“Seems like I have lost my nerve a bit after a bad fall off my mare and then a not so bad fall in the arena in the same week. Now at the door in the arena that I came off before she will spin and spook and I get tense which doesn’t help things. She has no issue with the scary door on the ground so I know it’s me that’s causing her to spook. Any suggestions?” ~ Erin
Losing “your nerve” after a fall – even if you haven’t been hurt – is not uncommon in horse riding. Your mind is a powerful tool that can work for you or against you. Much of what goes on in our minds happens unconsciously. Here are some quick tips to help get you back on track.
1) Recognize that how you are feeling is perfectly normal. Whether you’ve had a fall from your horse or just come close to falling off – even if you haven’t been injured – a primitive part of your brain (the Amygdala) makes a connection between a place or a situation and your being in danger. It tells another little part of your brain, the hypothalamus, to release the hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol) that prepare you for flight or fight which causes physical changes in your body like increased heart rate, shallow breathing and tense muscles. In your case, riding your mare near the arena door automatically and unconsciously triggers this chain of physical and emotional symptoms.
2) Calm your mind with focused breathing. I teach this technique to all of my students – and I use it myself. You can use it before you ride, while you are riding and as soon as you recognize the first symptom of fear. Take long, slow, deep breaths using your diaphragm. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Feel your belly expand on the inhale and collapse on the exhale. Changing your breathing is the fastest way to help you to feel more calm and confident. It helps your mind to slow down and relax. When you are in a relaxed state you’re better able to see things as they really are because you’re not experiencing the cluttered thinking caused by your emotions.
3) Release tension from your body. Stiffness in your body affects your balance, suppleness and confidence. It also affects your horse. When you are nervous or fearful, you will have tension somewhere in your body. Is it in your shoulders and neck; your hips; your arms; maybe your toes? Practice recognizing where the tension creeps in and then releasing by breathing deeply and releasing on every exhale.
4) Change the pictures you see in your mind. Visualization is a strong and proven technique used successfully by professional and world class amateur athletes to improve their skills and confidence. Your mind doesn’t know the difference between a real and an imagined event. If you keep replaying in your mind the mistakes you’ve made or situations that you imagine might happen, your mind believes you. Change your mental video tape from the possible catastrophic outcome to seeing the positive outcome you want. Your mind believes you either way.
5) Mind how you talk to yourself. Much like visualization, your self talk affects your confidence and your results. Using positive self talk is more than ‘positive thinking’. It’s looking for solutions rather than focusing on the problem. Check out my previous blog post for more tips on minding your language.
6) Start in your comfort zone. Ride where you are most comfortable and gradually move out of that area while paying attention to your breathing, your tension and your thoughts. When your stress increases to the point where you can’t manage your stress, go back to riding in your comfort zone until you are calm again. Repeat this process and eventually, you will be riding by the arena door without any problem.
If you have worked through or are currently working through a loss of confidence, share your experiences in the comments. Your story may give encouragement to someone else.
You are not alone.Watch for my book coming soon – “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle” If you would like to help spread the word about a better way to work with horses, please share this blog with 5 friends, send a Tweet or post on your Facebook page. The horses thank you. You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com). I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files. Anne Gage Confident Horsemanship www.annegage.com www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage www.twitter.com/AnneGage