So, you’ve been out of the saddle? And now – you’re ready to get back on the horse. Firstly, congratulations! Whether your time on the ground was due to the pandemic or due to some other life circumstance, returning to riding is a great feeling and time in your life.
I personally felt a buzz of anticipation when I got back into the saddle after both of my boys were born. I made the decision not to ride during each pregnancy, so finally getting back felt great. But there were a few challenges along the way. It definitely was not ‘plain sailing’.
Today I want to help you navigate a few of these potential sticking points so that you can make this transition back to regular riding as enjoyable and resistance-free as possible.
1. Lower the Barrier to Entry
There is always a barrier to doing something or getting started with something. Some barriers have higher than others. But accepting it is there and working with it, rather than allowing it to stop you, is a key element to keeping frustration out of your first few rides.
What can you do, right now, to make getting back in the saddle easier for you?
This could be getting all your tack and equipment ready. Or maybe finding and preparing your own clothes and ‘gear’. On a side note; that word always reminds me of my Mam (the house is full of horsey gear was a regular comment when I was grown up! But, seriously, having all your bits and bobs ready will help you to feel excited and literally smooth the path to mounting up.
You have an opportunity now to shape the conversation going forward with your horse. Do everything in your power to feel good, relaxed and ready before you mount up.
2. Easing Back Into It
Think back to the last time you went on holiday or traveled. I can bet that when you returned to your ‘normal’ routine, it felt a lot better to have a ‘settling in’ day or two to start you off? Diving straight into the nitty-gritty is no fun for anyone. And if often leads us to become frustrated, tense, and looking for ways to avoid it.
If horse riding is to be fun and enjoyable for you going forward, start it off that way. Allow yourself a day or two just to simply ride. No expectations.
As someone who has ridden before, there will be a temptation to ‘get back to normal’ as quickly as you can. Resist it! I am going to suggest that the most important intention you can set for yourself for the first few rides is to simply enjoy them and have fun. No improving aids. Or responsiveness.
Allow yourself the gift of letting fun be the only consistent you are looking for in your first few rides. Trust me, it will help you to really make riding a high priority in your life again going forward.
3. Focus on You and Your Riding
You’ve heard the saying ‘slow down to speed up’. The first week or two of being back in the saddle is a really good example of how this can apply to your riding. I am going to suggest that you allow your focus to sit squarely on you. What you are doing in the saddle.
Start with noticing how your body moves. Then begin seeing the correlation to your horses movements.
Timing is a big part of horse riding. And beginning to understand what is happening when underneath you is key to developing your skills at timing your aids. This all begins with begin able to identify how it ‘feels’ when your horse does a certain thing.
And keep in mind that anyone can see what is moving. The exercise here is to begin ‘feeling’ what is moving. Being able to identify a specific movement by how it feels in your body.
Start with what you can see, the shoulders and front end. Then challenge yourself with what you cannot see, the hindquarters and back end.
4. Making Peace with What You Can Control
So many riders are control freaks when they get in the saddle. They want to micro-manage every little element of the ride, every minute of the ride. It is exhausting for them, and equally so for anyone watching them. It also ‘caps’ your horse and his development; which will long term, cap your riding progress as well.
Repeat this out loud 5 times before getting into the saddle:- “The only thing I can control is myself; my thoughts, my feelings and my actions.”
Realizing this and then focusing your efforts on something that is actually in your power is a game-changer. So, rather than shortening up your reins, over and over again in order to control your horse. Think about controlling your position so that you are in the best possible place to communicate with your horse. And instead of micromanaging every step your horse takes to keep him ‘straight’. Use your focus to set up the best possible set of circumstances to allow your horse to become straight.
I think that this needing to control everything is where a lot of confidence issues stem from. Riders feel ‘less than’ because they cannot control their horse. NEWSFLASH:- Your job is not to control the horse! That is impossible.
Your horse has a mind of his own. HE has thoughts of his own. You can only ever hope to influence him into coming along with you for the ride, so to speak.
5. Anxiety versus Excitement
Think about how each of these emotions makes you feel in your body. The physical response your body has to anxiety or excitement. They’re pretty similar, eh?! In fact, they are almost the same. It is simply how we choose to think about them that makes it different.
Your thoughts are directly influencing your actions. They are also what produce your feelings.
And if confidence has been an issue for you in the past, this is a key element to recognize. It all comes back to recognizing what you can control, and then focusing your efforts or attention there. Initially, it might feel hard. It can even feel a little daunting when you realize just how much your thoughts are ‘straying’ into territories you’d rather not have them go. Start with some simple questions.
How do you feel about your riding? What thoughts are producing those feelings? How can you change the thought to produce a better or more positive feeling?
When you are not feeling confident, your posture will reflect this. Shoulders closed down. Ribs sitting on top of your hips, meaning your seat cannot move with your horse. Blocking, resisting, bouncing, digging… And all of this caused by a simple thought. I have seen enough riders to know this is true – trust me on this.
6. Returning to Regular Riding
Your body, your muscles, and your mind are now wide open for new ways of doing things. The break you have had is now your opportunity to make things even better than they were before. You can reprogram the habits or patterns that no longer serve you.
In order to take this opportunity and make the most of it, you need to get intentional about what you want to create and achieve.
Then simply be consistent in staying true to that intention in order to get there.
This is such an exciting time for you and your riding!
The Original Returning to Riding Program
Are you looking for a way to get back into confident regular riding again? If so, I have a step by step, day by day plan to help you make this a reality that works with your existing lifestyle.
The Original Returning to Riding Program is an audio program, that plays from a podcast that you subscribe to on your phone. Each day, new training or lesson is available for you to use as you make the transition from ‘grounded’ to regular riding again. You can find out more about it HERE
Other Resources to Help you:-
- Great Expectations – Returning to Riding series
- Step by Step – Returning to Riding Series
- Choosing Your Mindset – Returning to Riding Series
- Focusing on the Basics – Returning to Riding Series
- The Original Returning to Riding Plan
- The Full Returning to Riding Program
- Free Equestrian Fitness Challenge
- Daily Strides Podcast