Many of us riders have lost confidence in riding at one time or another. Feeling nervous or afraid to ride your horse is nothing to be ashamed of since riding is somewhat considered a risky sport. According to a recent survey, 26 out of 100,000 falls will result in serious injury. That is quite a small percentage, but a good number out of the 26 cases will unfortunately result in death.
Yes, riding is dangerous. But the risks vary from discipline to the other. For example, most injuries occur in racing, cross country, or in the hunting field. Showjumping has less injuries, and dressage has even lesser. So how does a rider cope with such statistics? Or worse, how does a rider get over the fear of a past experience? The answer will hopefully be found in the following paragraphs.
Conquer Those Nerves
Whether you have had a bad fall, or seen someone fall, or simply suspect that you might fall off, your nerves will be to be controlled. We know that a tense rider will result in a tense horse, so you must begin with relaxing your own mind and body. It may seem impossible, but try the following tips:
- Have someone lunge your horse so you can concentrate on yourself. Close your eyes and inhale a deep breath through your nose, then breathe in a little more to completely inflate your lungs, and s-l-o-w-l-y exhale through your mouth. Make sure you are entirely focused on yourself; block out all distractions. Repeat a few times then open your eyes. This will slow down your pulse and will loosen the tension in your muscles. When your mind and body have relaxed completely, begin to trot or canter as you choose, but walk on when you feel that you need another minute to relax once again.
- While still on the lunge, release the reins and stretch with your arms to the sky. Reach as high as you can and hold your breathe for a moment. Breathe out as you bring your arms down by your sides. This helps relax the arms, neck, and back muscles. This exercise is to be performed only at the walk.
- Off the lunge - Don't maintain a constant pressure on the reins. Half open your hands and relax the contact so the horse won't feel your tension. A tight fist will contract the muscles in your arms and shoulder, which will also limit your breathing. When the horse realizes that you are relaxed, he too will relax, and when you find that your horse is relaxed, you will become even more relaxed and content.
- Talk to your horse. Never mind what people will think of you. Carry on an actual conversation with your horse as though he understood every word you said. You may even sing to him. Sounds crazy? Maybe, but it works miracles on calming your nerves. Tell your horse how you wouldn't appreciate it if he bucks; tease him about his unruly mane; tell him a secret that no one else knows, tell him a joke and pretend that he doesn't find it funny! This technique will keep your mind away from nerve wrecking thoughts and will also keep your horse attentive to your voice.
- Do not pressure yourself into something that might go wrong if you have not yet recovered your confidence. For instance, if your horse rears when you approach a water jump, avoid the water jump until you know that you are fully capable of handling it. In other words, set small goals for yourself. If you have suffered from a fall yesterday when your horse stopped before a fence, don't try to jump again today to prove to yourself that you can do it, because if your horse stops, and you fall again, your confidence will be even furthermore shattered. Instead, canter your horse over a pole today; tomorrow you may canter two poles set apart, and after tomorrow you may canter over three poles set apart. When you are confident cantering over ground poles, gradually set the poles higher. The whole objective is to get you to view today's ride as 'easy to achieve'.
- Ride in company. Being around confident riders will help boost your own confidence. Share your arena with a quiet horse and confident rider or hack out in company. Even if trouble occurs, you will have someone to support you. This thought alone should make you more confident.
- Spend a lot of time watching others ride. Seeing others advance can make you eager to reach their level of riding. Eagerness to achieve will set you in a positive frame of mind and will automatically make you 'want' to be a confident rider.
- Pretend to be confident. Sit tall and proud, breathe quietly, and smile frequently. This will fool your unconscious mind into believing that you actually are confident and will send the message to your conscious mind. This is the proven power of the unconscious mind and it really does work. To read more about positive mind power check Jane Savoie's book: That Winning Feeling.
- Do some positive self-talk. Think of a few positive expressions and write them down on Post-it notes. Post the notes around your house or the yard. Write expressions such as 'Proud' - 'Calm' - 'Brave' - 'Confident' - 'Enthusiastic' - 'Elegant' - 'Patient' - 'Optimistic' - 'Determined'. Every time you cross by a note, audibly pronounce the word on the note. This allows your mind to 'absorb' the expression and store it unconsciously. The next time you ride, your mind will put these words into practice.
Quick Tip: Some riders are recently turning to aromatherapy to calm their nerves, precisely using a product called Bach Flower Rescue Remedy . This would work well on days of competition to help maintain a state of calmness.
Patience is a virtue; give yourself time to recover from your lost confidence. Yes, it may take months, but don't loose hope. One day you will wake up and be eager to get in the saddle and achieve your goals, and shattered confidence will be a thing of the past. It is the love you have for the sport and for the horse that will set you where you can take off again.