You used to feel confident when you would ride. There wasn’t much you weren’t afraid to try. Maybe you used to jump, event, do barrel racing, gallop on the trail, whatever it was.
But now getting back in the saddle you aren’t like that anymore. You feel like you lost your nerve. Even simply being on a horse is bringing out some sore of anxiety.
The butterflies flutter in your stomach as all your muscles tense up and you just start thinking about all the what-ifs?
Maybe you’re just worried about the things that could go wrong or have flashbacks on a bad experience you had. Maybe you just don’t feel like a good enough rider and you’re afraid of the horse going out of control.
Any of these kinds of things can knock your confidence.
Keep in mind confidence is not something you can learn, it is a frame of mind.
However, confidence comes with accepting yourself and believing in your ability, skills, and experience. Confidence is essentially having faith that you can do it!
Having confidence while riding gives you the chance to let go of your fears and really have fun. This isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight.
I’ve been riding for over 22 years and though I have taught lessons as an instructor, I still consider myself a student and always will.
There have been many times in my riding career where I have lost my nerve riding. Luckily with knowledge experience and consistency, I have been able to regain my confidence over and over again.
I’m going to share the methods I’ve used to get over my fears.
These are the 9 most powerful ways that I know will help you regain that confidence you desire when you ride horses.
1. Gain A Better Understanding Of Horse Behavior
Confidence comes from being in control. Being in control comes from a sound understanding of horses. How they think. How to read their body language and how they read our body language.
You can be confident when you know what to do when to do it and what to do when things go wrong.
Learn when a horse has too much energy. How to get it out. When a horse is in a bad mood.
Reading body language can prevent a lot of accidents because you will better be able to predict what they will do next.
Many times people say I knew “I shouldn’t have ridden that day” or they knew they shouldn’t have done something after an accident.
The foundation of everything we do with horses is that we understand them and have that knowledge base about them.
Understanding horses is the first key to having confidence with horses.
2. Work On Riding Ability Off The Horse
As an equestrian, you should know by now that the better shape you are in the better you are able to ride.
It is surprising for some people to find out that riding is more than just sitting on a horse. But as we know riding is definitely considered exercise.
If someone says riding isn’t exercise have them trot for 2 laps around the arena each direction in half seat. They’ll learn real quick that riding is more than sitting in the saddle and looking pretty.
Areas To Work On Off The Horse For Better Riding
Yoga and Pilates are great for balance, flexibility, coordination and even strength.
Also, check out this awesome post I found Equestrian Workouts To Improve Your Riding. It has other posts you can look at within it that help with improving fitness in different areas for horse riders.
3. Rider Exercises On The Lunge Line
I like to think of riding exercises on the lunge line as yoga on horseback.
Some rider exercises you can practice off the lunge line. However, the lunge line is nice because you can more easily set your focus on yourself.
Working on rider exercises on the lunge line help with position, balance, flexibility, and coordination.
It is ideal for you to work with a riding instructor in a lesson. However, if you have your own horse and someone experienced with lunging that should be okay too.
There are so many rider exercises that you can do on the lunge line.
The great thing about being on the lunge line is that you don’t have to worry about controlling your horse’s speed, direction, or keeping the horse together.
You can concentrate on improving yourself as a rider. Your riding position, your coordination, your balance, moving with your horse as one.
This is a great tool that will help you be a more effective rider. The more effective you are, the more control you have. The more control you have the safer you feel. The safer you feel the more confident and fearless you become.
I will be writing a post on different rider lunge exercises for improving the your riding. Subscribe and stay posted!
4. Learn How To Disengage Hindquarters
If you know how to disengage a horse’s hindquarters this is going to keep you much safer. You have control over the horse’s gas pedal. This is something you can practice with a horse on the ground before you practice it in the saddle.
A disengaged horse can’t buck, rear or bolt. This exercise is ideal for getting a handle on your horse if your horse is getting out of control. But you want to make sure you practice this before such a situation occurs.
You want the inside hind leg to cross over the outside hind leg. Essentially it is yielding the hindquarters. Between each time you release the pressure you want to rub the horse to a stop.
This keeps the horse from becoming overly sensitive to the request and to relax. Your goal should be to get the horse to yield the hindquarters 360 degrees both directions.
Check out this article from Horse & Rider to learn about disengaging the hindquarters on and off the horse.
5. Learn Emergency Dismounts & How To Fall
An emergency dismount is used for dismounting quickly on purpose landing on your feet or if you are already starting to fall off.
Emergency dismounts are not for jumping off when the horse is running out of control. You want to try to stay on and get the horse back in control and then dismount if necessary.
When you try to get the horse back in control that is when the disengaging the hindquarters exercise comes in handy.
To-Do An Emergency Dismount:
- Take both of your feet out of the stirrups.
- Put both of your hands on the horse’s withers, swing your leg back and up to clear the saddle as you lean forward at the same time.
- As you swing off, turn forward so your side is next to the saddle.
- Make sure that when you land your knees are bent and you are still holding reins in one hand.
Practice emergency dismounts at a halt. When you get good at the halt try them at the walk.
How To Fall
If you are starting to fall off and you don’t think you can do an emergency dismount you need to be prepared for what to do. Of course, it’s a lot easier to remember what to do when you aren’t in the process of falling off. As someone who has fallen off many times, sometimes it happens so quickly you don’t even have time to think let alone remember what to do. And sometimes it feels like slow motion.
I am going to share 3 tips to help you stay as safe as you can while falling.
3 Things To Remember If You Are Falling Off
- Let your arms and legs fold up.
- Fall as relaxed as possible.
- Don’t try to keep your reins.
