Building confidence

Riding horses is not a sport for the weak hearted, however we all have had feelings of anxiety at some point. If you are feeling fearful about a certain situation when you are with your horse, you are not alone.... It is very common to feel this way and the best thing that you can do is talk to your coach or a close friend, in confidence, to allow yourself to make a plan to find the safest way for you to overcome your fear.

Horses are happier when we are confident and have clear intentions to allow them to understand what we require, however they will see through our brave facade if it is incongruent, even if we can sometimes fool our friends, coaches or even ourselves.

If you are worried or anxious, you may be less sensitive, your thoughts are likely to be irrational, this can create confusion for both you and the horse, it may be hard for you to think clearly.

Feeling frightened can prevent you from taking that next step, block your learning and prevent you and your horse from moving forward towards your goals.

Some horses are confident enough that our fears do not effect them too much, however the more sensitive horses will not be fooled!

Horses have survived this long, by holding on to their natural instincts; in a natural environment, he/she would be a social animal, allowing safety in numbers when being being preyed upon by predators such as wolves, possibly even humans! To survive in the herd, a horse has to be very quick to pick up on emotions from the other horses, especially fear, anxiety and stress. The sooner that they pick up on these emotions from others, the more prepared they can be to look out for the potentially life threatening predator that the other herd members are worried about. It is not just the herd members that they pick up this emotion from;

A number of years ago, I can remember backing a lovely thoroughbred mare, we trained her in an arena in which she was very familiar, although she was working on her own, most of the time she was fairly calm and coming on really well, however some days, out of the blue, when I was working her, it seemed that she became nervous, initially I could find no obvious reason, I hadn't done anything that could make her feel this way; I was calm and confident, no wind to spook her, in fact she seemed more nervous when there was no wind. There were no obvious obstacles to make her worried, I was struggling to work it out! Until one day, I noticed the cat appear in the arena, but the mare was very confident with the cat, I had seen them together in the field, so this wasn't the reason for her anxiety. As I sat on her breathing deeply to help her let go of those short neck and long back muscles and lower her head, I listened to the birds singing loudly, there was one that took my attention, a blackbird that was calling with a alarm call, the blackbird had seen the cat and was telling his mate, who was probably nesting near by, to be aware of the danger. The mare had picked up on this alarm and although she was unaware of what the danger was, she still noticed that the birds were worried, this had put her on high alert. Her awareness was heightened due to the fact that she was without another equine friend. Obviously feeling more venerable and although her confidence in me and her training her was building day by day, the feelings of fear, anxiety and survival came through stronger, her instincts were to be on high alert.
This pattern happened a few more times and as the horse gained more confidence in being ridden, she could deal with the birds alarm calls with less and less anxiety, eventually she would trust the riders judgment that it was nothing to worry about.

Over the years of evolution, horses have survived by being very good at picking up these emotions, not only from other equines, but other animals too including us!

If a rider is nervous and a horse is feeling insecure, they will pick up on this, just as the mare had noticed the birds alarm call. The more confident we are the more secure the horse is going to be. That is easy to say, but hard to do for so many of us. We can be worried or nervous for so many reasons; perhaps you have had a bad experience, you are worried about what might happen, you feel unsafe, there are many more reasons that we could think of and it is very natural to feel like this!

I am sure that all of us have felt nervous or anxious at some point, sometimes you can deal with it in a 'just carry on' sort of a way, however, even then, it is ok to admit that you are worried, your horse has probably already noticed! Who are you trying to hide it from? Once you have admitted to yourself that you are worried and isolated the issue you are in a place to deal with it.

Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is own up to being anxious about an issue, once you have done this you can make a plan and find the solution to move you forward in the safest possible way.

Good luck, it is a great feeling when you overcome a fear and travel closer to your dreams.

We regularly run Dismounted Clinics, which can help improve your confidence, please contact Karen for further details.