Let’s face it – riding is risky business. It takes courage, desire, coordination and balance just to mount a horse, much less direct him through his paces. It’s no wonder riders can easily lose confidence when something goes wrong.
Every rider, whether novice or advanced, has occasionally experienced fear, instability, self doubt, lack of trust and insecurity when around and/or riding horses. We know horses are dangerous due to their size, weight, and natural instincts of flight or fight and selfpreservation. They can be unpredictable and accidents can happen. Sometimes an incident with a horse leaves us more experienced and better prepared. Other times, it may shake our confidence and capabilities.
Feeling insecure while riding can limit your effectiveness, send mixed messages to your horse, and be exhausting. This lack of confidence can infuse your daily life with a sense of unease, and restrict you in the riding you so love and want to pursue. It can even make you think twice about riding at all.
It doesn’t have to be this way. By understanding why we lose confidence and what to do about it, anyone with the desire can once again enjoy the gift of riding.
NOTE: A sense of fear, multiplied by replaying the incident in your mind, keeps you powerless and insecure.
Where does lack of confidence come from?
Insecurity is not only tied up with a fear of getting injured but can involve the need to look good and in control. We certainly don’t want to fall off and get injured, but we also don’t want to experience a loss of power in front of others, suggesting we have lost control of our horse and the situation.
When an incident occurs, it usually comes as a surprise, something you’ve never experienced before. From then on, you may fear it happening again.
When a rider comes to me with confidence issues, I assess her and her situation.
I try to find out what happened to sway her trust in herself and her horse, and ask her if she ever really felt genuinely confident on a horse to begin with. Many times there’s an insecurity associated with riding that makes it impossible for her to be confident on a horse’s back.
Today, most people learn to ride in an urban setting, with supervised lessons once a week on school horses. Depending on the quality of the instructor and his or her awareness of the beginner’s needs, this environment may not nurture security in a new rider. She may start losing confidence early on when a horse or pony does not match her level of learning, or if the saddle does not fit her body and throws her off balance. She can also acquire a sense of insecurity if she does not have a fitness program that supports her riding, if she’s taught to grip with her knees and sit in a posture that doesn’t work, or if the basic alignment of her spine and pelvis compromises her safety and puts her at risk. The first time she feels precarious, loses her balance and is unseated or falls, a seed of fear may be planted. This seed will grow over time as additional incidents reinforce that lack of confidence, producing a timid or fearful rider that horses detect and react to accordingly.
Shaking a deep-seated fear is not easy. The mental, emotional and physical sensations related to fear can become powerful, unconscious and involuntary. Even the thought of getting on a horse may trigger a host of negative sensations and responses. But with a strong desire and the right assistance, it is possible to change these responses and regain your control and confidence.
Build a plan of action
My approach to helping riders back to full capacity usually involves several steps.
1. Take care of yourself. Find a therapist who can work out an individualized approach for you.
- Sports psychiatrists and psychologists who specialize in anxiety and fear-related issues
- Aromatherapy, acupuncture, massage, cranial sacral and body work
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Hypnosis and self-hypnosis
2. Begin a fitness program designed to support riding activities.
3. With the help of a professional, evaluate the horse for suitability and safety.
4. Learn how to make a positive shift in a horse’s nervous system through massage, acupressure, aromatherapy, nutrition, supplements, detoxification and ground work.
5. Ensure proper saddle fit for rider and horse.
6. Make sure the horse is as comfortable and pain-free as possible with joint support, regular dental exams, chiropractic treatments and hoof care.
7. Learn to ride with correct alignment, body biomechanics, core strength and an ability to release and relax the limbs.
8. Master techniques that will help control the horse in crisis situations on the ground and under saddle.
Once we have executed a plan of this type, our rider will gradually regain full confidence because she has created a trusting partnership with a solid, safe foundation. Rider and horse can then learn, grow, compete and have fun together. If another incident occurs to test her confidence, she will have an understanding of why it happened as well as the tools to deal with it.
A confident rider has an emotional security that comes from a firm belief in her powers, abilities and capacities, and a solid sense of trust in her horse. You can be that rider!
Take back your power!
Amazingly effective for people with post trauma stress disorder. It integrates elements from many effective psychotherapies in structured protocols designed to maximize treatment effects. Contact Dr. Margo Nacey in Berthoud, Colorado at 970-443-5467 or visit www.emdr.com or www.emdr-therapy.com.
2. Body movement techniques
- Alexander Technique – Therapists teach simple exercises to improve balance, posture, and coordination. They use gentle hands-on and verbal guidance to change bad habits that are causing discomfort and pain. www.alexandertechnique.com
- Feldenkrais Method – Teaches you to become more aware of personal habits of movement and how to improve body motion. Instructors verbally guide you and do not use any hands-on techniques. This method is designed to alleviate pain, reduce stress, and enhance self-image. When people have any discomfort, they tend to hold their bodies in altered positions in order to protect the offending area. These become habit and often lead to other aggravating symptoms. www.feldenkraisresources.com
- Trager Approach – A form of movement re-education consisting of a series of gentle, passive movements, along with rotation and traction of limbs to relieve muscular tightness without pain. www.trager.com
- Tai Chi Ch’uan – A non-combative, gentle martial art that developed in China and Japan. It is a system of physical and mental training used for achieving understanding of self, expressed through physical movement and self defense. Tai chi is used as part of a quest for improved spiritual and physical health. www.thetaichisite.com
3. Sports psychologists specializing in equestrian activities
Heads Up! Practical Sports Psychology for Riders, Their Families and Their Trainers by Dr. Janet Edgette, www.headsupsport.com Dr. Alan Goldberg, www.competitivedge.com Dr. Margot Nacey, 970-443-5467
4. Specialty books
Fitness, Performance and the Female Equestrian (Howell Book House) by Mary D. Midkiff, www.womenandhorses.com The Dynamic Rider System. The Total Exercise and Biomechanical Solution (Integrating the Pilates Method) Inserts 1 and 2 by Mary D. Midkiff and Maggie Parker, www.womenandhorses.com