Physically sick at the thought of cantering…..

” I hack everywhere on my horse and ride in our arena — we have a lovely time — but only at walk and trot. Even thinking of canter makes me feel physically sick — I don’t know why, I can’t remember ever having anything bad happen to me. I used to ride as a child and did everything, but am now 40 and only got my horse a year ago. will I ever canter?”

This is a good question as there are several ways we can look at this.

It could be that the thought of the different movement of the canter, or the speed is providing a block for you

It could be that having only had your horse for a year you do not feel safe with her, and this is showing up in a reluctance to canter

It could be that a part of you knows your horse isn’t balanced and so it isn’t safe to ride her at canter yet (that would be your unconscious keeping you safe)

Or it could have nothing to do with cantering and everything to do with turning 40!

What is interesting is the extreme nature of your response to thinking about cantering – the fact you feel physically sick suggests to me that this is a situation which isn’t just about cantering.

For a lot of us, cantering is the pace at which we really start thinking about losing control – and this is what often causes us to be scared or feel physically ill – not the thought of cantering, but the idea of losing control.

If we had a horse who was really frightened of something – what would we do?

Would we force it to canter to “get over it”? probably not. And if we did try that the chances are the fear would blow up into a full scale phobia.

With a horse we would take the time it takes and do approach and retreat.

How do we do this when the thought of cantering makes us physically ill?

We do it in our HEAD

So lets break things down into small steps and then play retreat and approach on those steps until we are confident.

Right now, the thought of cantering puts you at a 10/10 for fear, so its no good thinking about that – lets find something that you can think about without going over a 5/10 for fear.

What if you think about watching someone ELSE cantering?

What about thinking about watching someone ELSE cantering on YOUR horse?

What about in groundwork, cantering your horse online?

If all these are below 5, that is a good start.

Then think about – how about seeing myself on a reliable schoolmaster, on the lunge – cantering a few strides then stopping. What number does that put you at? Maybe a 7 or 8?

Right, so lets work on bringing that down to a 5

I want you to visualise the riding school you will go to for your lunge lesson – find a really good one, used to teaching nervous riders – or think of having a seat lesson with me if that is easier as you know what I look like from my photos!

So imagine you are coming to me – think about getting in your car, driving to Oxford and coming to see me – as you visualise this, monitor your confidence score – if you get over a 5 – STOP AND GO HOME!!

What we are doing is playing approach and retreat IN YOUR MIND!

And this WORKS!

SO picture yourself in your car, meeting me – then meeting my horse….

Picture yourself on the horse, on a lunge line, learning some seat exercises at halt…..still below 5? Then how about at walk? Then trot???

WHEN you can visualise yourself getting on EVie (my horse, the one in the profile pic) and being on the lunge walking and trotting – when you can picture that and be at a 2 or 3 (and that might take some time) – now you are ready to move on to the next stage

Which is EITHER – come visit and actually do it! And we will work face to face on this

OR – carry on the visualisation remembering to STOP and go back whenever you go above a 5

First imagine ASKING me to ask Evie to canter – do this until you are below a 5.

Next step: imagine me asking Evie to move up into a canter…and repeat this until you can do this and be below a 5..

Next step: picture yourself riding Evie for 3 strides of canter..

Can you see how playing retreat and approach on YOURSELF in your mind – will then allow you to do it in real life – and will enable you to work through your fear while all the time proving to your unconscious that you can be trusted to listen to it.

Remember, the most important thing is to ONLY picture things that you can picture while at 5 or below on the confidence score – and if you go above 5 – RETREAT!

Good luck – let us know how it goes and if you need any help, send me an email!



4 thoughts on “Physically sick at the thought of cantering…..

  1. Hey Cathy, really interesting read! I am struggling with the exact same thing at the moment but know my reason. After a nasty fall last August I am so scared to ask Pads for a canter 😦 We found out the issues which were a bad saddle and therefore pelvis and shoulder issues for him, he had tried so hard for me up until that point (I belatedly realised) as we had been having maintaining gait issues. It was actually very painful for him to engage his hindquarters and therefor bring the hind right foot underneath in canter. Well after leaving the saddle due to continuous broncing and being in quite a lot of pain my memory of hitting the ground is still extremely fresh in my mind. We have invested in a lovely western Parelli saddle which we both love and have been doing some nice hill work at walk and trot as he had 6 months off. We have had one unplanned canter for a few strides which felt amazing! But there was no fear on my part as I hadn’t asked for it? Does that make sense? I really would like to ask for a little canter as I think we are ready, he is cantering nicely online now with no bucking (phew) but the little “what if he bucks and you fall off” voice stops me every time. I will try. Visualising asking for it and see what happens 🙂 retreating and getting off if necessary. Thanks

    • Hi lorna,

      Great that this post is a timely one for you. The visualisation will help and a tip
      Is that if you find yourself stuck and unable to visualise it probably means you need to break it down into smaller steps.

      For example since you found it easier when he went into canter naturally can you go on a ride with someone you trust and have them go into canter on a long straight hill so Pads just naturally goes up a gait. Then walk down the hl, walk partway up and do it again and as he does it, ask very softly….

      And of ourselves don’t forget you an always get so done else to play online while you “passenger” and that will help too –

      Visualise these and see how they feel!


  2. Wow, this sounds very interesting. I had never heard of Approach-Retreat before. Brilliant, that it is possible to do this thought process purposefully. Thinking about it, I do this every time I have had a riding lesson, albeit subconsciously, trying to get comfortable with new things I have learnt until a week or a month after the event I am raring to have a go again to see whether I can trust myself in that same situation. My riding instructor is a trained NLP practitioner and luckily is used to me “over-thinking” and talking a lot during my private lessons, and I have gained huge amounts of confidence over the last 6 months. It really works!! Must tell my friend who is dead scared of cantering 🙂

    • Hi Yvonne,

      I love thinking of new ways of applying foundation principles and find approach and retreat works for many things. Someone posted on Facebook recently “enough about thinking outside the box – lets throw the box away!”

      And please do share this with your friend!


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