Anxiety Sabotage and your Riding

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (

Over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to speak with a variety of people about their anxiousness with riding. In certain cases people explain their feelings as just being scared….but in truth it is more than just fear, there is likely anxiety.  Some have issue with trail riding, others with performance riding, others with general riding, and some with training. I know that anxiety is very real for many people. In fact, at some time in all of our lives we likely feel some anxiety.

Anxiety is defined as and unpleasant state of inner turmoil that is often accompanied with dread about something that is not likely to happen.  Anxiety is not the same as fear. Fear is felt about something that is realistically intimidating and dangerous. Anxiety combines fear, worry, uneasiness, problems in concentration and muscle tension.  The National Institute of Mental Health states that Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can actually be beneficial in some situations.

Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening an entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. Sabotage is the act of destroying or damaging something deliberately so that it does not work correctly.

So if we put anxiety and sabotage together and think of it in terms of horsemanship we come up with the following: Anxiety Sabotage is a reaction to a stressful situation where the rider feels fear, worry, uneasiness, muscle tension and problems concentrating and the rider focuses on these feelings and thoughts and intentionally acts in a way that they may occur.

One thing I know from my coaching and observations is that horses can easily sense when you are feeling uneasy and have anxiety and if you give them the slightest chance to help you sabotage the ride — they will be the perfect accomplice.  Remember horses are fight or flight animals, most wanting to fly away from perceived, imagined or real danger.  Give them the opportunity by not being their leader and they will take you on the flight of your life.

Let me share with you three examples of possible Anxiety Sabotage in your Riding:

1) The rider is convinced that the horse is going to spook at the plastic bag.  So the rider stares at the plastic bag, holds his/her breath, rides towards the plastic bag and tenses all his/her muscles.  The rider is thinking…my horse is going to spook and run away and I am going to get hurt.

2) The rider enters the arena for a class and thinks the following: my horse does not canter well, how am I going to keep my horse slow and on the rail, can I get over the jump, maybe the jumps are to high, last week we clipped a jump pole…I know that we are going to have faults and the judge is going to see us do something wrong and we are going to lose.

3) The rider is going down the trail and sees a bush up ahead.  The rider tenses, holds his/her breath, stares at the bush and the horse comes to a stop and the rider pulls up on the reins, clenches his/her legs tightly on the saddle and the horse spins around and runs off with the rider.

All three of these examples are real scenarios that I have seen happen to people. I myself took a two-year old out on a trail ride a few weeks back.  Her first time away from home, never been on a trail ride (over bridges, on switchbacks and over a rocky surface and plenty of step-downs), all new horses around, people playing Frisbee gold alongside the trail, mountain bikes going along and people walking on the trail carrying sticks and bags. My first thought was — I must be out of my mind to take this horse with less than 60 rides on this ride.  But I reached inside and said to myself, I have done my homework with this little mare, she works off my legs, I know that breathing is important and if I talk to her a bit…this is going to be great.  Just to make sure it was great, I took the lead on parts of the ride.  So rather than thinking of all the horrible things that might happen, I focused on the positives (by the way — the ride was great and I am proud of this little mare).

Let me again say that I know anxiety disorders are real.  For those people with anxiety disorders I encourage you to find help and support from your family and friends and medical professionals to help you with this issue.

For those of us who encounter Anxiety Sabotage in our Riding — here are a few ways to help you overcome the problem.

1) Work with a good horsemanship coach who listens to your concerns and helps you develop riding plans and lessons to get you past feeling anxious and finding ways to sabotage your ride. If your coach belittles you in any way about your anxiety issues — find another coach.  He or she needs to be supportive and also push you a little outside your comfort zone — but that push needs to come with compassion and care for you and your horse.

2) Work on breathing and look into Tai Chi or Yoga as a way to help you learn to relax to avoid that muscle tension.

3) Talk about your issue with other riders.  Most likely you are not alone and others have experienced the same feelings or situation and maybe as a group you can work together to keep you from sabotaging your ride because of anxious feelings. This is your support team … ignore the naysayers in your life and talk with and find people who can help you become a better and safer rider.

4) Make sure you are being safe as you ride. Wear a helmet, put on some extra clothes for padding, and consider wearing a flak vest. Protect yourself so that you can remove the anxiety surrounding the issue of maybe getting hurt.

