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I have been riding for a year and a half and I have had my horse for 10 months. I haven't rode him for about three months because all of a sudden I got scared of riding. When my riding pal goes with me or I go with her to the barn she aways tries to get me to ride and I end up having a bad barn day. I would love to ride again, but I am so afraid to even think about getting back in the saddle. What should I do?

My gelding, Buddy is a chestnut w/ a star stripe & snip American Quarter Horse and is very mellow and loves people, but he bucked when my mom was riding him. My mom says he just got scared and every horse bucks at one time or another and that just because he bucked that time doesn't mean that he is a bucking bronco or a bucking horse with a bad bucking habit.

My riding instuctor is giving a lesson to an 8 year old boy who doesn't pay attention when he rides on Buddy. But I still don't feel safe. My riding instuctor has been riding her whole life, (she is 33) and said that he is an awesome horse, that I should ride and that I'm missing out on some great riding experiences.

He is also a pig that has a bit of a biting habit. Please e-mail me as soon as possible with what I should do with both of my problems.

- B. J.


Before I attempt to tackle your riding problem, I'd like to ask a few questions:

1. How old are you?

2. Are you riding Western or English style?

3. Have you read my Q&A pages about fear? The two primary ones are:
9. Can you help me not be afraid of my horse?
24. Overcoming fear in the older rider.

Don't give up... I've seen some folks who were terrified of horses but started riding comfortably in as little as five minutes of training.

I'm looking forward to your reply. :o)


I'm 11 -- almost 12. I ride western. I have seen your page about fear, because I searched for "How to get back in the saddle" and that's how I found you. I'm going to try my hardest NOT to give up.

I love my gelding Buddy, and I could never sell him but if I don't ride again my parents are going to sell him because if I don't ride then it's not like we can breed him or anything. I am 99.9% sure I'm not giving up.

I worked for 6 months to get him and I'm not about to let it go to waste and have to go through very, very, very VERY sad times without my precious Buddy.

Please e-mail me as soon as possible and thanks for responding!!

- B. J.


Thanks for getting back to me. Frankly, it sounds to me like your biggest problem is not that you're afraid of your horse -- but that you're afraid of losing him. Would I be correct in thinking that you are pushing yourself too hard out of fear that your folks will get rid of Buddy if you don't quickly become an expert rider? Do you recall my comment that a horse will tend to behave toward you like you behave toward it? If you are uptight when you are around your horse, you'll likely have a skitish horse on your hands.

Here's my first suggestion -- go to your parents and tell them that I (yep, Cowboy Bob) have a personal favor to ask of them: "Please don't think or talk about selling Buddy until your daughter is at least 15 years old." (Ask them to get in touch with me if they have questions about my request.)

The reason for this is simple: at age 11 you simply are not big enough or strong enough to really start riding well. In my experience, the biggest improvement for girls comes between ages 13 and 14. I've seen many girls who were so much better at age 14 that it was like seeing an entirely different rider.

Take your fear of bucking, for example. When you sense that a horse is going to try to buck, you need to get his head up so he can't get in position to buck. I can't imagine any 11-year-old girl having enough muscle strength in her arms to do that. If I were in that situation, I'd be afraid, too! In three more years, you'll be able to handle that problem, and you won't be afraid of it.

In the meantime, play it safe and have fun. Get to know your horse (and let him get to know you) in a controlled environment like an arena. Practice the basics until they are automatic to you. Don't work your horse too long at a time -- most horses seem to need a break after an hour or so. Also work on building your strength. That's why I added the exercise page to my web site.

And be patient. There's nothing you can do to speed up your natural growth, and every inch of additional length in your legs will help you communicate better with your horse. It will also help you feel more secure in the saddle. "What girl can add eighteen inches to her height just by fussing and fretting about it?" -- Matthew 6:27 (Cowboy Bob's translation).

