Nervous Re-Rider

Hi All!

You’ve been super helpful to this point, so I figured I’d get your take on this:

I’m an adult re-rider. Been back in the saddle for about 3 years after 13 or so off. As a kid/teen, I was fearless. But my horse when I was a teenager took off during a lesson, and I mean we lapped the ring no less than 10 times. I stuck it (hoorah?) but it definitely stuck with me and put a fear of speed/spooking/the unknown in me and I cannot shake it for the life of me.

Specifically, I feel like I hold back forward horses or just don’t encourage forward movement (currently in lessons on a BTDT Schoolmaster who is re-teaching me the difference between fast and forward), I’m looky/anxious even if the horse I’m on isn’t, kindof pull back at upward transitions like in anticipation, and get really nervous jumping, or even doing ground poles, if it’s in a line. One single tiny jump or ground pole is no problem. But when there’s a line I totally freak.

Currently waiting to hear back from a sports psychologist, but looking for any insight/tips/things to read that you’ve got! I’ve gone all over the COTH boards, so I’ve already picked up a bunch of tips, but always looking for more insight on this. I feel like my nerves are really holding me back and preventing me from fully enjoying my rides.

Thanks so much!

I had two bad spook-related falls as an adult returning to serious riding and they left me with a significant fear problem.

The best thing for me was to ride a horse that didn’t scare me. I joked that I wanted a been there, done that, horse that was so old and tired that he didn’t have the energy to even look at anything, let alone spook at it. :slight_smile: My first year of showing said new horse, I rode in the adult beginners division and I was consistently a nervous wreck. But we all survived and every time I didn’t die, I felt a little more confident.

Another thing thing that really helped was to remove all expectation from my riding. So what if I spent most of my ride walking? If I could only manage 4 laps around the ring on a cold windy day before it got to be too scary for me, then 4 laps was all I rode. Every ride, I rode up to my comfort level and one toe past it and was satisfied with that.

My trainer is great about not pushing me. The first time I showed in crossrails, she said if I wanted to trot every fence, it was perfectly OK. I did, and guess what? I didn’t die!

Yes, it is kind of difficult, mentally, to go to “adult beginners” when, as a college student, I was showing hunters at a forward pace over an outside course and over rolling terrain. But I needed to do it.


So dial back. It’s not fair to the horse to be clutchy over jumps when you are still nervous cantering or over poles.

For myself as a returning rider in my 40s I realized that I had to perfect technique in order to feel safe and make up for lost confidence. Kids are often happy bombing over any jump. Adults get nervous about near risks that kids don’t even register like getting half unseated or getting a wrong distance.

So you need to back down from jumping and learn to love a big canter. Trail riding in safe places is fantastic for that. You need to trust that you can stay on and communicate with your horse

Really work on your fitness and technique. Make sure your saddle fits and you have sticky breeches. Two point at the trot until your thighs collapse. Do off horse fitness.

You need to be very fit and have excellent technique and correct gear to make it unlikely you will ever come off, and to give yourself confidence.

And lots of hours in the saddle especially without the pressure and embarrassment of a lesson. You need to go out and get used to riding again.

Confidence will return but don’t set up rigid goals that you need to be showing hunter jumper any time soon. Be open to the idea you may find your niche in dressage, cow penning, endurance, back country trail, etc. Jumper lessons are however a great refresher introduction for returning adult riders.

For multiple jumps it can be useful to ride a gymnastic line set up so the horse just bounces through. Grab mane and ignore the reins maybe



I’m actually not clutchy over jumps because as of right now I really don’t jump. I just started doing some jumping again on a tried and true lesson horse and am able to relax on him. For some reason it’s landing jump 1 and going to jump 2 that makes me panic.

Working on fitness outside of the saddle. And taking dressage lessons! Looking for a horse again because, like you said, I really need saddle time =)


Contrary to popular belief, doing things that scare you doesn’t make them less scary. It just makes you a wreck! I am assuming you are riding for fun. You don’t have to “challenge yourself “ or “stretch your boundaries “. That is for serious athletes. Do what is pleasant for you. Perfect the little things. And if one day you really want to medium canter or trot an X, go for it. If western pleasure jog is where you’re at, that’s fine too. Enjoy!


If your nervousness stems from not being confident of finding the distance to the second fence, make the second fence a pole on the ground. Or, practice over a line of poles.


Unfortunately it’s not about the distances. It’s like my mind goes blank because I’m either nervous the horse is gonna accelerate to the next fence or that upon the landing he will take off/buck/but head inbetween legs.

Unfortunately when I did return to riding a few years ago I did so on a green qh who didn’t jump much and who was known for tucking her head between her front legs and making you feel like you were both going to burrow to the center of the earth. So she set me back even further. =/

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Good point. It’s hard not to compare yourself to your old self, though, or feel embarrassed. I’m just doing this for fun, but want to get around these mental blocks, because I really enjoy jumping!

So now you know that even a little scare or setback has a lasting effect on your confidence. This is totally normal especially for adults because we have learned to think about consequences.

Going forward, like me, you need to be really careful not to set yourself up for scares or setbacks. Every one coaches children to push through their fears because we assume children are more capable than they realize and their capacity is increasing rapidly. But it never worked for me as a kid and certainly not as an adult.

Dial back to where you are bored and then start dialing up to things that are exciting but not scary


I sound like a broken record, but I really recommend dressage lessons to any older person (truthfully, younger people as well) starting out. I think lots of people who did h/j when they are younger are afraid if they do dressage, they’ll never jump again. But it’s a big confidence booster to gain security in the saddle, and to more quickly improve your feel for a horse than even the typical h/j lesson on the flat. It doesn’t mean you can’t still jump.

