignored many red flags, including fear. In the end it was a heartbreaking situation all around and fighting through my fear did not make me a better rider or more confident horse person. I wish someone had told me it was okay to say “not the horse for this season” and walk away.

There is no timeline for confidence building. Finding a really safe perhaps even a bit “boring” of a partner goes a long way towards developing your security in the tack again. For me, I found it in a 14h mid teens arabian. She is safe, safe, safe and just technical enough to help me get my head back in the game. Through her I now feel more confident hopping on a horse that would have made my stomach go into knots just a year ago.

If your husband supports your passion enough to help find you a horse, I am sure he would be thrilled to help you find a horse that makes you smile every time you get on.

best of luck!!


Take your horse for a nice walk in familiar surroundings. For like, 60 days. Do nothing but walk, and talk to him, and bring horse treats to give him occasionally. Pat him a lot. Do this until you two know each other and this is no big deal. Then introduce a little trot; just a few steps. Relax. Sing a song that matches the trot rhythm (it will help you breathe). Then a few more steps. At each point when you feel confident enjoy that for a while. Then add something to the equation to make it more fun or interesting with just enough challenge to it. I hope you two come along. Remember you deserve this horse and the joy that comes with riding him. You two will soon learn to trust and love each other. Best of luck.


I’ve been where you are. It’s a tough road, and very demoralizing when you think you may not be able to do something you love anymore because of anxiety and fear.

The first thing that helped me was to take many timelines and “goals” off the table. I used to say “I want to be doing X by this day” and when I inevitably failed to meet it because of freezing up in fear and not getting things done, I was even more upset with myself. It became a vicious cycle of stress and anxiety that only built on each other as I put these massive expectations on myself when I was still healing mentally and emotionally. I found that after I took timelines and goals almost entirely off the table, I could relax. It let me move at my own pace. So what if I planned on hopping on that greenbroke horse today to put some saddle time on it? If I’m not mentally prepared for it, I would only make me and the horse worse for my defensive riding and anxious behavior. It’s okay to take a breather.

There was a period of time after an accident with a horse on the ground that put me in a cast for months where I was irrationally scared of leading any horse I didn’t know well. Didn’t matter how broke and calm the horse seemed, as soon as I had the lead rope in my hand I was literally, visibly, shaking to the point I couldn’t even speak. Cold sweat, dizzy, the works. It took me 5 months to get to the point where I could lead horses around and not be terrified. It took awhile, but if I had continued to FORCE myself to lead strange horses, I would have only made myself worse from continuing to shove the stress onto myself without allowing it to heal. Healing, especially mental healing, takes time.

Think of it like this. Some severe soft tissue injuries can take over a year to heal. What you have is a severe mind injury, emotion injury, and why should you treat it any different than you would a physical injury?

As some suggestions, maybe start by being “lead-lined” by someone for your first rides back. In the arena, quiet days, ride the horse and let someone just lead you. Set yourself, and your horse, up for success. Make it as easy on yourself as possible. You wouldn’t ask a horse to canter on its first rehab exercise post-injury, so don’t expect that of yourself. Once you feel comfortable with that, ride in the arena while someone watches closely. It doesn’t have to be a lesson, just having someone there to keep an eye on you can help. Work your way up to riding outside again. Riding outside can be scary for some riders even if they’ve ridden for years, so take it easy on yourself.

It gets easier, just give it time and work your way up to where you used to be. Good luck :slight_smile:


Find a therapist and get to work! PTSD is real, and it will take professional help to work through this. While you do, take it slow with the new horse. Walk around in the arena. Practice halting and walking on again until you’re bored.


This is all good advice. I did the leadline thing for months after my accident, which didn’t even happen on a horse-long story. Now I can enjoy my horse, who is very calm and well trained. Please be kind to yourself and don’t judge yourself.


The horse I had before my last horse (my beloved Shiloh) scared the pants off me. I hit the ground so many times that the last time I came into the ER the doctor on duty screamed at me “Get a new horse!” That kind of bad. Fortunately, I found my guy. He had the patience of a saint, wasn’t going to do anything he didn’t think I could handle and just packed me around. I knew I had graduated the day I asked him to do something, he gave me the evil eye and threw a couple of crowhops at me. I had to laugh.

Just keep riding your dad’s horse if you have to. Spend time doing groundwork with your new horse, There are all kinds of trainers with all kinds of fun things to do. I like Linda Tellington-Jones because her exercises really engage the horse’s brain. Take it slow - remember, there is no must and there is no deadline. Well, there is one must: you MUST have fun. :yes::lol: Don’t push yourself, don’t let anyone else push you. Slow and steady wins the “race.”


