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!