Riding With Anxiety

I talk a lot about being mentally balanced to help horses. Being able to be in the moment with horses is essential to good horsemanship, but I think it would be wrong to say that you have to be mentally perfect to do well.

Folks who have anxiety and such types of issues can often feel like their mental ailments are a burden or disability to their work with horses. Certainly they can be, but if channeled correctly, I believe they can be a tremendous asset.

I’ll stick to talking about anxiety for the purpose of this article, primarily because it’s the one I’m most familiar with. Anxiety can take us out of the moment, overwhelm us with worry and tension, and interfere with our lives.

To be a good rider, we need to be able to be in the moment, and to feel for and direct a horse.

Sufferers of anxiety are often hyper sensitive to their environment. They pick up on every little detail and are aware of things that many people aren’t. Because of this. They can have an upper hand on other folks when it comes to horses because of this sensitivity, and ability to empathize with a horse.

So many horses experience chronic fear and stress as well. A sufferer of anxiety has a great advantage for connecting and helping a horse for this reason- they are painfully aware of how burdensome, exhausting and isolating it can be to be hyper aware. They understand how small things others might not think much of can trigger panic, and how hard it can be to relax. Because of this, a rider with anxiety can learn to channel their focus into supporting the horse in a way others might not even know the horse needs.

Riding, too, can provide much needed stability, mindfulness, and a feeling of calm. It might be one of the only places a person with anxiety can feel this way. Someone with anxiety can learn to develop a place of mental stillness in the barn or in the saddle more easily than other areas of their lives. Because it might have been harder to do this, a person with anxiety can often appreciate and capitalize on this calmness without taking it for granted.

Of course, without good mental care, developing good daily practices, and supportive friends and family, anxiety can make riding exceedingly difficult. For those who are willing and able to work on managing their anxiety, it can give a rider an upper hand that others might not have access too: empathy, sensitivity, and a deep understanding of how to guide a horse toward calm.

3 thoughts on “Riding With Anxiety

  1. Thanks for this perspective Amy. So many times we are led to know anxiety as a shortcoming, especially with riding. People that don’t even ride have given me advice on knowing that my horse will pick up on my anxiety.
    I’ve said to Journi, “I get it, I’m with you sweet girl”, and there were times she looked at me and knows what I mean.
    Thanks again for giving anxiety a different possibility with horses!

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  2. I have had medication interactions this last year that caused me to lose the ability to be in the mom ent. Hence, I quit doing anything with my horses. I could not even read due to loss of focus. Now that I have gotten back to my norm, I am restarting but have experience red fear of hauling my horses. Suggestions?

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  3. Thanks for this article! The horse world certainly is evolving in a good way.

    Over the last year, with more time to read and connect through social media, I have learned new ways to interact with horses, much better ways. However, the downside is that I often feel like I am doing my horses an injustice with my Type A, worrisome personality. Both my horses are super sensitive and reactive, much like me. Is that my fault? Some days I feel like it is! But, if I reflect back I realize they have made great progress and so have I. I am a much more confident rider; I do not have a timeline; I’ve learned to breath…really exhale; and most importantly, I recognize that there are days we just shouldn’t ride. My awareness (anxiety) keeps me very in tune to energy and honestly, I think it gives me better fore sight.

    Progress was possible because of the insight available from great trainers like you! Thank you!

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