Getting good at doing emergency dismounts will help build your courage, knowing you can easily and quickly get on the horse or catch yourself if you start to fall. Knowing how to fall will keep you safer and less likely to get hurt.
6. Working With Your Comfort Zone
Define what your comfort zone is. What riding exercises are you comfortable doing? Walking? Posting trot? Walk-trot transitions? Trot-halt transitions? Leg yield at the walk and trot? Canter?
Try to come up with everything you would be comfortable doing on the horse.
Define what is out of your comfort zone. Sitting trot? Ground poles? Canter? Flying changes? Jumping a course? Jumping a grid? Trail ride? No stirrup work?
Using your comfort zone as a training tool for confidence:
- When you are riding do your warm-up and start off in your comfort zone.
- Pick an exercise within your comfort zone to work on after step 3.
- Once you are ready, challenge yourself with an exercise that is only just past the edge of your comfort zone. Tell yourself you can do this, you are brave. Push yourself just a bit and have courage! Get out of your comfort zone. You will reap the rewards of improving your riding and improving your confidence.
- After the more challenging exercise return to back the exercise in your comfort zone. The exercise you picked out in step 2 that you feel confident about.
Using your comfort zone as a training tool is a great way to push yourself just a little bit and then end on a good note. Even if you just improve a little bit at a time it will all add up. You are moving in the right direction. Some days you may feel like you are going backward. But 1 step back 2 steps forward. 1 step back 3 steps forward. It will vary but don’t give up! Press on!
“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.” – Mark Victor Hansen
As long as you keep riding. You will get better and you will get more confident the more you ride.
7. Positive Affirmations For Equestrians
You probably have heard of positive affirmations. It is basically telling yourself something positive about yourself, how you want to be or about how you want something to go.
Our words are powerful and the brain has trouble understanding if something is not true when we speak something as if it is true. If you say something enough times you start to believe it.
That is true with positive affirmations it helps us to have a more positive outlook. If you keep saying you’re afraid you are probably going to be afraid.
If you keep saying I am so excited. Your brain will start to perceive that you feel excited, not scared.
Another way you can do it instead of a statement is to pick a positive word and focus on the word.
Some examples of positive affirmations I statement for equestrians
- “Every ride I feel myself improving.”
- “I am carefree and enjoy my riding time.”
- “I am free of fear and filled with peace.”
- “I am excited about this ride, it is going to be awesome.”
- “I ride in sync with my horse like we are one.”
- “I ride with a soft elastic contact and my horse reaches for the contact.”
- ” No matter what happens during my ride I am able to ride through it and bring back the harmony.”
Some examples of positive affirmation words for equestrians
Try both kinds of affirmations. When you use the word affirmations. Think of what the word means to you and how it can apply to your riding. See if it makes any changes in how you feel.
8. Practice Groundwork With Horses
Groundwork is important for confidence. You want acceptance and willingness on the ground before you even get into the saddle. If you don’t have cooperation with the horse on the ground it is more likely than not that you are not going to have it in the saddle either.
Working with the horse on the ground helps you understand how the horse is doing for that day. Are they energetic and high energy? Are they slow and pokey? Are they jumpy and spooky?
Also working with the horse on the ground before riding gives you a chance to check your horse’s responsiveness and test the horse’s brakes.
Groundwork also gives you the chance to connect with the horse before you get on their back. It helps to create a willing horse that wants to work with you. This can help build your relationship with the horse and build your confidence. Plus it can be rewarding and a lot of fun.
Desensitizing and sensitizing exercises are great and transfer into the saddle. Sensitizing groundwork exercises get your horse more responsive to your commands and willing to move forward, back and sideways.
Desensitizing exercises help the horse to develop confidence and trust in you. It helps to calm the more spooky nature of the horse and create a braver more confident horse.
9. Create Micro Goals
Create really small goals.
- First, identify what your riding goals are. For example, say one of your goals is to canter after coming back to riding from a long break but you are terrified. That’s okay because we are going to break that goal into bite-sized goals, so you feel prepared and ready to canter again.
- Next, make that bigger goal more specific. Say instead of just cantering… you are going to canter 2, 20-meter circles in both directions.
- Now break down that specific goal into small goals. 1) Be able to stand straight up at the walk and trot without losing balance. 2) Be able to ride the sitting trot without bouncing. 3) Improve responsiveness in walk trot and halt transitions. 4) Be able to ride a 20 m circle accurately at the walk and trot. 5) Pick up canter just a few strides then back to trot. 6) Canter one 20 meter circle. 7) The Goal: Canter 2 20 m circles.
- Now break down each of the small goals to micro-goals. 1) a) be able to stand up straight at the halt with your legs in the correct position. b) be able to stand up straight at the halt with your legs in the correct position without losing balance. c) be able to stand up straight at the trot with your legs in the correct position without losing balance. 2)a) Double down exercise. b) Bicycle exercise at walk. c) Bicycle exercise at trot. d) No stirrups use neck strap as extra security in case you lose your balance. So on and so forth. You get the picture.
It’s the little details that are vital. Little things makes big things happen.John Wooden
Breaking these goals down into smaller goals and then into micro-goals makes you feel like your winning more often than not. It helps to build confidence in your ability because you are aware of your progress.
Get Your Confidence Back
You may feel nervous right now but know that if you keep riding and working with horses you will get past this. These different ways you can work on building your confidence will help you get there. But even if you just stay consistent and continue despite your worries your confidence will eventually come back.
Bravery usually comes after you’ve already done the scary part. So keep riding, keep pursuing the joy of riding and you will be confident again!
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Poll: What Is Your Biggest Riding Fear?