Are you a nervous rider? Don’t apologise – it doesn’t make you a bad one. In the long term, if you push yourself through it, you’ll develop an inner strength that many riders will never find. Nervousness comes in many forms but when it stands in the way of what is supposed to be your hobby it’s time to do something about it.
It’s common for riders to lose their nerve after a fall or a fright. It’s only natural you’d worry that it might happen again. Whilst some riders can push that doubt to the back of their minds if you’re nervous it can become an obsession. It won’t matter how many times someone tells you you’ll be fine nothing will stop you worrying. With worry comes tension and there is no better way to show your horse that something is worth getting uptight about than you getting uptight.
Sometimes nerves are just part of your personality. Perhaps you’re naturally cautious. For you it’s the fear of the unknown that spoils your riding. People will probably ask you why you bother to ride but deep down you’re determined. When you get off there’s no better sense of achievement – right? Unfortunately when you do ride there’s always that little knot of fear that something will go wrong. And – when you’re uptight about it – it invariably does!
You could be one of the many riders who have an inbuilt fear that what they’re doing with their horse is wrong. You feel you don’t know enough. OK, so you’re not nervous of actual riding (or of your horse) but where’s the fun in always thinking you’re doing a bad job? No matter how many people tell you you’re doing OK you still look at yourself and criticize. The constant worry that you’re not doing your horse any favours is spoiling your hobby as much as being frightened would.
If you suffer from lack of confidence you need to change the way you think. Don’t watch your friends and envy them. Stop finding fault with yourself and start to appreciate your strong points. Look at a video or photo and list five things about you or your horse that you like. (Don’t even dare to look for the bad!) And don’t just say “Well it’s him not me” if he has good points they’re there because you’re doing something right.
If you’re nervous of the unknown your nerves, although physically real, are often irrational. Sit down and think about the number of times you’ve ridden. How many times have things really gone badly? You need to prove to your brain that nothing awful is going to happen every time you ride. Getting too much sympathy can make things worse. Whilst you need support you also need an instructor or friend who will push you gently in the right direction. The only way to prove to yourself that you can do it is to do it!
Nervous people often classify themselves as wimps or stupid. It’s easy to think you need to knuckle down and get on with it but that’s not true! If your nerves are there for a reason why put yourself through it again? If your horse bucks you off when you ask him for canter at A why not ask him at X? If he only does it from trot to canter then ask from walk. Actually why not have a break from canter anyway? This is your hobby and if you never cantered again so what?! The funny thing is when you stop pressuring yourself you find you start to relax. Avoiding something that worries you isn’t stupid – doing it again and again … well it’s not exactly intelligent, is it?!
A nervous mind is exactly the same as a nervous horse. It needs to keep busy. Don’t walk round the school while your heart races and your fingers start trembling. You don’t have to go faster but you do need to move. Use circles and serpentines to keep your body occupied. If you feel yourself tensing up focus on something else – try counting down from 100, saying the alphabet backwards or listing the months of the year in reverse.
Another way to keep yourself focused is to ride round the school in one pace for a set number of strides before moving up or down into another for one stride less. Start with 20 and go to 19 …18 etc. Because you’re counting you’ve got something to think about. In time it can be hypnotic. With your mind occupied on something else your body will relax and so will your horse.
Your horse is a herd animal. He can only relax when he knows he has a leader. Be assertive (not aggressive) by riding transitions at every marker or riding three loop serpentines and figures of eight so you’re constantly changing the rein and keeping him guessing. You don’t have to use canter; you can easily work between walk, trot and halt. Short bursts of each pace and frequent changes of direction will make you think and show him you’re in control.
Does your horse buck? It’s understandable you get nervous thinking about it but stop and think about the mechanics of bucking. To do it he needs to get his weight over his shoulders and lower his head. If you sit back you’ll put his weight back over his hocks. Keep your contact even and your reins short enough and he won’t be able to get his head down to buck. Problem perhaps not solved but definitely avoided.
Your body has the greatest effect on your horse. The easiest way to tighten it is to hold your breath. It’s easy to do when you’re nervous. Try it now. As you breathe in and stop everything in your body tightens. He’ll feel that tension and do the same.