Fear of Riding Horses

Fear of Riding Horses


Were you born a fearless person?

I wasn’t. I always had to deal with my feelings of fear and worry about getting hurt. And it wasn’t an easy way to go through life. Especially if you were an athlete and your passion was jumping horses.

Many times when I work with equestrians on their fear, I refer to my adventures of riding horses from a riding stable in Manhattan, New York over to Central Park. In addition to my tough and sometimes very scary training at my equestrian boarding school in Maryland, I also spent my childhood riding horses up into the mountains in Vermont (there are bears in those mountains, by the way … ) and racing other riders around the lake at my family’s large, overnight sports camp there.

But this “trek” over to Central Park was the other place that I learned about how to handle fear when riding horses.

There are two ways to ride a horse through the loud, chaotic driving pace of the city streets of Manhattan to Central Park. My way (managing my fear) or my friend Lisa’s way.

Lisa and I went to a girls’ equestrian boarding school in Maryland. Six years after I left Oldfields, I was in my early 20’s, living and working in Manhattan. The city was shutting down around noon due to a serious snowstorm in the early spring. As the city was quickly emptying out, I was trying to think of what to do with the rest of my day. I called Paul who owned the only horse riding stable in Manhattan

I was a member of their riding club, a small group of skilled equestrian riders who rode both in the only Manhattan riding stables AND out in Central Park. So I called Paul and told him I was on my way up to take a horse out for a ride in the park. He asked me if I was out of my mind.

“Nancy, no way. You can’t go out riding today. This is the biggest snowstorm we’ve ever had. You can’t even see two feet in front of you! Forget it!”

I baited him with, “So, are you saying you would be too scared to ride because of a bunch of snowflakes?”

“Be here in 20 minutes,” he commanded as he slammed down the phone. 

Located on the Upper West Side of the city, on 89th St. between Amsterdam and Columbus, Paul’s parents had originally owned this unique multistory barn that, from the outside, looked like any other four-story brownstone located in the middle of a residential street.

In fact, the first time I went to this riding academy, I kept walking up and down the street and almost missed it; it was inconspicuous, except for a small sign on the door. Wait, this is the riding academy? This was the stables? There are horses in here?

Yup, designed by Frank Rooke, and built way back in 1892, this equestrian facility boarded horses in the individual stalls located on the second floor as well as in the basement. The floors were connected by steep, wooden ramps that the horses either walked up or down (all by themselves, I might add) in order to get to the main floor, where the indoor ring and the office were located.

Now, when I say indoor ring, we are talking about the world’s tiniest indoor ring. Not only was the ring small, but the space was obstructed by the added disadvantage of having many obnoxious posts randomly placed throughout that were actually giving support to the second floor.

I couldn’t believe that people were not only riding in this tiny ring but taking jumping lessons in there as well; coming off the jumps and just barely turning their horses in the air in time to miss one of those posts when they landed … Not to mention, barely missing the constant stream of riders in the center of the ring who were mounting, or dismounting, their horses.

It looked like total chaos. It was a sight to behold. And only those of us with a passion (OK, serious addiction) for horseback riding could understand the total insanity, and sheer joy, of riding there at the oldest and only equestrian academy in Manhattan. (This was also where I honed my skills for my 360-degree awareness for the warm-up rings at horse shows!)

In addition to riding in this “barn,” and then along the beautiful bridle paths in Central Park, we also had special events such as Annual Easter Ride.

Usually I be found up at the Claremont Riding Academy dressed with leather chaps over my ratty jeans, an equally ratty t-shirt and my old riding helmet. But for the Easter Ride, with the snow finally gone and Spring bounced back in full bloom, I would show up dressed in my formal hunt clothes: traditional beige colored riding pants, my custom, tall black riding boots (all polished and shined up), my black hunt jacket, my starched white shirt underneath, my black show hat, my black leather riding gloves, and a crop in my hand.

While I got a lot of stares in the bus ride up the city streets to the stables, by the time I arrived for the Easter Ride, there were people all over dressed just like me inside the riding ring and spilling out on the street in front of the stables. Everyone in the process of mounting their horses and waiting for to line up for the ride. We were all excited! This was our big event of the year!

After we were mounted our horses, who were groomed to the nines with manes and tails braided, we got in line and walked the long, wide city blocks to the park. The stable owner, Paul, dressed in his red “Master of the Hunt” dress outfit, was leading the pack! Through the noisy, chaotic, nerve wracking streets on Manhattan and into Central Park, now trotting around the reservoir lake, we were a sight to behold!

I think the best feeling about all this is that we knew we were the only ones in that city doing this. After all, the average person living in Manhattan didn’t even know there was a riding stable in the area! It was such a high of being so unique, so athletic, and the very few who got to do this adventure.

