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The Timid Rider

by Heather Wallace

My first time independently on a horse was…interesting.

I was what you would call a horse-obsessed child. Shocking, I know. Instead of imaginary friends I had an imaginary barn full of horses in my backyard. I dreamed of owning a barn one day and breeding Arabians, because they were the most beautiful horses I could dream of at the time. I had stuffed horses, Breyer horses, and read as many fiction and non-fiction horse books as I could get my hands on. Obsessed? Perhaps. I prefer extremely passionate.

There is something inherently noble and graceful about horses. The fact that they trust humans, and allow us to share their lives, is a never ending blessing for me. We all have something we feel connected to- and for me it has always been horses.

I begged to do pony rides at every local circus, party, or event I attended as a child. My parents would shake their heads and laugh, but it was so exciting!

My first independent experience on horseback didn’t go the way I’d dreamed and planned. In fact, it didn’t really go at all.

Family vacations should be filled with wonderful memories. And they usually are quite memorable. The petty family squabbles or sisterly bickering takes a back seat to the new and amazing experiences. You mostly remember the good times. A trick of our brains that make us do it again and again.

So goes our family trip to Arizona when I was about 9 years old. I can still see the dust kicking up as our rental car pulled into the stable yard. My young brain did not take into account the details of the landscape, or the wooden sign marked “Trail Rides”. Oh no, the anticipation of riding a horse in the desert like a cowgirl was all that I could imagine. Finally, my daydreams and backyard imaginings were coming true. I was a cowgirl!

Well, the day dream and the reality could not have been farther apart.

Our family experience had a predictable beginning. The barn owner chose our horses based on experience level and temperament. My pestering was reason for this equestrian experience that the rest of my family had to endure, and I was the first to mount up on my little gray pony. My favorite! I knew we were meant to be and I fell a little bit in love.

We stood waiting for the others in the shade of a tree, the flies dancing around us in the shadows. His tail and ears twitched impatiently as they buzzed quickly by, occasionally landing on me. I was in my glory. My sister mounted behind on a dark colored horse, perhaps black or bay. She was nervous. I can still picture it now. She didn’t feel comfortable around horses. But she wanted to be like her big sister and she tried to hide her fear. My horse shifted weight as he dozed, and I panicked.

My sudden fear fed my sister’s fear. She was following in her sister’s footsteps and was taking my lead, trusting that she would be okay. Until I lost my confidence. After all, I was the sister obsessed with horses. My being scared only signaled that there was something to truly be afraid of. I began to imagine that my little gray pony would panic and bolt with me on him, headed off into the vast desert with little old me on his back. I had never ridden independently and did not know my “whoa” from my “go”. My fears fed my self doubt and became crippling.

So here we were, two little girls sobbing on our ponies in the middle of the Arizona desert. I can only imagine what the other riders were thinking. I’m pretty sure my pony did not budge the entire time. Talk about patient and bombproof. We dismounted with help and refused to go on the trail.

Heather Wallace
Heather Wallace

Disappointing beginning for a cowgirl, huh?

My mother stayed with us in the yard while the others went into the desert. My father, a former Air Force Captain and war veteran, had no desire to ride horses. Ironically, he became the only member of our family to venture out that day. He came back a few hours later not wanting to speak about his experience. It was years later that I learned they encountered a rattle snake on their adventure. He still is wary of horses to this day but doesn’t mind them much on the ground.

That day wasn’t a total loss. I sat in that dusty Arizona paddock, grooming and loving on that pony, crying when I had to leave. I realized later that I let my fear of what could happen get in the way of something I really wanted to do. And I was disappointed in myself.

In retrospect, I would like to have done things differently. I regret not staying on that gray pony and riding off into the desert. I let my fear be greater than my passion. It’s still on my equestrian bucket list.

The regret from our Arizona trip has eaten at me for years. My passion for horses didn’t waiver, in fact it grew. But there was always niggling doubt that I couldn’t handle a horse.

This memory says a lot about me, none of which I’m very proud. But I am nothing if not honest with myself and others. I am not embarrassed at the behavior of a young girl who was afraid of riding a strange horse in the Arizona desert. I had no riding experience at all. Zip. Zero. Zilch. My horse didn’t misbehave or give me any reason to be scared. My own insecurities and vivid imagination did that all on his own. But it’s a good reminder that one decision can have lasting consequences.

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Confessions of a Timid Rider, available now on Amazon and all major retailers.

About the Author

Heather Wallace writes about confidence, overcoming self-doubt and following her passion. She is the award-winning author of non-fiction titles Confessions of a Timid Rider, which details her insights about being an anxiety-ridden but passionate horse lover and Girl Forward: A Tale of One Woman's Unlikely Adventure in Mongolia. Heather is also well known for her blog, The Timid Rider, chronicling her journey as a returning adult equestrian with a lot more curves and a lot more determination.

By day, Heather is a Certified Equine and Canine Sports Massage Therapist dedicated to helping animals holistically. In her spare time, of which she has little, she spends her time with her husband, three children, two dogs, and pony in the wilds of New Jersey. You can follow her on Facebook @heatherwallaceauthor on social media @timidrider or at

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Heather Wallace
Heather Wallace

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