Learn How to Conquer Your Fear of Riding

Sport performance coach Laura King offers advice on how to come back to riding dressage after a fall.

Q: I’ve ridden since childhood and have competed through the lower levels. Shortly after turning 40, I had a series of falls. It’s been well over a year now, and I’m still too afraid to ride. I’m seeing a sports psychologist and cannot bear to think of never riding again—it’s who I am. But I have a young child, and riding is a dangerous sport. How can I justify the risk? Is there any hope?
Name withheld by request

Laura King

A: For some riders, fear from show nerves, falls and numerous other reasons can be absolutely paralyzing, and it is the reason many people stop riding completely. This is heartbreaking for those who have spent many years and sometimes their entire life around horses, even pursuing a career around them. Riding has risk, as does any sport, but some of that risk is limited and some risk is, in fact, caused by an overwhelming sense of real or perceived fear. What if you don’t want to let fear make your decisions for you?

The subconscious mind, which is 88 percent of the brain, is where fear is stored. That 88 percent is non-judgmental and it cannot translate between negative and positive. It persistently moves you toward what it thinks you want. It takes you in the direction of your present dominant thought. Since our thoughts are created by words and mental images, if our speech and mental pictures are negative and of fear, then your fear becomes the dominant thought—the goal if you will. So how can you prevent it from becoming your goal? How can you prevent it from taking over your life?

First, try to limit obsessive thoughts of fear by practicing hpe to stop them, using easy exercises, such as saying, “cancel” or “purple elephant” or any other quick phrase that will silence your mind and erase the negative images. Replace those thoughts with empowering self-talk, saying things such as, “I can handle it,” or “I’m ready.” Second, you can picture the thing you fear most and put a big X through it or closing and locking it inside a box that floats out into deep water and sinks.

Third, try hypnosis. I have learned that it can change fear into confidence. In a situation that causes you to be in a frightened state, any input from your subconscious is taken as real. If your subconscious sees that you stay in the situation rather than run from it, eventually fear switches off. You retrain your brain by what it sees you do. In a hypnotic state you can reprogram the habit of fear by training your subconscious to feel calm when you imagine doing something previously perceived as frightening. 

With hypnosis you can rehearse a jump in your mind ahead of time while feeling very calm and relaxed and it will actually become hard not to feel relaxed, calm and confident during the actual challenge. Your instincts can’t distinguish between what you imagine and what is real. With hypnosis, confidence becomes reality.

Laura King is director and founder of Summit Dynamics, LLC, a center for Sports Performance and Life Coaching. She divides her time between her three offices in Lake Worth, Palm Beach Gardens and Lake Park, Florida (






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