Fear and Horse Riding

Fear and Horse Riding

Fear and Horse Riding

Has fear or lack of confidence ever held you back in your riding? If so, you will know how debilitating this can be.  Sometimes it’s caused by a past experience. Or it can be created when we think of all the things that ‘can’ potentially happen.
Whatever the cause, I think that it is important to recognize that this particular challenge won’t simply vanish on its own.  Sure, sometimes it can seem like it has shifted or even disappeared.  But more often than not, it is simply buried and will rear its unwanted head again as soon as there is even a whiff of ‘danger’ or ‘warning’ in the air.
I am a firm believer that confidence is something that we build over time.  Couple time with consistent repetition, self-awareness, and taking the correct action and there’s a good chance that you can overcome the fear and begin thriving again in your horse riding.

What Are You Afraid Of?

I think that it is important to actually name what you’re worried about in order to begin the work of changing your thoughts around it.  There is a big difference between “I’m afraid to ride” and “I’m worried my horse will spook, spin, and dump me on the ground so hard that I break something”.
Often when we actually speak about the exact thing that we fear when it comes to our riding, we can begin to dismantle that fear in our minds
If we take the second statement mentioned above, there are a few key areas we can begin to work on BEFORE we ever even consider hopping into the saddle. “I’m worried my horse will spook, spin, and dump me on the ground so hard that I break something”.
      1. Remind yourself that your horse, usually, doesn’t want to ‘dump you’ on the ground; especially in this particular situation
      2. What specific triggers have you noticed that your horse has reacted this way too?
      3. How can you avoid these triggers?
      4. What can you do to actually develop your horse’s confidence in himself?
      5. Is there a way you can develop your horse’s confidence in you more?
      6. Where can you ride that the chances of this happening are less?
      7. What can you do to potentially limit the severity of the fall, if it were to happen?
When we really begin to look at the fear we have, we can also begin to approach it from a different perspective – one of curiosity.

What Can You Control?

Now, for years I have been preaching that the only thing you can control when it comes to riding is yourself.  However, this is not really true for this particular situation.  Firstly, when your mind is telling you terrible stories, often all sense of self-control flies out the window!
And, secondly, I believe that there are actually external factors you can control in order to logically lessen the risks involved with riding.  It’s just that we sometimes overlook these things because we are so caught up in the ‘fear’ itself.
You can work towards controlling things like:-
      • The time of day you ride (this often has an impact on the energy levels of both horse and rider, as well as external factors like traffic, bystanders, other horses in the arena, etc.)
      • Who you are riding with
      • Where you ride
      • What feed your horse is receiving
      • How balanced and coordinated you are
      • Creating planned responses instead of fear-based reactions
You can also begin to develop a greater influence over things like:-
      • How fit or fresh your horse is
      • The thoughts in your head…
      • How fit and supple you are
      • Increasing the trust and partnership of your relationship with your horse
      • Developing your horse’s confidence in himself
The key here is to actively decide to change things and then create a plan of action in order to make it happen.  Wishing, hoping, and praying won’t work in this situation!

Maybe Don’t ‘Just Do It’…

Now, up until this point, we have been doing the ‘thinking’ work. And while this is both important and necessary, there comes a time when action is needed. A lot of trainers and coaches will force riders to ‘just do it’. And, to be fair, this often does work in the actual moment. It also can sometimes actually be the exact thing that is needed to unmask the fear forever for the rider.
The issue I have with the ‘just do it’ approach is that while you may get a quick win under your belt, often the underlying cause has not been resolved; and will come up again when pressure is applied!
Pressure, in this situation, is anything that causes you or your horse to experience a little emotional or physical discomfort. It’s usually emotional. Maybe a spook for your horse. Or a lack of time for you. These are the exact moments when you don’t want to experience fear!

What’s Comfortable Now?

Start by figuring out where you and your horse both feel good and relaxed right now when you’re together. This could be riding together inside of an enclosed space, like an arena. However, it could also be dismounted, on the ground, with a door or a gate between you and your horse!
It makes absolutely no difference what this is for you both now. What is important is to find that point in the conversation together where everyone feels relaxed, at ease, and enjoying the moment.
Now, rather than mindlessly allowing these moments of true enjoyment and relaxation to simply pass, begin paying attention to how you ‘are’ in these moments.
When you can begin to define truly what ‘relaxed and at ease’ is for you and your horse, you will begin to more easily recognize leaving that ‘comfortable’ space. And, how it feels to return to it.

Building Confidence and Easing Fear

So, with this point in mind, begin thinking about how you could intentionally plan to make things a little more mentally uncomfortable for you and your horse. What could you actually plan and make happen that would intentionally make you feel discomfort? It sounds bizarre, but this is truly the key to gaining confidence and overcoming fear.
The key to planning this work BEFORE you actually do it is that you will create ‘pressure’ circumstances that can easily and quickly be reversed.
Meaning that you can turn it on and then when you choose to, switch it off. Sounds so simple! But we can do this in our riding as well. Maybe it is walking for 20 meters with someone leading you out of the arena and back to the stables. It could be standing beside your horse holding the lead rope, with the door or gate open.
The goal is to create a situation where you will feel that mental discomfort and commit to staying in it for 20 or 30 seconds. Then, calmly returning back to the ‘comfort zone’ and ‘safety’ again.

Consistency, Repetition, Awareness, & Action

Doing this once or twice won’t be enough to ‘reset’ your comfort zone. This work needs to happen consistently in order to be effective. The good news is that, over time, you will find the discomfort getting less and less.
When the previously uncomfortable piece feels relaxed and easy, it is time to expand the ‘zone’ further. Find the next action that will build on the previous one and start the work again.
By doing this over and over, both you and your horse will develop confidence in your own abilities. You will also begin to trust each other more, which will strengthen the partnership.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes to overcome fear and develop confidence. And yet, the time invested in doing the work can yield so much more for you in your riding… It is well worth the investment.
Happy Riding

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