It pains me to admit this but my own new young horse scared the pants off me recently. Got her tongue over the bit and bolted. She was bred for speed so it was not a pretty situation. Took around 500 yards for her to finally stop running full speed… Anyway it spooked the heck out of me. On one hand I was pleasantly surprised that she had that speed in her, and on the other hand I would rather never ever go that fast unless I ask for it. I was anxious the next day schooling her, and we all know that is not a good combination.

What cured my anxiety was having a friend ride her while I watched. Maybe for a while you can have your horse join you on the trails but with a different rider. You can hop on old faithful and just watch someone else ride your horse alongside.


The book “Brain Training for Riders” may help you understand more about how your brain is working. It’s just doing its job, helpfully trying to keep you alive by not letting you repeat whatever got you hurt last time. You can retrain it, though this may not be a DIY project. Consider working with a therapist either online or in person if possible if you’re not already.

In your situation I would keep my feet firmly planted on the ground and pick whichever groundwork program appeals to you – Tristan Tucker and Warwick Schiller are my two current favorites – and go through their program.

After some time doing just groundwork, you may elect to get on and ride in an enclosed arena. As in a 50’ round pen, if you have something that small. If not maybe you can set up panels in the corner of the arena. Take it slow, repeat all the things from the groundwork under saddle. And then work your way back out to the trail after all the previous steps are completely uneventful and boring in a larger enclosed space.

It’s when you think, “okay, this is kind of boring, I think I’d like to…” that you move on. Not on anyone else’s schedule.


I’m sorry you are going through this. I have this issue as well, and it is very difficult.
One thing I’ve learned is to give yourself time. Spend a lot of time with your horse. Take him out to where you were on a lunge line and work with him on the ground. I know that I am a lot more comfortable with my horse now than I was when I first got him or even a year ago, even though I’ve had a couple spills, because I know him better.
Can anyone else ride him a bit for you? If you know someone who is a little more confident that might help, too.
I know it’s very difficult. I’ve never been seriously injured and I really struggle, especially with a more spooky horse.


Be kind to yourself. That’s first and foremost. You had two terrible accidents. Your reptilian cortex is working it’s magic trying to keep you safe. I remember reading a post on Reddit from someone who had been involved in a car accident which resulted in a fatality. (They were not at fault ). The poster still was unable to bring themselves to drive 2 years later and could not go on the highway where the accident occurred even as a passenger.

Take deep breath and give yourself permission to let go of the “should haves” and “couldn’t you justs” . It’s OK to get off a horse if you’re nervous. As I’ve gotten older, the less I believe that old-school notion of riding through so the horse doesn’t get the wrong idea. It’s only true if your energy is in the right place to serve the horse well. Otherwise, hop off, do something else that will foster calm and positive energy (hand walking, etc) and try again some other day.

Maybe trails just aren’t going to be your thing anymore. No better time to explore new disciplines on horseback! Or maybe you find you just can’t bring yourself to give up trails. In that case, time to explore steps you can take to make yourself feel safer for a while. Ride out in a group? Have a friend with good ground handling skills walk along or lead you? Pony the new horse off your father’s bombproof horse? Long line/ground drive the new horse on the trails?

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Are you working with a therapist? I would strongly encourage involving one (perhaps one that specializes in sports psychology) and getting expert help with this. Anxiety and post-traumatic stress are complicated and tricky things to deal with, and a professional can help provide you with the tools you need to get back on track.

As for the horse- take the pressure off. Easier said than done, but take your goals off the table for now and don’t tell yourself that you “should be” doing anything. If you want to groom him, awesome! Maybe lunge or go hand walking. If getting on and walking around the barn doesn’t scare you, try doing that for a while. The day will come when you find yourself wanting to push it; wait for that day. If it makes you worried or you think you’d rather not, then don’t.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you is NOT to think you “shouldn’t be” scared. You had two serious accidents and your brain is, instinctually, trying to protect you in manner over which you have little control. When you stop seeing it as a personal failure and start addressing it as a psychological injury, you can start taking positive steps to get better. Best of luck to you.


So you have a new horse? Did you move him to a new barn? If so, you upended his entire world and of course he is going to be anxious about his new life. How much desensitizing did you do? Any relaxation exercises before you headed out on the trail? You put the horse in a situation he could not handle. When you get a new horse and move him to a new barn, you need to do groundwork first to see where he is mentally. When he clearly tells you that he is relaxed and able to handle the new surroundings, you get on and ride at home. When he clearly tells you that he is still relaxed and able to handle the new surroundings, and you’ve tested him on some scary obstacles, and he is not showing any inclination to go back to the barn, you head out on the trail. Otherwise you are not prepared.