5) Be the leader of your horse.  Know that the horse feels all that you are feeling and thinking. So inspire a good ride by being confident.

Take a few minutes and ask yourself if the people around you are giving you the support you need, is your coach helping you, are you preparing and not over thinking the ride, are you enjoying your time with the horse, are you looking forward to riding — if all of these are answered YES — then you have the right team and mindset in place to stop sabotaging your rides.

I look forward to talking with any of you on this topic. If I can help you with getting over your anxiety and sabotaging your ride, let me know. If you need a coach who will help you…I will do that. I want to see you all succeed.  I thank Tammy, a mental health professional, in the San Francisco Bay Area for her great conversation and thoughts on this topic.  With her help I was able to prepare this blog for you all to read.


Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (

I see Magic happen with Horses and Riders

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (

Last Sunday wrapped up my final horsemanship clinic for 2013.  From here on out it is coaching individuals and their horses as we work our way into the end of the year and start the new year.  I feel so blessed with what I get to observe as a coach at horsemanship clinics. Each year I find myself seeing different things but the past 10 months have had some really special moments that I want to share with you all.

These special moments are magical because I watched the rider and the horse make a connection in one moment that changed their entire relationship for the better.

Here are some of the magical events I saw this year.

1) In Nebraska I watched a young lady trot out on a horse and overcome her fear of falling off.  It was the first time she trotted a horse without falling off and the moment was special because you could see her find some relaxation in the saddle.

2) In California I saw a mother help her 5-year-old daughter lead a horse around. The bond between mother and daughter was wonderful but that horse was something special.  The horse stood 16 hands… and that young lady ran along  (with her mother reaching out to offer a helping hand if needed) and the horse trotted on the end of the lead line.  Magic to see that moment because we all knew that the horse was taking care of that little girl.

3) I saw a lady only 12 months after having some pretty major back surgery take a horse down the fence and turn a cow and score a 73….and there were those who doubted she would ride a cowhorse ever again in competition.

4) Along the way I spoke with a lady who attended a clinic and learned a life lesson.  She told me how her life had been stressful but that at a clinic I coached, her horse taught her to not react and make everything into a fight…again magic and life altering events come with horses.

5) In a two-day clinic in Missouri in June I watched a 15-year-old learn to canter her horse with calmness and control.  Better than that might have been the joy on her mothers face.  At the same clinic I watched many other people safely canter their horses for the very first time in their lives.  All they needed was some confidence, support, and to listen to the horse.

6) In July I found myself in Bozeman Montana and once again — I marveled at a young lady who the year previous cried every time her horse stopped….now she was comfortable in the saddle and getting herself moving towards some jumping work.

7) Back to Missouri in October and I found myself experiencing lots of magic.  A mother watched her 10-year-old daughter work to successfully side pass her horse without quitting.  The look on the mothers face was priceless to see her daughter get past the moment of being stuck. At the same clinic I watched a 10-year-old boy work with his horse and achieve some better harmony.  I met a 15-year-old young lady who had been riding for less than 30 days — and I watched her achieve so much on day one — she reported in the next morning telling all of us how she had gone home to work some horses at home after the first day.

8) Just a few days back I watched a lady and her horse find harmony and a nice slow trot. I also watched the lady learn that she could dance with her horse by learning to control footfalls.

9) In October (in Missouri) I watched a lady and her horse build a relationship in less than 48 hours.  She showed up at the clinic thinking she might want to sell or send her horse off to a good home and by the middle of the second day she had found her rhythm, relaxation, and connection to the horse that had the two of them dancing across the arena.

10) I watched a lady make a connection with her 10-year-old horse after a few folks had told her to “get rid of the horse and get another one”….when that lady rides now — I see magic each time with the smile on her face and the relaxation she and the horse have when in each others company.

These above are just a few of the great and magical things I have seen this year. Not everything is textbook perfect…sometimes magic happens with heels up, body crooked, horse not quite balanced.  Quite a few trainers complain about having to teach people who are “not trying hard enough” or teach people who “do not know enough.” Sometimes these trainers grumble a bit about how hard it is to get someone to listen.

You will hear no grumbling from me.  From where I am sitting I have the most blessed job in the world…I get to work with many horses and riders throughout the year and I get to see magic — that moment where you see that connection happen … that moment where you see the rider smile and the horse relax — makes me realize that HORSEMANSHIP IS FULL OF MAGIC.


Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (

The Horse No Longer Needed

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (

We live in a very consumer driven society.  Buy what you need, use it until it no longer suits your purpose, and then dispose of the item.  People do this with cars, clothes, cell phones (get your newest iPhone today since your old one most likely is not “good enough”), and any number of other items.

Sadly…and most painfully I all to often see this with horses.  There is the horse that was not good enough for dressage, not good enough for cowhorse, not good enough for a rope horse, and not good enough for a trail horse.  Maybe the horse was the wrong color…maybe it was to tall, not athletic enough, maybe it just did not respond to the owner in the best possible way.  You have heard the stories…and I hope if you are reading my blog you have never disposed of a horse just because it was not perfect.

Two ladies that I met this past year have stories well worth sharing.  Both ladies have really nice horses.  One has a bit of an issue relating to soundness and the lady wrote me a great message when she shared this issue with me.  She said “My horse has some lameness issue and it has me concerned.  He may not make it as that Western Dressage Horse that I had planned on having but my goal is to help him get back to being sound enough that we can go down the trail together.”  WOW — here is a lady that really gets it — the relationship with the horse is more important than a goal she set for competition or in her mind….she took the time to adjust and work with the horse.  I actually think she just might make it back to the Western Dressage Arena since she has the right attitude and the horse she owns has some magic inside of him — how do I know — his eyes show it to all you look.

The second lady has an Off The Track Thoroughbred.  Her Dressage coach met the horse once and termed him “fractious” and told her that she would have to get another horse since this one was no good.  Well this second lady has taken her time and made a success of this horse.  She has walk, trot, jog, canter, passage, side passing, backing, haunch turns, rollbacks, turns on the forehand…and any number of other accomplishments.  A few weeks back I met up with her and we had a session and I asked her to work on making her circles more of a consistent size.  She stopped and said to me — “You are right and I will work on it but can I tell you I am just so happy to have achieved such a level of connection with my horse that we are working at the walk, trot, jog, canter, and all those other moves.  For two years I kept hearing that this horse was worthless….but I am so proud of him now…I am so glad I did not give up.”

In both of these examples these ladies could have easily given up and found another is so easy to do this in our consumer driven society…and perfectly acceptable in many barns across the country.

“The Horse No Longer Needed” is better referred to as “The Horse that No Longer Makes ME Shine”.

Horses require effort and time and patience.  Horses need to be heard.  If you stop and listen the horse might just be able to help you realize his or her full potential.  Sure — the horse may not be what you dreamed he/she would be, maybe he/she will not win each time in the event of your choice — but maybe if you take a risk and follow the horse — the journey will be more rewarding.

There are so many ways to evaluate what a horse can do…take the time to evaluate, then build the foundation for success and take the journey with your four-legged partner — you might be glad you did.  Many years ago I read a work by Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken” and the last lines do remind me of the journey with each horse — it is unique and the journey is the reward.

Although I am not as skilled as Robert Frost — my life is full of horses and I share with you a Poem that I wrote to celebrate those of you who take the time to get to know the potential of your horse.

My New Owner

I was born in the very early light of day,

To a home with horses and asses that bray,

But little did I know I would not stay.

One day I was traded for some feed,

To a man who did not have much speed,

Yet I walked away with him on my lead.

After a few months with him,

I started to get a bit slim,

And then I hurt my hind limb.

The veterinarian said I was likely no good,

He would do for me what he could,

All of a sudden I felt lost where I stood.

Next day a girl came to my field,

She watched me with her eyes peeled,

Then proclaimed that she could get me healed.

The man who got me back when,

Had some papers and a ball point pen,

The girl signed with the word Madeleine.

Down the road we walked,

All along this girl talked,

Til we reached a barn she unlocked.

Day after day I was tended,

Rubbed with things that were blended,

With the goal of being mended.

At last my leg was improved,

The veterinarian even approved,

He smiled and said he was disproved.

Today I am very glad,

With this New Owner that I have,

Cause I know things will never be bad.


Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (

Talking with Horses

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (

I am a real chatterbox when I ride.  When riding young horses for the first time I am talking and telling them what we are going to do and that something we just did was not exactly right but that we will give it another try.  I also talk with them when I am in the barn grooming them and I grumble at them when their stalls are a mess and they could have easily gone outside to the paddock to leave me the overnight presents.  I talk to them as I am coming out to the barn and I know they hear me when they look up and walk to the fence.  They also talk with me — they nicker, whinny, grunt, and a few of them have their own noises they make when we are talking.

