If you’ve been out of the saddle for a while, you might feel less confident about riding than you once did. Whether you had time off because you or your horse were recovering from an injury or illness, or life responsibilities forced you to take a lengthy break, returning to riding can bring mixed emotions. You might be excited but at the same time feel nervous, sick with worry, or even panic-stricken. You are not alone. Those feelings are completely normal. The trick is knowing how to manage it. The good news is there are a lot of ways to help yourself overcome that trepidation.

Here are some valuable insights and tips to help you make a smooth transition back into the saddle.

1. Acknowledge Your Feelings

Getting back in the saddle after a break can trigger a range of emotions, from happy anticipation and excitement to apprehension and self-doubt. It’s important to acknowledge whatever feelings you’re having and allow yourself to experience them. Remember that it’s normal to have some anxiety about riding again, especially if you’ve been away for a while and especially if the hiatus was caused by a riding accident. Be patient and kind with yourself.

2. Set Realistic Goals

If you or your horse have had several months or even years off, both fitness and skills will have decreased. Avoid comparing yourself to your previous level of performance. Base your goals and expectations on an honest evaluation of where you currently are now. Start with achievable short-term objectives, such as improving balance, core strength, suppleness and posture, and building a deep connection with your horse. Focus on building the basics and gradually work your way up to more advanced levels as you and your horse’s fitness and confidence improves.

Remember that it’s normal to have some anxiety about riding again, especially if you’ve been away for a while and especially if the hiatus was caused by a riding accident.

3. Work With An Experienced Instructor

A skilled, knowledgeable instructor will honestly assess your current skill level, identify areas that need improvement, and tailor a training plan that aligns with your short- and long-term goals. They will provide constructive feedback, encouragement and support, helping you regain your riding skills and confidence by helping you and your horse to build a solid foundation.

4. Prioritize Safety

Safety should always be a top priority when returning to horseback riding, especially after time off. Check that your riding gear, equipment and tack are in good condition and still fit correctly. Have your horse’s saddle professionally fitted. Replace your helmet if it is more than five years old or has not been stored in a cool, dry place. If your horse is the one who has been off due to illness or injury, get your veterinarian’s approval to ensure that he is fit, sound and well enough to start back into training. Follow any guidelines that they recommend for returning to work.

5. Take Your Time

Rebuilding fitness, strength and skills takes time. Rushing or doing too much too soon often ends in setbacks. Start with groundwork that includes in-hand, lungeing and liberty exercises to re-establish your horse’s training and your communication with each other.

It’s natural but unrealistic to want to pick up where you left off. Be patient with yourself and your horse, and celebrate even the tiniest wins. Look at every ride is an opportunity to connect with your horse as you improve skills. Mistakes will happen. It’s all part of the learning (or relearning) process. When you focus on making progress rather than aiming for perfection, the journey will be more enjoyable for both you and your horse.

6. Focus on Fitness

Whether it’s you or your horse (or both) who have had the break from riding, you’ll need to focus on physical preparation. Riding is, after all, a sport and you and your horse are athletes.

Concentrate on exercises that improve core strength, flexibility and balance. For you, that can include yoga, Pilates, and cardiovascular workouts that can help improve your riding posture, stability and overall fitness. For your horse, focus on building his fitness only in walk both in-hand and being ridden for the first two weeks. Start with 15-minute sessions and build up to 30 minutes before including any trot work.

If your break from riding was due to your own injury or illness, it’s important to prioritize your personal well-being. Check with your doctor or healthcare professional before starting riding again to ensure you’re physically capable and have specific guidelines to follow. Start slowly, and pay close attention to any discomfort or pain during and after your rides. If you experience any issues, tell your instructor and make appropriate adjustments.

7. Talk It Through

If you feel nervous about riding, talking with your instructor or an understanding friend can be helpful. But if anxiety is really holding you back, it’s best to get help from a specialist in mindset. They can teach you strategies to manage stress, nerves or pressure you’re feeling about riding so that you can eliminate the ‘mental clutter’ and enjoy your journey back to the saddle!