How often have you lost a little or a lot of confidence in your handling and riding abilities or heard of someone else struggling. To lose confidence around something we all love doing so very much is a horrible thing to go through.
This topic has of course had books written on it, clinics given, DVDs made and so on. There’s no such thing as an ‘easy fix’ around confidence and I’m certainly not going to pretend to be able to provide all the answers in one short blog!
I really think as adult riders we can put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves to ‘make’ this riding caper ‘work’. This can often get in the way of us remembering that for the majority of us we ride for pleasure, for relaxation and for exercise. We can certainly be competitive but also acknowledge we’re not going to be vying for Olympic selection anytime soon. When our horse time comes under pressure due to feeling nervous or anxious it can often end up as a vicious circle and make us downright unhappy! Regaining your lost confidence around horses on the ground or in the saddle isn’t about just ‘getting on’, ‘getting over it’ or ‘sucking it up’. It’s something we all experience differently. It can often be deeply personal and maybe even involve more than just the equestrian side of your life. It’s confronting, it has the potential to push us WAY out of our comfort zone and it can make us feel inadequate and very, very alone.
I want to talk about a couple of issues I tend to find people don’t discuss for fear of causing offence and as a result they’re not discussed openly. I don’t bring these topics up to make people upset or to ignite debate. I am discussing them because this is your safety we’re talking about and as a coach your safety is my number one priority at all times. Yes, some topics may be a little confronting to some of you but if that confrontation and the thinking or learning you gain from it means you’re safe or challenged to change something in your world then, for me, it’s been worth it.
Firstly, let’s honestly look at your skills as a rider. Many adult riders return to riding after a long break which may have involved having children and almost certainly involves not being a gung-ho teenager any longer! As a result our muscle coordination may not be what we remember it to be and combined with perhaps a change in weight the skill set we think we retain from our hey-day and the skill set we in fact have can be a little out of kilter. This doesn’t mean you can’t be involved with horses ever again! Far from it! It may mean your own skills need a bit of brushing up on so you can enjoy your riding again. This may mean regular lessons on your own horse or taking some time to have some longe lessons or schooling on a school-master so you can concentrate 100% on YOU.
Secondly, let’s look at your horse. Are you a fairly even match or are you trying to make it work with a horse which is genuinely too much for your current riding skills or a bad personality mix? Even a horse which may be a relatively good match for your skill set but you find yourself being anxious around can lead to you becoming a very unsafe combination along with you not being able to enjoy the sport you love! The good news is in many cases with some good instruction and some hard work on your part the combination can be successful if you choose to continue with that particular animal. I can count the number of horses I’ve worked with in the last five years I’d class as truly dangerous on one hand. Of course, in the first instance when we’re presented with consistent undesirable behaviour is to rule out any soreness along with any gear fitting issues.
Working with a coach to resolve issues will be successful with hard work, however, not everyone actually wants to put in those hard yards and that’s completely ok also. As heartbreaking as selling a horse can be it may be one of the best things you can do for you both as a combination. We can get so trapped in the ‘I can’t sell him, I love him so much’ thought that you can often lose sight of the bigger picture. If you’ve the space, time and money to continue to care for an animal for the rest of its days then that’s great but if you’re getting no enjoyment out of owning him and the relationship you have with him means you’re unable to do the things you’d like to then you probably need to make a decision. I’ve seen people really agonise over this decision (and it’s not one to be taken lightly), finally come to the point where they sell an unsuitable horse to a much more suited home and in turn, find themselves a more suitable mount. You don’t see them for dust! What you can usually see through the dust is their smile! If you do head down this road make sure you use the advice of someone you trust who knows your abilities to help select your new mount. I can’t stress that one enough, it would be awful to make the same mistake twice.
This brings me to my third point. Utilise the coaches, professionals and/or experienced friends around you. Sometimes their opinion may not be the opinion you want to hear but it may be the opinion you NEED to hear and could help you go towards perhaps making some changes to keep you safe and, more importantly, for you to be able to enjoy your chosen sport once again.
