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I haven't always been a timid rider. I actually hate to paint myself with that label, because it isn't always true even now. Growing up I was fearless, and the timidity came with coming back to riding as an adult, having children, and being out of shape- something I go into detail about in My Middle-Aged Equestrian Reinvention. I think it is not so much being timid, but not always having enough confidence in my own riding ability. It comes and goes like waves on the sand.
A little while ago, I wrote a very personal post about Riding Through My Winter Funk. I had a ride that scared me, and my children happened to be at the barn. I was so concerned with them seeing me get hurt that I panicked and got upset. But I did finish my ride. As nervous as I was to put my insecurities out there, I got some amazing feedback from other riders and readers. Others have gone through a similar rut- whether as a rider, a writer, or something else entirely. Thankfully, the very act of writing helped me to turn a corner and I’ve taken baby steps to get my confidence back. I can honestly say that I am in an amazing place now.
Funny how things shift so quickly. It takes one “scary” ride to shake my confidence, and months to get it back. We all have our different versions of what a bad ride can be, whether its spooking and perceived misbehavior by our horses, a bad fall, or not meeting our own expectations.
I often fall into the latter category. I am very hard on myself and am very in my head during a lesson with my trainer. Are my knees gripping? Open my hips. Are my shoulders back enough? Sit up. Do I have enough contact with my reins? Why am I not getting the correct lead? The list goes on.
So what did I do to get my confidence back? I confess I’m always a work in progress. But here are some baby steps that I took that I helped me. I hope they help you too.
Don’t let yourself stop doing what you love. Power through, but change it up. If your timid about jumping- go back to transitions or work with ground poles. If your horse has become spooky, work on desensitizing them to new situations from the ground then under saddle before you go on the trails. If you are fine at home, but crack under the pressure at horse shows go to watch for awhile as a bystander, act as groom, or better yet attend schooling shows for practice. Take some of the pressure away. My trainer has changed up our usual lessons to play fun transition games, like “Command”. It was a blast and impossible to be in your head when you have to go from canter to halt to sit trot whenever your trainer calls it out. So fun!
I think groundwork is often under appreciated. It builds respect between you and your horse, and teaches you to safely interact in a controlled environment. If you cannot trust your horse on the ground and build a relationship of respect, how can you trust them under saddle? In addition to groundwork, spend time with your horse outside of riding. Play games, go for a hand walk, or just have quiet time together.
Talk to your trainer
My trainer is my therapist, and I know that I’ve said this before. Usually when I go to the barn I release my anxiety and stresses of the day just by the familiar smells, nickers, and being outside. It grounds me. But when I get in my head about my riding, my trainer is the one I tell. Because she is the person who pushes me to be better or talks me down. Open the lines of communication and explain what is going through your head, then work through it together.
Plan your rides
When I don't have a lesson or trail ride, I don’t usually have a plan for what I want to work on. I’m changing that. If I’ve had a rough time getting my horse to canter outside in the spring-like weather- well, that’s what we work on. We go to the outdoor ring with all the horses playing in the paddocks, and we work on transitions where he has to pay attention to me or we keep going. I repeat the thing that gave me trouble in the first place so we work through it until it doesn’t become a big deal anymore.
Delight is a high-withered OTTB and has a very bouncy trot. When I first started riding him it was so much work just to post the trot. Gradually I've been working with him on collecting and sitting the trot. Something I wouldn't have been able to do well last year. My trainer said just today that we've come along way and are looking great. That means the world!
My biggest problem with my equitation/ riding skill is that I am out of shape. I am a proud mother of three, but I have not exercised consistently in almost a decade. Sadly most of my lack of confidence results from this. I don’t ride effectively when I'm out of breath too quickly or am not strong in my core. Well, I’m proud to announce I have decided to jump out of that rut. It’s still new- but I’ve start exercising. I know! I’m still shocked. So far it’s going great....I just need to keep at it. I’m not doing it to lose weight (hopefully a side benefit) but to make me a better, more efficient rider.
Alright folks, there it is my 5- step plan to regain your confidence as a rider. I admit I have the benefit of writing my thoughts out (and letting the world read them- eek!) but it does really help. With the change of seasons comes the opportunity to make changes for yourselves as well. I wish you all the best of luck. The chances are you are much better than you give yourself credit for. So go easy on yourself. After all, we’re only human.
What do you do to rebuild your confidence? Comment below with your story!
About the author: Heather Wallace is an Certified Equine and Canine Sports Massage Therapist, Aromatherapist, and Co-owner of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC. She is the writer and editor for her equestrian, canine, and wellness blog Bridle & Bone. The best thing that she can imagine is having a career working with and improving the quality of life for horses and dogs.