I say this, btw, knowing that a highly skilled hunter rider could ride circles around me in the dressage ring, though I am a dressage rider. But this is based on my experience at an “average” h/j barn versus a dressage barn. Also, if your fears are mainly about jumping, getting more confident in your riding and doing a lesson where nothing scares you (yes, I said it) but which is still challenging can be useful.


Thanks for this. If this isn’t fun, what are us old re-riders doing it for? We shouldn’t have to prove anything to anyone.


I remember reading an article years ago titled, “The Rx for Fear,” or something along those lines. Basically, the point was that our brains remind us to be afraid when we’ve been hurt (or almost hurt) in the past in order to keep us safe. The article said that the best way to combat this is to continually rack up safe memories to replace the unsafe ones, and eventually our brains figure out that we ARE safe. As others have said already, one of the best ways to do this is to ride a horse that feels completely safe to you. If forward horses are frightening right now, find a kick ride that has zero to little motivation. When you’re completely comfortable (ie, bored), ride a new horse that has just a LITTLE bit more energy, but not much… and so on, and so on. Eventually, you will find the horse that you like to ride the best, but it may not be forward, and that’s completely fine.

I was in the exact same situation as you fifteen years ago as a rerider. Young, forward, tricky horse put me through the mill as a teen, and when confronted with a forward schoolmaster as a thirty-something, I came unglued (even though said schoolmaster would not have intentionally hurt me). Fifteen years later, I have a lovely paint/welsh cross that has energy, but whose best move is “stop.” Do I wish that I felt like riding like my fifteen year old self? Sometimes, but I will never be fifteen again, and fifty feels pretty good with the right horse. :wink:


I agree completely, @Bonnie2!

I did h/j and then dressage and eventing when I was a teenager. I was pretty fearless. As I entered adulthood, I scaled back to AQHA hunter events and eventually dropped any over fences stuff. By the time I was into my 30’s, I had started, trained, and shown a few of my own horses in “all-around” events that included some western and some hunter (flat) stuff. Then I moved to a barn where dressage was the focus and I made an honest attempt at getting back into that, but my heart just wasn’t in it anymore and rather than trying to shove my square peg horse through the round hole of dressage, it dawned on me one day that…I didn’t have to. If I wanted, I could slap a western saddle on him (like the ones most of his family members wear because his bloodlines sure as heck ain’t “dressage” lol) and just mosey around the fields and trails, enjoying ourselves.

And that’s what we do. When we feel like it. What we don’t do is anything that stresses either one of us out. My gelding is 14 and I have had him since he was a yearling. I raised, broke, trained, and lightly showed him as a youngster. Then I rode him less and less, and he was a full-time pasture pet for a few years. I brought him back into “work” when I sold my farm after the passing of my two older horses. Long story short, he wasn’t interested in dressage, so neither was I. He enjoys being ridden western, I enjoy riding western, and I’ve ridden that horse more since purchasing a new western saddle several months ago than I’ve ridden since I first broke him to ride.

Today we did a little “work” in the field and then went riding in the woods (with the resident herd of deer, who seem as interested in us as we are in them).

I’m not old (48), but I’m old enough that I’m not going to voluntarily do things that make me anxious, nervous, or panic-stricken. There’s enough of that in other aspects of life. Horses and riding are my escape from that stuff.


Have you considered a trauma therapist?

Lessons on a longe/lunge line sound ideal for you where you can loose the reins and focus on your seat. Have your instructor nitpick your position so you can relax and focus solely on that. Introduce ground poles and cavaletti. When you are able to relax and build your confidence back up, pick up the reins and then eventually go off the longe. Having someone in control while you can learn to physically relax and develop your seat would be ideal. Your confidence can and will come back if you believe it’s possible.

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Definitely work on core fitness in the meantime - I read somewhere that a lot of the typical “rerider” or “ammy” fears and position faults stem from weak cores. As we get older and work sedentary or repetitive jobs, we lose the inherent strength and flexibility that we had as kids! Which leads to instability and the feeling that we can’t stay with a horse.

Core strength at home, two point forever and do no stirrups on the lungeline. Also, trail riding and hunter paces with a good group of people on safe horses can get you confident with “faster” gaits without you even realizing it. You’d be surprised how fast a canter in a ring feels versus a hand gallop across a field!

ETA: I’m now realizing that my advice for gaining confidence going forward and jumping is the same for both horses and riders. The wiggly greenie that can’t quite get the hang of jumping and wants to land in a heap every time AND the competent rider that needs to get out of their head a bit can both benefit from riding in a safe group outside the ring.


Do you know where your comfort zone is? There is a book called “Riding Fear Free” that helps reshape your thinking. It also has information for instructors who often have no personal experience with fear and don’t understand how it can affect a student. I’m not sure why you seem to be pushing yourself so hard doing things like jumping. Just because you are a re-rider doesn’t mean you have to go back to where you left off years ago and keep going from there. When I decided I was done with cantering I got the walk-trot license plate on the car. I was perfecty content with W-T equitation. Over the years a couple of teenagers took care of the canter/gallop/jump work. He loved that. I didn’t have to worry about it. I lost him in July when he was 28 and I was 74,.a good place for me to stop.


I agree! That’s why I mentioned I’ve been taking dressage lessons. I already feel so much better!

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I’m not familiar with a Trauma therapist. I’m working with a therapist and doing emdr and behavioral therapy for some things relating to letting go of control (probably the bigger issue here?)

Yes! I’ve been doing some of these lessons, never had them before! So wonderful!

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