Let’s take a little look at fear and anxiety. The thing about fear is it is often completely irrational. You can be gripped with anxiety to the point of not being able to move left/right/up/down and not really be able to pin point why. As adults we want to know why, we want to be able to explain this fear and work it out in our head. We want to understand and solve the issue in front of us. This can be an incredibly frustrating situation to be in!
One tool I often use is to look at breaking down the fear. Can you think of any event in particular which triggers it? Take a moment to sit down and write down the things you feel trigger your anxiety. I can’t stress enough at this point to write down any little thing you feel can bother you. It doesn’t matter if it’s something someone else may not have a problem with, this is your journey, no one elses. It’s not useful at this point to start comparing yourself to others.
Next, I want you to think through a regular day visiting your horse. Think through all you do from getting him from stable or paddock to tacking up to entering the school or going for a ride out. Every, little, thing. Think through them, write them down and put a score out of 10 next to them for how nervous each element makes you feel. If, for example, coming in from the paddock and grooming and tacking up doesn’t bother you at all but mounting does, break that down. What is it about the action of mounting that causes you to become nervous? Break it down into the smallest possible fragments if you need, giving each a score out of ten. If you have had a past bad experience I’m sure actions around that experience will up the anxiety level.
Next I want you to think about and write down how your horse behaves in each of these scenarios, and, what your reaction to his action is. This will work for anything from leading him from the paddock, to spooking on a ride out. Look at your horses action, what he does, and then really think closely about what your reaction to his action is. Do you become the leader and work through undesirable behaviours, schooling all the while or do you want to curl up in foetal position and hope you don’t die?
By taking some time and sitting down and mapping out this, away from your horse, I hope you’re able to see some areas you might be able to choose to work on for either you, or your horse. For example, if mounting makes you nervous and your horse is not standing still for you maybe do some reading up on techniques to help and apply some in your training to help have him become better at standing still, having your horse behave better is bound to make you feel more comfortable! Looking at these areas may also help you identify which behaviours you don’t feel competent or confident to tackle on your own. Time to call in the reinforcements. This may take the form of lessons – either on the ground or in the saddle, of asking a trusted friend to be present or to assist, or even the horse spending some time with someone else to be trained to learn the cues so then they’re easier for you to apply. This is particularly helpful if you’re also learning something new and strange. It’s often easier if one of you is competent in the training.
Finding areas you need to work on comes back to that old thing of having to work on them. As I mentioned previously, this can be very hard work. To get results you have to want a change, I’m sure that’s an easy decision to make when you’re unhappy and feeling a little scared. The hard part is actually doing the work. It’s a bit like buying a gym membership and only turning up the first two weeks and wondering why nothing’s changed! Once you’ve identified areas to work on to ensure you’re successful you need a plan. That’s going to act as your structure and enable you to form great strategies for your journey. Once again, there’s plenty of material available on planning, goal setting and I’m certainly not able to do them justice in a paragraph or two! It is important for you to only focus on one or two goal areas at a time. Any more than three and you’re going to become overwhelmed and ineffective. Set a couple of fantastic goals and plan around reaching them. Again, the goals are yours, no one elses. If your goal is important to you it doesn’t matter how large or small it may appear to others. I would caution you to make sure your goal is achievable, if you make it too large it may need to be broken down into stepping stone goals to get to the big one!
I’m very aware I’ve covered just the tip of the iceberg in terms of dealing with a loss of confidence! It’s not just about ‘manning up and getting on and riding’, it’s much, much more than that and deserves to have some solid structures around it to help you move from having a loss of confidence to riding with a huge smile on your face! My recently released audio download series RemoteConfidence is available now in the Remote Coach store and covers these topics and much more along with other coaching support products both face to face and online. If you’ve any questions at all please feel free to contact me!