OP I’m sorry you’re going through this. There’s been a lot of smart advice already given so I don’t have much to add. Therapists can help you develop tools and techniques to manage your fears and anxieties. I also love the ideas of doing ground work- warwick schiller is who I’d recommend, I love his videos- and just doing walk only arena work or flat simple easy walks. You are recovering from traumatic injuries while also learning a new horse. He’s also learning you his new owner and getting settled into a new home. All I can say is give yourself time. Don’t rush or force yourself but don’t give up what makes you happy. I’ve found breaking big goals down into small baby steps makes them not so scary or intimidating. One step at a time and don’t rush yourself. You’ll be ready when you’re ready on your own time. When I first got back in the saddle after a decade away I was like a nervous beginner again. Just be kind to yourself and don’t push yourself too far too fast.

Try Jo Cooper. http://www.equestrianconfidence.com/ She works over the phone. I would not be riding now if it were not for her.

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As someone who has been there, im going to tell it to you straight. You will never be that person again. You can however, be a great rider again. You can be a great horse person again. All it takes is patience.

As dumb as this sounds, the first step is to admit it. Your scared. And yes, its horrible and embarrassing to go back to just walking inside an arena and having someone hold your hand, but its the only way.

You said you just got a new horse. Don’t ride him. Work on the ground. Do in-hand work, extreme trail work, desensitize him, lunge, long line. You may have thoughts that you want to ride, followed by thoughts of what ifs. And you will be apprehensive about it. Then one day, you will think I want to ride today. period I need to ride today *followed by nothing, no bad thoughts. And then you ride. At the walk. and you be done for the day. Then keep walking, dong stuff in the ring. Play games (like the kids do. Simon says, red light green light. Tag.ect). But just keep it at the walk. Then one day, you will want to trot. But don’t trot when you have what if worries. Wait until they go away.

It takes time to get over things like this. And if you keep focusing on the fact that it happened, and its unfair and you want to be that person again; you will always be stuck, you’ll never move past it. But admit it, understand that it happened, you can not change it. And just know this will make you a better rider one day.


You all have given me such incredible advice and I can’t thank you enough! I did have the confidence to get on him with no fear and actually felt good until I pushed myself. I spent the last few weeks doing a lot of groundwork with him so I knew he had a great mind and obvious training, but all we really knew was that he’s a nice trail horse that needs an intermediate rider. Besides that, he is an unknown to us so my husband kept reminding me what a huge step that was for me. A year ago I would have never even thought about getting on a horse I didn’t know.

The big mistake I made was trying to push back the little fear that popped up in the arena. The new horse has a lot more go than whoa and a HUGE engine (he’s a big stocky QH). It scared me when he obviously wanted to pick up he speed and we weren’t communicating as well as I’d like. I wasn’t ready to ride him on the property to our house, but my husband was on our other horse and I didn’t want to show that I was scared.

I set myself and the horse up to fail on that one. After reading the comments on this thread, I had a big talk with my husband about my need to take baby steps. It’s hard to admit especially because it comes in waves - I’ll go months riding my other horse with no issues and then all of a sudden I’m scared. I should have known a new horse would bring that fear back and taken it slower for myself.

For now I’m going to have my husband ride the new horse so I can see his quirks and get to know him that way. I’ll keep doing groundwork and lunging until I feel ready to ride again.

Thank you all again. I can’t tell you what a help it was to hear from others who have been through it and I’ll definitely be looking into the books and recommendations on this thread. I can be extremely hard on myself when it comes to my horse sense, but remembering it is an injury and my mind’s reaction to trauma is a huge help. I need to keep that at the front of my mind and move forward at my pace. For now I’ll stick to my old horse until I’m feeling confident again.


raises hand Happened to me too. Still sort of going through it. My accidents were 10 years ago - I had two in the same week that were unpredictable and the first was freak, the second was my fault. PTSD became so bad that I couldn’t go in the pasture, couldn’t even get on something super solid. I stopped trusting myself and my reactions. Our brains are amazing things and they give us exactly what they think we want. In the case of PTSD, it’s a vicious feedback loop.

After the accidents I spent 10 years fighting myself. I’d like you to avoid that :slight_smile: I spent a lot of time crying on the mounting block, thinking I might not be able to ride again.

A few things have helped. The first is that I take 1 Benadryl before hopping up. This keeps my automatic reactions just a tad calmer, so that my heart doesn’t race and scare the horse if there is a spook or what have you. This trick has been a lifesaver to get me out of that particular cycle of hell.

The second is is that I have spent weeks walking a new horse. Doesn’t hurt them, builds muscle, and gets to the point where I feel like I know who they are enough to trust them at the next gait. Unfortunately, just because I trust one horse it doesn’t transfer to the next. It does not help to see other people riding them either, it’s about me and the horse.

