Most riders at some point in their riding careers will experience some form of fear. Learning to deal with it will make a big difference in your riding and to your horse. Ashleigh Kendall shares her personal experiences dealing with fear and offers some tips on how to conquer your fear and smash your goals.
Don’t hide the fear
Many people manage their fear by trying to hide how they actually feel but there is little point denying how you feel as it will only make matters worse down the track. Instead learn ways that you can accept your fear and control it. Not long after I got my current horse, Gio, I had a fall from him and broke my pelvis, I couldn’t ride for three months and during that time I denied to myself how nervous I actually was about riding again. I kept pretending that the accident didn’t affect my mental state when actually it had really knocked my confidence. I was really excited to ride him again but when the day finally came I had denied how I actually felt so much that by the time it came to hop on I was a shaking mess! I ended up getting on and I had a great ride but my internal voice had ruined it for me simply because I had tried to ignore it instead of deal with it properly.
Identify where the fear is coming from
Before you can control your fear ask yourself where the fear is coming from in the first place. For me I was always a bit more nervous than my other riding friends after having a few nasty falls. I don’t bounce quite as well as some people do! I got to the point where I was so fearful I found it difficult to even walk my horse out in the paddock and if I did and he even looked at something a funny way I would burst into tears! Every day I felt really upset that I couldn’t ride my wonderful horse because I was afraid of what might happen. I soon realised that at this point that if I didn’t overcome this irrational worry then I wouldn’t be able to keep riding and that thought alone
was scarier than riding! Understanding that at times things will go wrong made it a lot easier for me to deal with and control. For me it just took time. The more I educated my horse, the less over reactive he was and he became very rideable. We helped each other because he was feeding off me- the more worried I was, the worse he would behave- he wanted to have confidence in me and for that to happen I needed to let go and have some confidence in him. I started to realise that it wasn’t him I was afraid of it was that I didn’t have faith in my own riding ability that I could handle it when things went wrong. By now, Gio and I know each other so well there is no fear, we just have a great time together. I also know that he is very well tuned into how I am feeling and I have had to learn how to control that!
Every day you just get a little bit better until one day the fear doesn’t exist anymore.
You have to help yourself
It sounds harsh but the only person that can do this for you, is you! That means seeking out people, books, articles, videos, or whatever that can help you. Surrounding yourself with supportive people and being totally honest about how you are feeling can really help- there is nothing to be embarrassed about. It is something many of us have been through in our riding lives. Up skill yourself and your coping mechanisms.
Manage your inside voice
There is no way you would take negativity and discouragement from other people so don’t take it from yourself either- be nice to yourself! If you find yourself thinking negatively, have some replacement thoughts ready to shut them down. Get a bit sassy, you’ve got this! If you start thinking things like “Oh, those people watching think you are hopeless”, let your positive inside voice talk louder, replace that with “Those people are admiring my beautiful horse, I don’t blame them!” This is an example of course, you can replace the negative thoughts with anything that will make you happy and confident!
Ten deep breaths
I found myself holding my breath a lot and just going along for the ride letting my horse run his own show, this would make my fear worse because I wasn’t in control at all! My sister would remind me to take ten deep breaths and take charge. The great thing about remembering to breathe is it not only relaxes you but by the fourth deep breath you have lowered your anxiety levels and you aren’t fixated on the bad things! It helps your horse relax too, so at the very least you owe it to him to take control of your anxieties.
Relax your butt (yes really!)
It sounds like a joke but I am serious! Often I found if Gio got tense, I would get tense and we both would go around and around getting tense together. I found that by relaxing my butt muscles it didn’t matter so much if the rest of me was still a bit tense, Gio wouldn’t feel it as much. Relax and ride with a nice following hand. If you aren’t confident to walk on the long rein, ride with a short rein but with your hand following and forward. You will still feel in control if things happen but you aren’t choking your horse and making things worse. Over time allow your horse to take some more rein and trust him more- this will help immensely!
Before long if you practice these things I have mentioned you will find yourself a much calmer, happier rider. Your horse will thank you for it too!