So it dismays me when I watch people ride or show and never see them utter a word to their horses unless it is a harsh word.  I shake my head at some of the rules that are imposed in a few horse show rings.  Rules are rules and if you want to get those points you follow the rules…but I think there is a cost to horsemanship that comes from taking away the talking with horses.

When we listen to stories or read books depicting the cowboy way of life from the past — we hear of the cowboy talking to his horse.  Likely it was to give him something to do but over time — they became partners and this was another way they got the job accomplished.

Why is talking with the horse something that can help your horsemanship?

1) When you speak you are breathing.  When you breathe it helps you relax.  Now for some riders they can find relaxation very easily but there are others that the longer they ride, the less they breathe and the more stiff their riding becomes…and the horse responds by becoming stiff.  This relaxation is so important for many horses and riders.  I watch the rider over think what he/she is doing…become stiff…and the horse falls out of relaxation and gets stiff…mistakes are made and then the stress level increases.

2) For some people if they take the time to talk to the horse while they are working with him/her on the ground or in the saddle it helps the human talk through the plan.  It helps the human prepare, then execute, then review what just happened.  This is a natural outlet to think things through and sometimes verbalizing helps people review what is happening.

3) While your legs and seat and hands can physically communicate with the horse .. there are times when they seek that verbal help (watch their ears) to help them make certain of what you are asking.  Horses are noble creatures and they are herd animals and they want to join with you in the work (this has been proven and demonstrated by any good horsemen and horsewomen) — so it is natural that they want as much communication as you can give.

4) If you want more proof that noise making communication is important — take a seat near the barn where you have a newborn foal and mother.  You will hear her talking with the baby.  As horses grow they have their own noise making communication that they use.  Isn’t it natural to use one of their forms of communication in your own riding program.

So do you talk with your horses?  Do they respond?  When I talk with them and I hear them make noise back at me — I warm up inside and I know that I am on my way to having a relationship that will last a lifetime.  Share with me your story on talking with horses.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (

Three Life Lessons That Horses Remind Me Of Each Day

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (

1) Build a relationship based on being positive and developing respect — and that relationship will last a lifetime.  With horses we are all reminded to reward the try.  Reward the progress.  Reward when it all clicks and the action is correct.  We also learn with horses that if we ask them to respect our space and set boundaries and that we respect what they can do without those boundaries, we can have a mutual agreement of how to behave around each other.

My horses remind me daily to be around people who are positive, associated with people who look for the good in a situation, learn from people who seek good in others.

2) Speak clearly and you will be heard. It is never ever the horse’s fault.  When we ask for a transition and it does not happen it is because the rider failed to communicate and coach the horse with the correct aides and pre-signals.  When we coach using the same aides, apply them they same way each day, and we are clear with our instructions the horse hears/feels and responds.

My horses remind me daily that the language people use is deteriorating.  Abbreviations, made up words in texting, curse and foul words (some four lettered (and there are quite a few here) or other words used to describe people or situations including the words stupid, idiot, etc., or referring to people as body parts), and poor punctuation are dooming us to become a society who misunderstands each other and is continually hurt because of a lack of clear communication.  My horses remind me to speak clearly and I will be heard.

3) Basics are the key to happiness. Horses teach us that we need shelter, food, water, some herd friends, and basic care.  I have never seen a horse in line at the store trying to purchase the latest iPhone.  Horses do not post pictures of their wins on Facebook, the are not on Twitter, and most find the Instagram system hard to use for self-promotion. Horses do not need the latest halter…in fact they seem to walk along nicely in a very pretty halter with jewels and silver and they walk along just as nicely with a piece of bailing twine fashioned into a halter.

My horses remind me each day that if I have the basics in life I can live and love, be loved and appreciated, and when I speak clearly, and look for the positive in life — I might just make it through many of the lessons in life, help someone along the way, and receive a pat on the back for a job well done.

So next time you feel yourself getting caught up in the world, overwhelmed by all the demands, worried about being trendy, lacking friends, and mis-understood — take a few minutes and check in with your horse.  15 minutes might with your horse might make the difference in your day and I am certain it will make the difference in your horse’s day.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (