Confidence is king with horses. Horses can forgive many things, but almost every horse dislikes a rider or handler who is nervous.
It doesn’t matter how technically good of a rider you are, a lack of confidence will inhibit almost everything you want to do with the horse. You might see weaker riders overtaking you in the skills stakes just because they are not worried like you are.
If you’re experiencing a temporary blip or a more permanent lack of confidence while horse riding, here are some tips to help you overcome it so that you can really enjoy your riding.
Spend More Time Dismounted
People who don’t have their own horse and just turn up once a week to ride never really spend any time on the ground with horses handling them. It sounds a bit counter-intuitive but believe it or not, this can make a huge difference to what happens in the saddle.
Find a way to spend time with quiet, suitable horses: just being around them, handling them and grooming them. You will soak up body language and learn how to develop a relationship.
Connecting with a horse is not all about the riding, and many people have very special connections with horses and ponies they have never ridden
Isolate the Specific Confidence Issue
There might be something specific that is worrying you because you have had a fall or other bad experience. Spend some time with a patient trainer who can unpick an earlier problem and guide you through the solution
Ride Suitable Horses
It is really easy to over-horse yourself, and having too much horse is really not fun and will quickly destroy a rider’s confidence. In fact, it can even be dangerous. It’s not just about the horses you ride but where you ride them.
Sometimes it can be great to sit on an advanced horse in the safety and confines of the school but this might not be a horse you would want to handle outside in the open country. As the activity gets more difficult or complicated, you should go down a level in your choice of horse.
You might happily trot around a familiar field on quite a quick horse, but for your first few cross-country sessions, you will need a horse that is quiet and steady who will look after you.
Riding over wooden fences in a wide-open space is totally different from what you might do in an arena. You definitely need a forgiving horse who will look after you.
Are the Nerves Horse-Specific?
It’s pretty easy for the sole horse owner to have an incident or accident and lose confidence in their own horse. Should that happen between you and your horse, get some training input and ride other horses for a while until you have tackled the problem.
It might be that your horse is becoming naughty or difficult and needs a stronger rider for a while to iron out any behavioral issues. Likewise, it can sometimes be easier to regain your confidence in other horses before you get back on your own.
Some rider confidence issues can come through a mix of horses which are too challenging but also a lack of the rider’s skill. Train hard and patiently – riding is both an art and a science, and it is a real discipline.
It can take a long time to become really proficient. If you rush and try and tackle more difficult things before you are ready for them, you are likely to get in a muddle and could lose confidence.
Find a Sympathetic Trainer
Resolving a crisis of confidence requires the right trainer or instructor. Some people find that a blunt, no-nonsense approach works well for them, whereas other riders need a bit more hand-holding and coaxing.
Thankfully, there are empathetic instructors who particularly specialize in nervous riders. Consider if your current trainer is the right person to have in your corner while you regain your confidence.
Remember to Breathe
Even happy, confident riders can find themselves in a bit of a spot now and again when it’s all going wrong, so always remember to breathe. You would be surprised at how many riders do hold their breath when they ride.
Try to breathe in rhythm with the gait or chat with your trainer. Some riders even sing to make sure they breathe! Many riders use speech or song as an exercise to manage adrenaline and competition nerves.
Be Patient with Yourself
There is no law that says you have to be a brilliant rider or go to this or that event. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself or allow yourself to be pressured by others who think you should be doing something with your horse.
Always work at a level you are comfortable with and approach harder challenges with forethought and a good instructor by your side. And don’t set a mental stopwatch for yourself. Your riding career is not a race to brilliance, but rather a journey which may take you a lifetime; so enjoy it along the way.
Despite what people say, all riders will experience a crisis of confidence at some point in their riding lives. While some riders naturally have a more timid personality than others, circumstantial factors can shatter any rider’s confidence.
Simple things like riding an unsuitable horse, jumping big fences before you’re ready, or prolonged time out of the saddle due to injury can send your confidence crashing down in one hit.
Try and understand where your lack of confidence comes from. This will help you pinpoint the source of your fear and implement a strategic plan to make things better. Think it through, but don’t overthink yourself into analysis paralysis. Remember, even the top riders have been where you are now.
Have you ever struggled with confidence in your horseback riding career? Can you pinpoint where that lack of confidence came from?
Anne is a passionate horse rider and the creator of Seriously Equestrian, where she shares equine tips and knowledge that she has accumulated over the years.