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Rebuilding Confidence

July 2017 by Tanja Mitton, www.tanjamitton.com

So many riders lose their confidence, due to a negative experience or their horse’s behavioural problems. We often look at what the horse did thad led to the rider’s loss of confidence, but have you ever thought of that your horse may have lost his or her confidence first?

We have to remember that horses are flight animals, which means that if they become scared or if something happens that threatens their survival, their instinct is to run away. The rider’s behaviour can easily become a trigger. For example, the horse sees something moving in the distance, and the rider’s response is to grab the reins and grip with the knees. 

Young horses, in particular, are naturally more sensitive to their environment and rely on their rider to ‘tell them what is safe and what is dangerous’. 

The more the rider can stay calm and reinforce to the horse that things are fine, the more confident a horse will be. This in itself cuts out a lot of ‘unexplained’ behavioural issues.

Now, you might say... “That is easier said than done. What can I do, as a rider, that will help my horse become more confident?”

Here are some things to consider:

  • ‘Be careful what you wish for’... Make sure you focus on the positive ride you want to have, instead of the negatives that might happen. Lots of riders unintentionally create the ‘worst case scenario’ in their mind before getting on their horse. 
  • When preparing for your ride, think and focus on the best-case scenario. You can do this by simply remembering some of your best rides. This will help you to relax, breath more deeply and be soft throughout your body.
  • Our body responds to our thoughts, which can either make us tense and grippy, or soft and relaxed. Remember, your horse can feel the difference.
  • See your horse’s behaviour for what it is, rather then humanising it.
  • Make sure you can physically and emotionally cope with your horse’s worst case behaviour. Choose the horse you ride, and only ride a horse that is suitable in terms of experience and ability. An inexperienced rider will find this difficult when sitting on an inexperienced, reactive horse. Therefore, an inexperienced rider is far better suited to an older, more experienced horse. 
  • Take it slow. You don’t have to go out jumping if you are still worried about cantering. Take things one step at the time and, if in doubt, do less, rather than too much.
  • Ask for help. If you have a horse that looks like it is too much for you, you don’t have to do all the work alone. Ask a more experienced rider or trainer to ride the horse with you, and expose the horse to new things, rather than you having to do it all.
  • Always assess your horse before you get on. If you find your horse is agitated, or looks fresh or worried, then it might be better to do ground work or lunging, rather than getting on and riding straight away.
  • Focus on your horse’s breathing. If your horse is not breathing out, it is a sure sign of tension. Check your own breath first and take some deep breaths to relax yourself. Then, check if your horse is responding and also taking deeper breaths out. You will feel the difference as soon as your horse starts breathing out more.

And lastly, remember that confidence is largely a state of mind. The way we speak to ourselves has a lot to do with how we feel. Often, riders talk about all their bad experiences and each time they talk about it, they re-live them. 

Start to talk about all your good experiences and your great rides. Then, remember them in detail and see how you feel. It makes a big difference.

Happy riding everyone!