So off we went, warming up our horses, staying in a perfect, two-by-two line. And then, following our Master, Paul signaled his horse to go into a canter and soon we all followed suit. It was a beautiful spring morning, with all the Easter flowers and all the trees in bloom, and yet it was just cool enough to be grateful that we had our hunt jackets on.

The canter suddenly went into a gallop and that was the signal that the line formation was now over. The race was on and we were now jockeying for position, trying to beat each other to the end.

The end of what, you may ask? Well, after a few times around the reservoir, we then went off the reservoir track and made our way through the various, winding and hilly (and sometimes rocky) “for human beings only” paths of the park; trotting, cantering and sometimes walking a tricky path until we made it to the Tavern on the Green which was the famous, old stone restaurant that sat on the south/central section of the park.

The Tavern on the Green, an historic, tourist restaurant with fabulous food, high prices, and a long waiting list for reservations also had a huge, glassed in dining room where the guests could eat and enjoy the lovely trees and views of the park. Even the ceiling was glass. And right outside that glass room, was an outdoor patio where we were racing each other to.

Finally, when we had all arrived at the patio, with our horses sweating and breathing heavily, and all of us riders now hot and sweaty, we lined out horses up in a straight line facing the glassed in porch. The guests kept their eyes on us the whole time. (Perhaps wondering if we were going to just charge right through that glass?)

And then the magic happened. The waiters came out carrying trays, with one arm raised above their shoulders, filled with flutes of champagne that they went around and offered to each of us riders. Right behind them were additional waiters, also carrying large silver platter trays, but on their trays were crudités for the horses. Yup! It was filled with apples and carrots.

And so, after drinking our champagne and rewarding our horses with a snack, we raced each other through Central Park back to the stables.  Another annual Easter Ride at the Claremont stables in New York completed.

That event seemed to always fall a gorgeous Spring day, but getting back to beginning of this post with my story about the now “fast and furious” incoming snow storm in Manhattan, and my “dare” to ride with Paul in Central Park, by the time I got up to the barn, Paul had rounded up a few other riding club members to go out with us.

As I walked into the stable’s office, I immediately saw my boarding school friend, Lisa, standing there at the large picture window watching the horses going around the indoor ring.

“Lisa, is that you? What the hell are you doing here?” I asked. Lisa was very athletic, and in fact, she excelled in tennis and field hockey. But she was not one of the riders at Oldfields. I can think of hundreds of other Oldfields girls that I would not be surprised to see there, but Lisa?

She said she was there watching one of her friends and asked me why I was there. “Lisa, I ride horses! One would not be surprised to find me at a riding academy!!” Then I told her a group of us were going out in the storm to ride horses in Central Park. Huge mistake. She got that crazy “Lisa” mischievous twinkle in her eyes … All excited, she asked if she could go.

I was dumbfounded. And scared. Was she out of her mind? Had she even ever been on a horse before? “Well, yeah … you know, a pony ride when I was little,” she whispered sheepishly with a wink in her eye.

“Lisa, no, I’m talking about lessons! Have you even ever had a REAL riding lesson on a horse? Even as experienced riders, it’s tricky to get on one of the horses to walk through the wide blocks through all the city traffic to the park. It is nerve racking with the lousy New York drivers honking their horns and the crazy yellow ‘cabbies’ trying to run over you.”

Some of the horses I had tried to ride to the park had reared up on me and had totally freaked out in the middle of that traffic! The more the horse was rearing up, spinning around and bucking, the more the idiotic city drivers were impatiently blasting their horns for me to get out of the way.” (Yeah, like honking your horn is going to soothe the horse and calm him down! Thank you very much!)

But of course, all the drivers patiently stopped their cars until my horse was calmed down, right? NOT! They would just keep on speeding right at me, and as if that were not enough, some would even roll down the windows and yell at me as they drove by, intentionally just barely missing us!

And then there were the days that the garbage trucks were going up and down those same city streets picking up and loudly banging the garbage cans into the truck and then back down on the streets again. Yeah, that was a guaranteed fast trip to the park … barely remembering the horse bolting off and flying over there! Oh yeah, the horses just LOVED the garbage trucks! NOT!

But Lisa was fearless, and she was not a quitter! She was now obsessed and on a mission, and she was not going to back down and surrender. She kept begging me and insisting she could do it. Against my better judgment, I finally asked Paul if my old friend could come with us, and he asked how much riding experience she had. (He was fanatical about not letting strange, inexperienced riders go to the park on one of his horses.)

So I said, “Are you kidding? We went to one of the top equestrian boarding schools together. Fox hunting and show jumping on the weekends! (I even threw in some of the “brand name” girls at the school that we rode with, such as the DuPonts and the Rockefellers.) She’s awesome, trust me!” And off we went.

