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Confidence and How We ‘Get It’

May 2018 by Tanja Mitton,
A riding coach and NLP master coach and mindset coach with over 25 years of coaching and competition experience, Tanja Mitton conducts clinics throughout Australia and recently published 'It Takes Two To Tango' to help people unlock their own and their horse's potential.

So many people say to me they just need to improve their confidence and then they feel they will be okay. 

Confidence is not something you ‘get’, it needs to be developed. This means, therefore, that confidence doesn’t come first, it comes last.

Let’s have a look at what confidence is and what a lack of confidence tells us.

With confidence comes a sense of safety. We feel we are in control and we can predict the outcome. 

Lack of confidence comes when we feel vulnerable. We feel we are not in control and the outcome is unpredictable. 

So, how do we go from having a lack of confidence to developing confidence?

Firstly, we need to identify why we feel vulnerable and not in control. Here are some of the most common reasons:  

  • A rider who hasn’t ridden for a while and has lost the balance, feel and response when riding a horse, may feel they have become a bit rusty. The fact they can remember a time when they did have good balance, feel and ability to respond to their horse, which makes them more nervous because they recognise the difference.
  • A rider who does not have the appropriate experience and skill to deal with their horse’s behaviour. A rider in this situation is often termed ‘over mounted’. The rider doesn’t know what to do and, therefore, feels out of control. This often happens with inexperienced riders riding young horses. Their lack of experience makes the horse’s behaviour unpredictable and, therefore, the rider senses they are in danger, resulting in loss of confidence. 
  • A rider who has had a fall remembers the incident, and re-lives the experience over and over again, feeling the same emotions as when the accident happened. 

We lose confidence for two reasons:

When we don’t know what caused the accident. This means we can’t address the issue and it could happen again. As such, we feel out of control.

We had a gut feeling we ignored and this led to the accident. We knew we shouldn’t have done it, but we did it anyway. As such, we don’t trust ourselves now. 

After identifying what is the cause of our lack of confidence, we need to act.

  • The rider who hasn’t ridden for a while needs to develop their balance, feel and response to the horse and this needs to be done in a safe, controlled environment on a suitable horse; not out in the paddock on a horse that hasn’t been ridden for 12 months! The best way to do this is to have lessons on the lunge, learning to walk, trot and canter without having to rely on stirrups and reins. Just like getting back on the bike, it takes time and the more you do it the quicker the skill comes back to you. Consistency is the key and taking it one step at a time is crucial. 
  • Only ride a horse that matches your experience. Would you put your child who just got their ‘P plates’ or your friend who hasn’t driven a car for 10 years into a Ferrari? Even though we all like the look of a red Ferrari, we know a yellow Corolla is a far better option in this case. After having done some miles, the Ferrari can always be added to the collection.
  • After a fall, be prepared to ask for help. If you don’t know what caused the accident, find a coach or trainer who can shed light on the dark experience, and help you to identify what the problem was and then rectify it. 
  • Trust yourself! You know how we tell our loved ones “Don’t be led by others, always trust your own gut feeling”. It is time to take your own advice. Friends are often well-meaning, and instructors and coaches can see the greater abilities in you. No matter who tells you to do something, always check with your intuition. If you don’t feel right doing it, this doesn’t mean you are not able to, it just means you are not ready. Speak up and voice your feelings. There is a difference between stretching your comfort zone and leaping into orbit!

Start your journey with a goal, develop clear action steps, stay consistent and give it the time it takes - confidence will be there at the end.

Happy riding everyone!