Get Your Confidence Back!

We’ve all been there: something happens to spook us, and suddenly we’re not quite as confident on our horses as we were.  Perhaps an injury, or a bad experience has caused us to become nervous or afraid of our horse, or of riding outside the comfort zone of the ring, etc. The same thing can happen to we women when we get pregnant.  Suddenly we are just a bit more apprehensive than we used to be…..

This is totally natural!  It is hard-wired in our systems to be nervous or afraid if we perceive a potentially harmful or unpleasant situation.  Especially for those of us who have been injured in the past (I broke my back, for example), it is very common to have feelings of nervousness when getting back in the saddle.  I don’t know about you, but it frustrates me!

So, I’ve been giving it some thought, and I have a few ideas on how to overcome your fears/insecurities, and get back on that horse!

First, identify the problem.  Is this fear because of an injury? Pregnancy? Bad experience? Is it all in your head?  If you can pinpoint the reason for the fear, you can start working to overcome it.

Second, is the problem consistent?  In other words, do you feel the same level of nervousness each time you ride? Or is it more dependant on the mood/behavior of your horse?  For me, my nervousness increases dramatically when my horse is feeling flighty/spooky/frisky.  Recently I rode my TB gelding and he was higher than a kite… spring weather, combined with not having been ridden in a while, was making him extra rambunctious.  It made me nervous, and in turn, caused my body to tense.  Even though I was aware this was happening, I couldn’t help it, and horsey just got more bouncy as a result.  Then I rode my TB mare, the golden child, and all was calm and cool.  I had a lovely ride and felt much better – calm and relaxed.

There are several factors which could be exacerbating your problem as well.  First, do you have the right horse?  I have all too often seen a rider who is on a horse that is too much for them.   This is especially common when a green rider buys a young horse, or a horse that has not had a lot of training.  Or perhaps the horse is high-strung?  Nothing is worse than wanting to go for a liesurely trail ride and your super-hot horse is bouncing all the way down the trail.

Some horses are good about beeing ridden only once in a while, and some need to be ridden/worked more often.  If you are a ‘once in a while’ type of rider, be sure you don’t own the second type of horse.

I wonder how many of you have noticed something I have noticed in my own horses;  I can look out in to the pasture and see them all, just hanging around, heads down, ears floppy, totally relaxed.  Then minute I get on them, suddenly the eyes are wide open, the head is up, the nostrils flared, and off we go.  This problem is very common and can be handled in a couple of ways.  The objective in this case is to get the horse’s attitude when ridden to be the same relaxed attitude he has when hanging out with his pals in the pasture.  One way to do this is to make riding a little boring.  Don’t just hop on and head down the trail with all the scary mailboxes and trash cans…. do some boring stuff first, like practicing circles at the walk.  Or walking forward, stopping, and backing up. Repeat.  You don’t want the horse to think, “Oh YEY!  Here come’s Fifi!  We’re going for a RIDE!!  Yippee!!!!”   We want the horse to say (in his Eeyore voice) “Oh, ok, a ride. Swell.”  We can get that quieter attitude by doing some boring stuff each time we ride.

Another strategy is to do more work when they are behaving badly, and less work when they are being calm and nice.  For example, if your horse has a habit of spooking every time he passes by the manure pile, make a point of doing extra exercizes there, preferably boring ones, like circles.  After a couple times, he will think (in his Eeyore voice again) “oh joy. The manure pile. More work.”  Be sure to skip the boring circles if he is calm and quiet.  Pretty soon he will figure out that if he’s goofy, he works, and if he’s quiet, he doesn’t.

Also, there is nothing wrong with taking a few days off from riding.  I take a little down time when I’m not feeling it….  instead of riding, I’ll go back and watch some of my videos, like my John Lyons videos.  I always learn a little something new, and it gets me inspired to get back on the horse.

Another way I find helpful for getting my confidence level back up a few notches is to take a lesson.  Even if you are an advanced level rider, there is something about taking a lesson from a respected professional that always makes me feel great.  First of all, find someone who’s style and opinion you respect.  Try several different instructors until you find one you really like.  They will be able to see things you do not, and improve your skills as well as challenge you to try things you might not try on your own.  I like to take lessons with several different people…. I find that each person has his or her unique style, and I learn different things from each of them.  Recently I had a group lesson with a very accomplished advanced level rider named Bobby Meyerhoff.  He convinced me to jump a large coop that I would NEVER have attempted on my own.  I was terrified!  But the fact that he seemed perfectly convinced that I could handle it, combined with the fact that the other riders in the group had all done it and were encouraging me…. was enough to give me the gumption to give it a try. After successfully jumping it several times, I really felt my confidence coming back, and it has stuck with me.  I realize I am very lucky;  living in Northern Virginia, I have access to many many Olympic and World Champion riders… I could take a lesson with a different Olympian each day of the week!!

