Riding a nervous horse is one thing… Feeling less than confident about your own abilities while on your horse is quite another. Imagine it, up there, on your horse. He is beginning to get a little ‘jumpy’. Let’s be honest, so are you… Doubts are beginning to creep in and your thoughts are heading in a direction you would rather that they didn’t go…
Building confidence in your abilities to both handle yourself and the horse when in this situation is often a long road. However, it can be done – with time and patience.
Here are my suggestions for building your confidence in working with and riding a nervous horse.
1 . Find Your Comfort Zone – and Stay There
I know this is a little contrary to what other trainers might suggest in this situation. So many coaches, trainers, and instructors encourage their riders to get out of their comfort zones. I tend to take the opposite approach, initially anyways.
I believe that if you can find the place where you are happy, the place that is just close to the actual edge of the boundary of your comfort zone and work there for a while, you can begin to re-wire both your thoughts, your actions, and your habits
So many riders have a ‘protocol’ when it comes to feeling anxious and nervous on a horse. Some will literally attempt to ‘curl up’ into a ball (think of a hamster). Others will become aggressive as a way to hide or mask their doubts. And many will just freeze; forget all training and just sit there, waiting for the inevitable to happen.
Working inside of your comfort zone will allow your more relaxed habits to become more dominant. The key word there is ‘working’. Do things with your horse from where you are comfortable
2 . Get Your Basics onto Autopilot
Very often, riders are failing to get one or two key basics in their riding running on autopilot. What I mean by autopilot is that you no longer have to think about ‘heels down’; it simply just happens. And any time ‘pressure’ is applied, it happens even more! This also applies to ‘sit up and carry yourself’. When your horse is having a moment, these are two things that you really don’t want to forget or stop doing in your riding.
Focus on getting all the essentials to simply happen, on their own, so that if and when pressure is applied (things don’t go to plan), they remain in place and support you
Many riders, can keep their heels down as long as they are thinking about keeping their heels down. Remember, when things go sideways, you won’t be running through a checklist of ‘essentials to remember’!
You want to rather work on regaining balance for yourself and your horse and getting the ride back on track. This is close to impossible to achieve if you first have to ‘fix’ some of your basics with regard to position, posture, and aids
3 . Begin ‘Testing’ Yourself – and Your Horse
This is where you can begin to have some fun, while also continuing to work on developing your aids, habits, responses, and reactions. You’re going to do this by ‘inviting’ some potentially uncomfortable things into your comfort zone. Where I would suggest going with this is to think of it from your horse’s perspective. What individual items might cause your horse to question the situation a little?
Remember, the goal here is to build your confidence when riding a nervous horse – so by doing it this way, you get to remain ‘comfortable’ while your horse may experience a few nerves
I also believe that getting creative with this is key to really beginning to transform anxiety into excitement – although we also want to take those emotions down a notch or two… Rather than thinking of you and your horse being ‘anxious, which can be a very heavy and big emotion, why not use the word ‘nervous’. I personally think ‘nervous’ can either be positive or negative; meaning it can go either way. We want it to go in a positive way…
Think about how you can begin to transform ‘nervous’ energy into ‘curious’ energy
Only introduce things that you feel comfortable with, and continue to do this until your once nervous horse, also begins to relax and feel comfortable. This could take weeks… Once you have established a stronger, more relaxed ‘you’ as a rider, and you feel confident as that version of you, then you can begin thinking about venturing outside of that comfort zone…
4 . Control Everything You Possibly Can
So, once you have things on autopilot and you have created supportive and good habits as responses and, maybe, reactions, it’s time to think about leaving the ‘comfort zone’. I am not a big fan of simply wandering off into the sunset with a wish and a prayer that all will be okay! This is where planning is going to help you succeed and build your confidence.
Start off the ground, without your horse, and look at EVERYTHING from their perspective. Remember, you will be riding a nervous horse, so they will also look at, literally, everything!
Remove any of the questionable things you may meet along your way. Also consider the time of day, who will be around or in the vicinity, the weather, feeding times, energy levels (you especially), and who can possibly be there for support.
By creating a situation where, for the most part, you have removed many of the challenges, you and your horse can begin to experience working together and getting positive results – even if you both feel a little challenged and nervous
5 . Mindset When Riding a Nervous Horse
Finally, it is so important to increase your self-awareness. What are you believing to be true about the situation? Is that really true (meaning anyone, regardless of who they are can agree 100%)? And where can you begin to tweak or change your story surrounding this?
If you continue to tell yourself the same story, about you feeling nervous while riding a nervous horse, you will continue to produce the same results; change the story where necessary
Becoming more confident working with a horse who is likely to spook, spin, or fall to pieces is not easy. It will take time, commitment, diligence, patience, and a lot of forgiveness! You must remain dedicated to the job and do the work, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
However, from experience, I can tell you that if you do stay the course, the results can be life-changing. So often these ‘nervous horses’ can often become the most trustworthy ‘horses of a lifetime’. And this is simply because someone refused to give up on them.
Good luck and Happy Riding