3 Key Skills to Become a Confident Horse Rider
written by Barry Cridland, Dip: CBHypno
Key Skills to help you become confident….
In becoming a good horse rider you need three things, technical skills, a level of fitness and the right mind-set. I work in the area of the mind and my techniques sit alongside your coach and trainer, who support you in building those technical skills and fitness.
When you see other riders who can walk, trot & canter with ease (let alone jump a 5ft fence) do you wonder why it’s so easy for them. How do they do it?
Do these riders have no fear or is that their fear is managed to a degree that it doesn’t stop them trying?
Fear can mess with our minds it can stop us from trying or lead to avoidance of riding altogether. It is so easy to think of excuses on the way to the yard, hoping it will rain, or that the car will break down….ring any bells?
How do we manage this fear? One way is to challenge it and see if things were as bad as you first thought. One of the key ingredients nearly all confident riders have is a high level of self-belief. This can define amongst other things whether you undertake a challenge or not.
The issue with self-belief or confidence is not restricted to you but could also affect your horse. I have witnessed the same horse ridden by two different riders with the horse displaying two sets of behaviours, one good and one bad. Too often I hear clients mention that their horse is part of their problem. When I ask them if their horse behaves in that way when ridden by their instructor, the answer is generally no, possibly indicating that their anxieties are being passed through them to their horse.
Mind-set and self-belief are so important when riding and the following three skills are key to understanding and mastering how to overcome that fear, grow in confidence and get back to doing what you love most, horse riding:
1. Set yourself riding goals: What are your goals each time you ride?
Whether you are riding in the yard or cross country, it’s not activity that matters but the goals you set. Goals should define a specific behaviour or skill like jumping a fence or staying calm when hacking out. Listen to the words that you say to yourself, are you saying things like “My goal is not to fall off?” If you are, then this is quite common as we tend to focus on what we don’t want to happen rather than the things we do want to happen. Your goal “Not to fall off” focuses on the negative behaviour of not falling off your horse rather than staying on it. The danger in this is that you are drawn towards falling off your horse, setting yourself up for failure, otherwise known as a self-fulling prophecy. Write out you goals with a positive focus on the positive behaviour.
2. Manage that internal chatter: We all have this voice in our head that tells us what we can or can’t do. When unhelpful negative thoughts pop into your mind (and this happens to all of us) the first skill is to recognise what they sound like. You can then challenge and change that thought into one that is more constructive. So, if you are thinking “that jump is too high” or “my horse doesn’t like going near water” you may well get sucked into an imaginary story you are telling yourself and end up believing it! This can lead to self-doubting your ability to ride a horse or make that jump, so you spend most of your time and energy pre-empting something awful happening, which never actually happens. One way to change this pattern is to replace the negative thought with a positive one, this can be achieved using this pattern interrupt technique:
i. First you must recognise when you are having a negative thought: “I may fall off”
ii. Then stop that negative thought by saying/thinking “STOP!” and visualising a large red stop sign.
iv. Now repeat a more helpful statement such as “I am going to enjoy my ride”
3. Manage your anxiety: If you feel yourself getting anxious before or during your ride one of the best ways that this can be managed is through breathing. Be aware of how your body is reacting to this feeling of anxiety, are you tensing up, breathing heavily and sweating? The fact is you cannot be calm or stressed at the same time, as this is physically impossible. The good news is we are able to control this rather than just accept it. Here is a great way to manage those pangs of anxiety. Take a deep breath in through your nose to fill your lungs and hold it for two seconds, exhale through your mouth in a slow and controlled manner, while saying the following in your mind, “I am a calm, relaxed horse rider”. Repeat this for 3-4mins and you will soon feel relaxed and back in control.
Combined these key skills are a starting point to grow your confidence and progress to be the horse rider you want to be. Not only will you become more confident and build motivation but your relationship with your horse will develop also.
Barry Cridland, Dip: CBHypno