If you have some tips on getting your confidence back, let me know!

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9 Responses

  1. Hi Aeron,

    All I had to do is read your 1st paragraph and I felt relief b/c I am not alone. I have always had a fear of horses but that would not stop me from riding but it made more of a chore and not near as fun and relaxed as I knew it could be. No one in my family knew anything about horses but I knew that I loved them so when I was about 15 I got my 1st horse and yes of coarse I had no training and a hot horse does not make for a good experience. I kept going and getting bucked off just about everytime I rode and took about 1 hr to catch him and about another 2 to load, I was determind to ride no matter what UNTIL I got pregnant then horse sold b/c not safe to ride and then pregnant again, so now 2 young kids and all I can remember is the bad experiences I had in the past but the passion lives on.
    so I got myself a trusty quaterhorse and we couldn’t be having more fun. This boy sure gave me confidence again but only on him so I still have to work on that..

  2. I agree with the previous reply! I read the first paragraph, and I too felt comfort knowing I’m not alone. My fear comes from the fear in the horse. I know what to do and can teach others, but something happens to me and all my confidence goes out the window. My confidence is a lot higher in my arena that happens to be in my backyard. Thanks for the info!

  3. Hi Aeron,
    I just want to let you know how much I enjoyed the sundance series. And would like to see more of your videos.
    CONFIDENCE, thats a big word, As humans we all have it but at times it is stronger and other times its weaker depending on how we feel on that given moment. As a pro-trainer I am not afraid to say I also struggle with it at times. When I am feeling tired, weak,sore, or hurting physically. I use some exercises while riding or ground working a horse, that helps me when I start to feel not as strong as I would like. The first one is I take a deep breath and let it out slow, that helps me calm down, and it helps the thinking process kick in. THINKING ; can my horse do what I am asking or can I handle doing what I am asking my horse to do. How safe am I ? Do I have the knowledge to do this? How well do I know my horse? All of these questions help us. I also have learned not to ride a horse I cant handle. The Second thing I have learned, is to talk to my horse tell him good boy when he is good with lots of rubs and a strong no or quit when he is about to do something bad.This is so important when trying to get your confidence back or instill it in your horse. And nothing is better to build your confidence than riding a horse you can trust.
    Good luck Areon and ride safe 😉
    JOE

  4. […] that. What a blessing! (If you’re in the same boat as me, you might want to take a look at this article , which is about timidity after a horse […]

  5. My daughter’s 20yr old horse that we have owned since Oct 2009 and who was previously viewed as bombproof(He has run barrels, worked cows,carried a big flag around arena, etc and has been very very calm aroung the arena and dogs and other horses and is so gentle that a baby can ride him) has bucked her off at a barrel race. He ran fine all day & after the show she went in arena for a practice run and he started bucking like crazy. I have several theories like-the weather had been bad so he had not been ridden but once a week for the last month(yet when we got him he had not been ridden for 1 year andshe rode him the first time ever with just a shipping halter) or maybe because that day at the arena another horse near him got tangled up in his lead rope and freaked out or maybe he was tires _ I don’t know – but now he is super spooky at home he is over reacting to things that he never reated to before! What can i do?

    • Hi Patty,
      It’s hard to say what’s going on & figure out what to do since I can’t see him… I would suggest start sacking him out again as if her were a youngster and you were doing it for the first time…. have someone on him and point him towards another person who approaches & retreats with items like an umbrella, plastic bags, tarp, etc. Whenever he tries to turn & leave, point him back to the scary object…. As soon as the person retreats a few steps, give him a nice pat & some praise. Don’t go so far as to really freak him out, but you want him to get nervous, then calm, nervous, then calm. Pretty soon he will be calm all the time, and no matter what you approach him with, it won’t bother him. Good luck! ~Aeron

  6. Thanks so much for the advice!

    • Hi Patty, I just had another idea too… (in case you are still dealing with this problem!)… have you had your horse checked for Lyme’s disease? I don’t know if you live in an area that has it, but here in northern Virginia, it’s rare to find a horse who HASN’T been exposed to Lyme’s. Not all horses will develop the full-blown diesease after exposure (a tick bite from an infected tick), but i DO know that it can change a horse’s personality, and quite dramatically! My dun mare was recently behaving VERY strangely… spooking at things that weren’t there, and even dumped me off twice! (She’d never done that before)… I had her tested, and sure enough, she was off the charts for Lyme’s. She’s on Doxy now, and after several weeks, seems to be getting her old personality back. Yey! For a really great article about Lyme’s disease, check out Dr. Joyce Harman’s article: http://harmanyequine.com/2010/12/chronic-lyme-disease-in-the-horse/

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