I wish I could give you an instant remedy for your problem, but the real solution will only come as you grow from year to year. So just relax and make good use of this time by learning and practicing as much as possible. If you are afraid to ride by yourself right now, don't be embarrassed to ask someone to lead your horse while you develop your sense of balance. (Leave the halter on Buddy and put the bridle over it so you'll have a place to attach the lead rope.) Remember my tip about why you CAN'T fall out of the saddle if you use the stirrups correctly? I have a bunch of other tips scattered through the Question and Answer pages.

Keep in touch -- I'm looking forward to hearing about your progress. I'm sure you'll have other questions along the way, so don't hesitate to write.

May God bless -- and protect -- you as you grow into a confident rider... and, I trust, into a godly young woman!


I'm not scared about them getting rid of him. They have mentioned that before when I got grounded and then when they say things like that then they always say "All we want you to do is ride even if you just walk and trot."

I'm sorry I couldn't write back before this because I went out to the barn and just got back. I just led him around but I couldn't do much with him because his mouth is sore from where he got something done to his teeth yesterday. And because he had just eaten and was still eating his hay when I left.

Please e-mail me as soon as possible with anything else you think it could be. Thanks!!

- B. J.


A short guide to learning to ride confidently -- I hope!

Some of this may sound a bit repetitious, But I'll try to describe what I'd probably do if I were there with you in person....

As I mentioned in my last e-mail, remember that you are a young rider and it will be a couple of years before your body grows to where you will be capable of really riding well. At this stage, you are like a toddler just learning to walk. It would be foolish to put a youngster like that on a skate board and ask him to start jumping ramps. Instead, you'd start with simple steps until he could walk, run, and keep his balance.

Likewise, I'd start you real easy until you felt confident. At first, I'd walk the horse around on a lead rope or longe line while you got used to balancing and felt comfortable in the saddle. (I presume Buddy's mouth was tender from having his teeth floated... these longe line exercises have the added benefit of not needing a bit and bridle on the horse.) I'd keep emphasizing the importance of good posture: heels always lower than the toes; ride with the balls of your feet on the stirrups; keep you chest pushed slghtly forward so your rear end rotates off the cantle; ride with a slight forward-and-back motion at the hips so your head stays straight and level at the walk, etc.

As you developed more confidence, I'd have you work with your legs and the reins to cue Buddy as to which way you want him to turn. As you progressed, I'd have you start to take control away from me -- gradually steering Buddy away from me. All of this would be done at an easy walk. I'd probably have you keep Buddy at no more than a brisk walk for at least the first two or three months.

Riding with no hands on reinsAs your steering ability improved, I'd begin to have you steer Buddy around posts, barrels, etc. using only your legs to guide him. In fact, I'd have you loop the reins around the saddle horn and just rest your hands on your thighs -- no steering with the reins allowed.

By the way, most youngsters have a tendency to over-steer. They wait until the horse is moving way out of line before correcting his direction... then they make a huge correction. Instead, you should be constantly making tiny, subtle steering adjustments. Not enough to get him annoyed at them, but enough to keep his attention on your signals.

As you began to feel really comfortable in the saddle, I'd put the longe line back on and remove the saddle -- replacing it with a bareback pad. Then I'd have you do a bunch of balancing exercises -- many with your eyes closed and arms stretched out to the side. (I have a couple of pictures on my web site of kids doing those exercises. Mine are a little different, but if your riding coach wants some ideas, have him/her look at the book "Centered Riding."

Not until I felt that you had really mastered the walk would I let you start transitioning Buddy to a trot. And that might not happen until you were on the 14 side of 13. And by then you'd probably be getting really frustrated at me for making you keep riding at a walk! ;o)

Anyhow, by that time you'd have enough experience, knowledge, and strength to ride confidently (not to mention being a bit older) and we'd have the fear issue behind us before you moved on to more challenging riding.

Take it in slow easy stages, and don't move up to the next level until you are totally comfortable doing the easier stuff.

I hope this makes sense. If any of it is confusing, please get back to me -- or have your riding coach contact me. I hope this helps.

God bless!

Happy Horse Care!

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