I was terrified for Lisa. I thought for sure she would fall off or that the horse would take off with her. She made it through the dangerous city streets to Central Park and then we were off, galloping along the “for horses only” bridle paths with the snowstorm blinding us. I could barely see Lisa’s horse in front of me, but she was still on! I couldn’t believe this crazy girl was galloping a horse, right through a thick blanket of snow around Central Park.

But the scenery was beautiful. Since it was early spring, the trees and flowers had started to bloom and their rich colors popped out beyond the thin layer of sparkling white snow. That was one of my most memorable and favorite riding adventures. Rarely can I think about Manhattan, snow, winter, and even early Spring without remembering that day.

I was never like Lisa. I was never fearless when I was riding. For me, it was always about having to actively work hard at managing my fear. Whether it was when I was riding down a steep hill to jump over a stone wall, my first fox hunt, or to ride a new horse over a combination of three jumps with my eyes closed, arms out to the side, and without stirrups like we had to do in boarding school.

So what is the “trick” to transitioning away from the total fear of riding on the city streets with an out-of-control terrified horse rearing up on you? And what if you have never been on a particular horse before? What if you were selected by Paul to “condition” the new horse in the barn to riding on the city streets of Manhattan? (Yup, he did that to me!)

How do you overcome your fear when you know you are putting yourself in a new or potentially dangerous situation with a horse? How do you manage your nerves when you are riding a new horse or showing?

What do you do when a horse is just flat out flipping out on you and totally out of control?

Well, I figured it out. Not when I was a child trail riding up in the mountains of Vermont and not when my horse would spook and take off running around the 6 mile lake wanting to go back to the stables. And not at my boarding school jumping over a triple combination of cross-rails with my arms out to the side, no stirrups, AND my eyes closed. (Did I mention that before? And then we had to dismount our horses and try that with the other rider’s horse!)

And no, not when I was barely hanging on to a horse that was in full gallop “follow the herd” mode when foxhunting down a steep hill and then jumping over a stone wall. Nor when I was in any warm-up or showjumping ring or when I was training with new horses. Although believe me, I desperately wanted to figure it out through all those years.

No, I learned it when the stakes were REALLY high. I learned it when I was trying to stay on spinning around, rearing up, bucking, and just absolutely terrified, out-of-control horses … some of whom were new to the riding academy and had never in been in a city before!

I figured it out in the middle of noisy and frantic city streets of Manhattan … fearful of the metal shoes slipping on the asphalt. All the while, in the back of my mind, I was worried that the horse would end up jumping OVER one of the park cars along the street!

How to calm down myself and an out of control horse? I figured it out when I was the most terrified because I didn’t have any other choice.

Sometimes life is not happening TO you, but FOR you. Who knew that I would take that experience to help fearful riders of all disciplines from all over the world?How to interrupt and turn around your own emotional patterns and that of a horse? This lesson is just one technique of hundreds that I teach and coach others on depending upon who you are, what your story is, and what is causing your emotional reactions and behaviors.

Since then, I have been trained as a strategic interventionist. I teach how to build emotional strength and resiliency, and I specialize in getting to the bottom of the “why” riders are having challenges with their riding. Then I customize the right, unique and powerful techniques and strategies for that particular individual, their horse, and their training situation and goals. 

For life-changing coaching that will shift you deep down inside and provide rapid and lasting results, empowering you to ride with absolute certainty and joy, contact me for more information.



Nancy Dye is an equestrian breakthrough mindset coach and an emotional strength and resilience trainer helping people to transform the quality of their riding and their lifestyles.

Nancy was trained as a strategic interventionist from the official coach training school of Tony Robbins and has over 30 years as a change agent; shifting people into peak performance. 

Nancy specializes in solving the puzzle of why people are not performing at their best and customizing the right strategy for “jumping over” adversity. She handles all areas of an equestrian’s mindset to include first, their riding performance.

Next, she uses the same techniques and strategies to help people with their relationships, career, health and transitioning through life stages.

With a past career in corporate sales and as a luxury lifestyle Realtor, Nancy has been coached by some of the top high-performance sales trainers in the corporate world, as well as by some of the most elite coaches in the world of sports. Nancy redesigns the inner lives of athletes, executives, entrepreneurs, and elite military and veterans.

Nancy is married to Jack Miles, a former Olympian gymnast who is inducted into four athletic Hall of Fames. For one-on-one peak performance coaching or information on her workshops or group riding clinics, Nancy can be reached at NancyDyeResults@gmail.com.

Click Here for My Website Elite Lifestyle Transformations.

Click Here to Read Testimonials for Nancy Dye