Some of you may recognize the above reference to the 2014 hit movie Divergent, however, I so enjoyed the message and the fearlessness of the Dauntless faction that I started thinking about how riders are generally of different groups.
What we're going to focus on today is the timid or fearful rider, and how they can become confident riders. First we have to recognize why they may be timid or afraid. Sometimes there may have been a bad experience (or a bad wreck) involving horses long ago, or perhaps they're simply fearful because horses can be big, intimidating animals. Sometimes there may be a medical issue the rider is facing or must overcome. Regardless, everyone can learn to enjoy horseback riding with the right experience.
When faced with the student who is truly afraid, reassurance is a must. While I can't guarantee anyone's safety 100%, because horses are animals with a mind of their own, I can honestly say I'll ensure they have a good time and will want to keep learning. That's the first step, and it's a big one for the fearful student. If someone isn't having a good time, they generally don't want to repeat the experience. I've had students who were so afraid of the animal itself, they had trouble during grooming. Once they realize that massive animal in front of them enjoys being brushed and petted, talked to and fussed over, they usually begin to relax. Horses are very emotionally connected animals, they are extremely sensitive to how we (feel and how we react).
Gaining confidence first requires the individual to trust themselves before they can trust their horse. With the help of a trusted (...there's that word again!) instructor and on a a confidence builder of a horse, most fearful riders will slowly start to feel more secure in the saddle. There's nothing wrong with walking for the first month. Or two. You don't have to advance on someone else's time frame. I'll never forget a lovely young lady who took one of my horsemanship classes at La Sierra University in Riverside when I used to teach there. She was from an Eastern European country, and while she'd always loved horses, she was terrified of riding them. Her lessons consisted of nothing but walking for the longest time, until she finally got brave enough to start trotting. All she ever heard from me was praise, praise, praise.
There was the woman who brought me three horses for training, and told me how her previous trainer never showed her how to ride correctly to get the most out of her horses, or explained the why's of correct riding. That prior trainer only criticized her and told her how badly she was screwing up her horses. I recall the lady who approached me at a horse show in tears because her trainers were not helping her only harming her self confidence and asked, could she stable with my barn? She had never won anything at a show before, but with my coaching, won her first Championship in a large division against very high quality horses. Then there was the little girl who, during her Western lessons would become so frightened and frustrated that she would stop in center ring and cry. After a certain number of months, she progressed to riding English, then without stirrups consistently, to where she could lope her little horse around the arena bareback, and was winning blue ribbons in the show ring under my tutelage.
When you're ready to progress, you'll know it. If your instructor is savvy, he or she will not only realize it too, but recognize each of your accomplishments in the saddle. You can become a brave, confident rider who enjoys your time on horseback. Just find the right person to teach you, and let it happen!