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By: Jane Myers, Equiculture
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|Photo by Sophie Barrington, courtesy of Archer Creative www.archercreative.net.au|
Almost every rider has to face fear at one time or another. It is not something to be ashamed of, yet a loss of confidence has many implications as to how well and how safely you ride. Losing your confidence can happen suddenly and unexpectedly or over a long period of time. It is important that you build your confidence slowly, but securely and recognise that, like a building, your confidence needs to have secure foundations.
Why not just give up?
If you do lose your confidence, other people that ride may suggest you give up, but for many horse lovers, no matter how scary riding becomes, giving up is not an option. Many people have what I jokingly call ‘the horse gene’. If you have this kind of ‘genetic mutation’, you will not give up riding (or the wish to ride) as it is a very important part of your life.
You are not alone
This problem is more common than you may think! There are various reasons that lead to a loss of confidence and often, it is a combination of these reasons:
Many riders have confidence issues when they return to riding after an interruption (for many women, in particular, this interruption is if and when they have children). Having a family can also make people more cautious and careful as they now have more responsibilities.
The older you get, the more you know. This often leads to a healthy respect for the power of horses. Sometimes, it can lead to outright fear.
For many people, confidence issues result from one or more bad experiences related to riding in the past.
Some people are naturally more cautious than others and tend to lose confidence more easily.
Whatever the reason, your confidence can be restored with the right horse, help and support, but remember, riding can be dangerous, especially when you take unnecessary risks.
Even if you never regain the level of confidence that you might have had when younger, you should still be able to enjoy riding again if that is what you want to do. In fact, I have often been amazed over the years by just how determined some people are to get back to riding, despite having quite horrific incidents (and sometimes injuries) in the past.
Addressing any confidence issues as soon as possible, and learning how to preserve your confidence is essential for your sanity and your safety. Below are some steps that you can take to help get you back in the saddle.
You can get your confidence back
- Take small achievable steps. Many people make the mistake of progressing too quickly or by taking risks. If you do too much too soon you might go backwards instead of forwards. At the same time, accept that you will have good days and bad days.
- Don’t be swayed. Confidence can be very easy to lose and much harder to gain, so make sure that you keep control of the situation and do not allow yourself to be pushed too far, too fast. Aim to spend more time with positive, helpful people and avoid spending time with negative, critical people. Keeping the right company goes a long way to helping with your confidence. Remember, always progress at your speed, don’t be rushed, but do respond positively to encouragement from experienced knowledgeable horse people (who have an understanding attitude).
- Take advantage of your experience. Accept that you may never again be as ‘brave’ as you were when you were a child or teenager. But, realise that when you are young much of this ‘bravery’ comes from a lack of experience. That is what is meant by the saying ‘ignorance is bliss’. With age comes experience, use this experience wisely and you will still be able to enjoy riding again.
- Use it or lose it! Once you have your confidence back, aim to ride as regularly as possible because long gaps tend to diminish your confidence again. Even once or twice a week on a regular basis is good enough if that is all that you have time for.
- Find, then stick, with the right horse. Stick to riding well trained, quiet horses (at least until your confidence fully returns). Aim to acquire (buy or loan) an educated, sensible mount either on a temporary or permanent basis to build up your confidence. These horses can be hard to find, but they are the key to regaining your confidence and are literally worth their weight in gold. If your current horse frightens you, you may have to consider re-homing or selling him or her. If you are passing the problematic horse on to someone else, do the right thing and be honest about why you are looking for a new home for the horse. If you have the space and feel you could get along once your confidence returns, work him regularly on the ground - something which will pay off later when you begin riding this particular horse again.
- Feed right. Make sure your horse is being fed correctly (i.e. not being given too much high energy feed) for his or her current workload. A horse with too much energy can be dangerous (and this is not the horse’s fault). If you don’t believe how much difference correct feeding can make, think about how some children ‘climb the walls’ if they are fed certain foods. Horses that are not working hard should be fed a low energy, but high fibre diet (no grains or ‘hard feed’, lots of low energy hay if pasture is not available or is unsuitable) and only supplemented with high energy supplements if their workload warrants it.
- Find a good coach. Aim to find a sympathetic instructor, who specialises in restoring confidence, and improving a rider’s position and balance, so that you will feel safer and more secure as soon as possible. You may be fortunate enough to find an instructor who also has ‘school’ horses. Instructors that specialise in confidence restoration are quite rare, but they do exist so keep asking around. They may not actually describe themselves as such even though they have skills in these areas, so you may need to ‘read between the lines’ in order to find them. Remember, working on your position and balance is one of the fastest ways to restore your confidence, and this year I will be running a series of articles on the subject in Horses and People, so stay tuned and don’t miss an issue.
- You can be too confident. Believe it or not, it is possible to be over confident. In fact, this is how people often lose their confidence in the first place. Many people get themselves into dangerous situations with horses simply because they have no understanding (through inexperience) of how horses really think, feel and behave.
When you are first getting into horses, it is easy to think that horses are just like humans (but bigger and hairier) when, in fact, horses have their own very complex set of needs that you should take time to learn about in order to keep yourself safe and your horse healthy (physically and mentally). It is not fair to horses to disregard what is really important to them and replace this with what humans think is important to horses.
Thank you to Horses & People Magazine for sharing this article with us!
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