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Feeling The Fear

Posted by lwright, 16 April 2012 · 96 views

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that successful riding is more to do with mental agility and attitude than the knowledge of and ability to execute certain aids.  Of course the correct aids convey to the horse what you want them to do, but a rider’s attitude, conviction and focus is what sets them apart.  We’ve all known plenty of riders who don’t look too pretty on a horse but nevertheless are effective and possess an incredible amount of self belief.  There are others who technically ride well and have a good “feel” for connecting with a horse but are limited because of their own self doubt.  Dealing with the fear or anxiety gremlins is perfectly normal when riding.  I used to envy the “gung ho” rider who never seemed phased by anything.  Now I appreciate that that the majority of highly capable riders are constantly dealing with varying levels of anxiety and it’s how we deal with that anxiety that sets us apart.

Experienced riders or anyone who has ridden for any length of time will be completely dishonest if they say they have never felt a degree of fear or anxiety when riding (even the bolder “gung ho” rider).  Riding is a high risk sport and it makes common sense that anyone who engages in this pastime should be mindful of the fact that the animal they are sitting on is faster, stronger and more powerful than they are.  And whilst you need to respect this fact, you certainly do not want to be a quivering wreck on a horse – if a horse is frightened the last thing they need is a frightened person on their back!  Nothing makes for a more disastrous and potentially dangerous combination!

Even the most placid horse is unpredictable at times and so requires us to have our brain turned on and attention focussed at all times.  Being mentally engaged and fully aware of what is going on when you are riding is essential.  If I recall the few times I have hit the ground, it was when I had “zoned out”, was caught off guard or not paying attention.

I have had my share of bad experiences when riding so I am only too well aware of how being “mindful” can turn into “utter fear”.  Whilst I know that “I just need to get on with it”, it can take a while to rebuild confidence and riding whilst your stomach is in knots isn’t fun.

The key to facing the fear is to acknowledge it, go back a few steps and create a plan.  It doesn’t matter if the next time you hack out all you do is walk – as long as the walk is relaxed, purposeful and you are in control.

Ability to deal with fear is intrinsically linked to our belief about our own abilities.  If you fear that your horse may spook and spin when out on a hack, then firstly having that vision in your mind will increase the chances of that actually happening and secondly knowing and believing that you can handle the situation should that incident occur immediately puts you in a stronger position.  If you know how to handle the situation, what is there is there to be afraid of? We feel fear when we’re overwhelmed and don’t believe we have the tools to deal with certain situations.

There will almost always be situations we know we cannot handle….yet.  For example, a couple of years ago any horse that bucked would have had me on the ground.  Knowing that I have to work on and improve my seat has meant that I am better able to stay secure on a horse that decides to throw its self around a bit.  If you feel insecure in the saddle, go back to basics.  Have some lessons (as I did) on the lunge.  It can make all the difference.  If you know that you have a good seat, you will feel more confident that you can handle just about anything your horse can throw at you………literally!

Do not under estimate the power of your mind.   Top riders use a variety of techniques to keep their mind and attitude in tip top condition.  They train very hard and their mental training is equally as important as their flat work and jumping. You might think that a 4 Star Event rider is brave but interestingly they don’t see themselves as brave – just well prepared for the event.  They are incredibly focused on the task in hand and if they had any doubt about their, or their horse’s ability to get round the course, they wouldn’t do!  It’s about preparation, endless training and knowing that you are well prepared to handle and deal with the challenge.

Again I also acknowledge that once in the downward spiral of losing confidence it’s hard to break free.  Therefore, it’s good to surround yourselves with positive people who can help.  If your trainer isn’t sympathetic and comes from the Calvary school of “just get on with it” then find a new trainer!  You will find that most trainers are sympathetic to loss of confidence as most riders will have experienced it at some time or other.  Someone who understands, not belittles your confidence crisis can help you get back on the road to more secure and positive riding.  Set yourself small achievable goals.  When I lost my confidence I made it my goal to simply have fun riding – to ride with a smile on my face!  It’s amazing what smiling did for my confidence.  I started to act like I was having fun and before I knew it, I was!

Not all people can ride all horses.  A coach once said to me that another thing top riders are good at is “they know what horses suit them and the horses they can get the best out of”.   Knowing whether you have the right horse for you is important.  If the horse you have is “too much horse” or you simply do not get on then it might be time to move him on to someone else.  If the challenge you have is well within your ability and you have the resources to deal with it, then stick with it.  Persistence pays dividends and you will have a stronger bond when you have accomplished your goal in spite of your challenges.  However if your horse consistently undermines your confidence, opt for some lessons on a tried and tested schoolmaster.

It’s not only when riding that your confidence can take a battering.  Quite a few years ago, I purchased a horse that quite simply “fell apart” mentally.  I suspect he was on tranquilisers when I viewed him because he certainly wasn’t the horse I thought I’d bought.  His behaviour was so feral; he was terrified half the time and would lash out.  He would have been a challenge to the most accomplished horseman and I simply didn’t have the tools and skills to know where to start with him.  Lack of knowledge and lack of tools put me in a vulnerable position and my confidence around him was compromised.  The last thing this terrified horse needed was a terrified owner!  It took some time after that to feel comfortable on the ground around even the sanest of horses.  It’s easy to feel intimidated by these powerful animals if they barge, rear and are generally unruly.  Again having the tools and means to train a horse through this is paramount.  I dealt with my fears by enrolling on a number of courses whereby I would get to work with accomplished horseman in handling and working with horses on the ground and in the saddle.  There are courses and organisations out there that can help.  Click on http://www.intellige...al-courses.html for more details.

Understanding horse psychology and body language are key components to working with horses on the ground and under saddle.  Remaining calm, relaxed, focused are all essential elements to handling and riding horses. With focus comes intent – being assertive whilst remaining calm.

Being afraid is nothing to be ashamed of.  Acknowledge the fear and work with your trainer to overcome the fear and address any lack of confidence.  There are lots of tools and techniques out there and plenty of organisations and people who are willing to help.

“Bravery isn’t the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something else is more important than the fear”.  

“Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow!”

Happy Positive Riding.




October 2014

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