The third is that I’ve given myself permission to go slowly because I’ve had trauma. We all accept that a horse with some trauma will have a hard time getting in the trailer or bridled or what have you but we refuse to give ourselves the same space. Don’t let anyone, nor your pride, tell you it’s unacceptable. It isn’t. This is just where you are right now. It’s ok, and perfectly understandable.

Fourth, once I accepted that I had this issue to work through, I treated myself exactly like I would a green horse. I’d walk to the pasture gate and stop just where I felt the tension mount and then I’d turn and walk away, taking the pressure off. Same thing with mounting. I’d step up on the mounting block and step back down if my heart raced. Pretty soon I was able to get on, and then get back off immediately. Then I moved to being able to walk a circle around the mounting block. Then half the ring, then the whole ring. The horse won’t mind - and they’ll get some valuable training out of it (standing calmly etc).

Fifth, I figured out when I could take the training wheels off and started to remake my brain. I spend a lot of time visualizing good rides now. I celebrate the wins and that helps a ton! My horse spooked and I went with it, huzzah! Hey, that means I can still ride a hard spook. Cool! Hey, I rode that horse really well and it was the horse that has bucked a bunch of other people off. I’m doing ok! (luckily I didn’t know he was that bad before I rode him haha)

Will I ever be the kind of rider I was before? No. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be good. Before I was super brave and would ride anything. Honestly I was probably a little too brave and too careless. Now I prep my horses far far better than I did when I was braver. I still do all the things I did before, with the exception of jumping large fences, but that’s because I’ve switched disciplines.

There is a really good Ted talk out there about brains and rewriting them for performance. I can’t find it right now but if I do I’ll come back and post it. I’m still working to rewire my brain. Take care, and give yourself the space to heal.


Gah! thank you so much for your comment! This is exactly what I needed to hear. I have definitely been fighting myself. It gets better at times and I’ll feel like my old self and get so excited, but then something will trigger the fear again and it can take a long time to get that confidence back. It’s so frustrating.

My other horse is a complete hothead and even my husband, who is a farrier and experienced horseman, said he’s terrified of him at times. I ride that boy all over the place with only occasional issues, but I’ve had him for 16 years and know his movements and quirks like the back of my hand. He can definitely scare me now and then, but it’s rare. It took me 3 years after the accident to get up the courage to ride him again, but now we have a blast together.

The new horse is much more level headed, well trained and a complete 180 from my crazy old man so I thought I’d have no fear, but the familiarity is what makes me so comfortable on my old horse. You are right on when you say it’s about 'me and the horse". It really is. I can learn to have confidence with tough horses again, but I need to give myself more time. It’s all about slowing down the process.

I’m hoping by having my husband ride the new guy while I’m on my old horse we can keep him exercised and happy (he’s only 8) and it’ll give me a chance to get to know him without the anxiety. I’ll get on him in the arena when I’m ready and take baby steps in the meantime. Plus, as much as my old horse can be a bear, I love him to death and he’s still got a few good years so I want to keep riding him. He’s 26 and unfortunately has some arthritis flaring up, but we’re starting adequan this week and he loves getting out, so really it could be a win win.

Thanks again for sharing your story! I’d love to watch that Ted talk if you ever find it. :slight_smile:


After my ‘big one’ 6 years ago, the biggest problem I had was the old me keeping getting in my head, she was always comparing how I was, with how I am now. Seriously the best thing I did for me was take that bitch out for a drink, then shoved her off the cliff, has another drink to mourn her passing, and got on with reconstructing the new me.

You have been given a lot of great advice here, I’ll add my 2 cents, some might be repeats…

The PT I was working with to get the body back in shape introduced me to EFT Tapping https://www.thetappingsolution.com/what-is-eft-tapping/ and I found it immensely helpful to use, I used to drive to the barn tapping all the way.

The power of music, singing helps you breathe and gives you something to concentrate on, I had them bring the radio into the arena when I first rode, to much quietwas a bad thing.

Now you have buried the nagging bitch, take pride in every accomplishment, you walked a lap, fantastic, heck, Eve; getting oncan be something to celebrate.

My Coach has been awesome through the whole thing, she has hugged, wiped my tears, talked me on, kept me on, shouted, nagged, once yelled at the top of her voice across a show ground “DON’T YOU DARE GET OFF, WHAT THE FRUITBAT GOOD IS GETTING OFF GOING TO DO” I have constantly been amazed how she has managed to have the right response at the right time. A good ground person to me is invaluable, one who knows when to push, and when to coddle.

There are many of us it seems whose addiction to riding outweighs the fears that we have, but like everything it gets better. The trick is to be nice to yourself, have small goals, celebrate every victory, it takes a while but it’s so worth it.