Most horse riders have confidence issues at some point during their horse riding lifetime. So firstly, don't beat yourself up about it and definitely don't compare yourself to anyone else ~ this is your journey, and yours alone.
As in any other walk of life, there will always be those who are doing better and those that are doing worse ~ stay in your lane, or in horse riding metaphors, on your track!
If your lucky you will have a group of like minded friends to support you at your yard but often yards are competitive, and some downright bitchy!!
Finding the right yard can make or break your enjoyment but that's a whole other post!
If you've recently had a bad experience or are coming back to riding after a gap, you might find yourself less confident in the saddle. What you once took for granted, might now feel like an illusive dream; to hack your horse out, or go in the school on your own... may not be quite as simple as you hoped.
I have been there! Read on for my Top Tips for regaining your horse riding confidence!
1. Take The Pressure Off
Let's get this clear from the start, there is absolutely no reason good enough that says you have to ride your horse AT ALL! Or canter, or jump, or whatever your fear is.
Sometimes guilt makes us take on more than is necessary. You might be thinking " but he's costing £££ in livery fees etc; i need to ride to justify it ".
Absolutely not. If you can afford a horse, then you can afford him. You bought him to enjoy, so enjoy him. If that means only grooming him for now then that's OK.
You probably have a car, do you beat yourself up for not driving it every day? I bet not.
But work towards getting to the point where you DO want to ride.
2. Back To Basics.
What do I mean here?
Get the following points covered:
Safety: is your mount safe? Yes, all horses are unpredictable in the right, or wrong situation but if you have over- horsed yourself, if you've bought an unbroken or rescue 'project ', or your horse is terrified of 🚜 then you are just making life too difficult for where you are at right now! I have been there! You say you can master your fear, " feel the fear and do it anyway! " but is that really what your confidence needs right now? Probably not.
You will need expert help to train your horse to the level where he will be safe for you to enjoy riding. It might be better to cut your losses right now and find a more suitable home for him; and a more appropriate mount for you. Harsh I know but sometimes the truth is.
I know that may not be what you want to hear but having been here myself and battling with a totally unsuitable horse for 3 years... I can't explain the relief when it was over.
Appropriate Head, Foot & Body wear ~ goes without saying but I'm saying it! Those "oh but I'm only popping on for a second " times are sometimes the times that go down in history! And we all know how everything is x10 with horses around!
Insurance & Public Liability
Get these in place so you don't need to worry.
I am by no means in peak fitness for horse riding (far from it right now!) but it does make riding easier and more enjoyable, plus easier for your horse to carry you. I can definitely tell when I need to lose a few lbs, my balance is much harder to centre, and I feel more on the fore-hand.
Pilates for core muscles and any cardio vascular exercises will help. We all know what to do about it but the doing it bit is harder! Let me know if you have the answer!!
A sensitive instructor can be the way to fast track your confidence, and generally I think instructors are invaluable but you might have to talk to a few to find one that is right for you now.
You want someone who will push you just enough so that you are being challenged, just enough. They will take you out of your comfort zone, to your 'stretch zone' but not into the fear zone (you've probably been there, if you're reading this!) Not a great place 😕
3. Prepare For & Recognise Success
How will you know when you have made progress? By setting goals and ticking them off as you acomplish them! This could be as simple as jotting goals down in a journal or on your phone but the key thing is to chunk it down ~ your may have an overall goal of 'hack out for 20 minutes on my horse alone' which you would chunk down into manageable steps. Plan out how this might look on paper.
week 1: ride my horse in the school with foot soldier/someone walking next to me on the ground.
week 2: ride my horse with said foot soldier watching from outside the school.
week 3: ride my horse in the school to begin with then leave the arena and venture out for 5 mins with foot soldier.
week 4: build up time out of school with foot soldier slowly walking further behind as appropriate.
week 5: build up to foot soldier stopping and allowing me to progress on my own for 5 - 10 minutes, before turning for home and re-meeting up with my helper.
week 6: leave the yard on my own and enjoy my hack!
Make sure to set realistic goals and time frames; you can always adjust your plan or go back a step to reaffirm your confidence at each stage.
4. Rewards Aren't Just For The Horse!
Celebrate the wins ~ however small! By acknowledging that you have made progress and allowing yourself a 'reward' (whether that's a glass of wine or a little treat is up to you!) but it's important to allow yourself to feel proud! Relive the success and play it back over and over in your head, to remind yourself of the amazing feeling! This will help reprogramme your mind that riding is fun and you can do it!
5. You Already Have The Cake!
Spending time with your horse is the most important thing, not what you do or acheive. Remember how lucky you are to have a horse/s in your life and enjoy them. That smell, the gentle knicker as you approach the stable, the warm breath on your face as you receive a 'kiss'. Connect and be at one with your horse... riding is the icing on an already delicious and very expensive cake! He probably doesn't mind if you never hack out anyway!