There are so many training methods, so many opinions on how to do the best for our horses, no wonder so many of us are plagued by DOUBT! The problem is that doubt can be, riding and training-wise, our worst enemy. Of course, asking questions and being open to new ideas and methods is never a bad thing but once you introduce anything to your horse, you have to be committed. Let's face it, if you are questioning yourself, why should your horse listen to you?
Horses can sense doubt in our body language on the ground and when riding. Hesitation get's a big 'nah-naah" from them! Sometimes we doubt our horses but often we doubt ourselves and our ability. Doubt often creeps in if we keep switching trainers and end up confused by too many ideas, listen to too many people instead of following our gut instinct, or it can simply be that nagging inner voice that likes to undermine us with limiting thoughts.
It's amazing how some of us just love to hold on to the negative things said about the ability of our horse or ourselves. And once we grab hold of it, it often becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. So, think about some of the negative doubts you have, ask where they came from - it could simply be someone else's thoughtless remark or just a one-off bad experience -then stamp on it and replace it with a new more positive belief.
It's particularly important that you really believe in your method of riding and training. Do your research, find a good trainer and then stick to their methods. Confusing yourself and your horse by chopping and changing will only undermine yours and your horse's confidence. You have to really believe in what you're doing to get your horse to trust you.
At last the Menopause, is something that we're beginning to discuss openly and having listened to an enlightening programme on all the symptoms that women can suffer from we started to wonder how many older female riders have experienced a dramatic drop in their confidence because of it.
The Menopause affects all of us differently but many women find that it can make them feel incredibly tired, which coupled with another symptom, insomnia, can make trying to work, look after kids and run the household (yes unfortunately usually this still comes down to a woman!) AND keep a horse, seem an increasingly daunting task. This alone isn't good for our confidence.
But another symptom of these hormonal changes that can be particularly debilitating to riders and isn't as well known is an increase in ANXIETY, making many women become more worried and fearful. So, if you've noticed that in your late forties and into your fifties you've suddenly become hyper-aware of potential dangers when riding and handling horses then it could be a symptom of the menopause. It's not just you! And maybe this knowledge will stop you being so hard on yourself and other women who seem to have lost their nerve!
It's actually quite a relief isn't it, knowing that it's your hormones that have caused this dramatic drop in confidence rather than the other excuses that you keep putting it down to. We riders are a pretty tough bunch and find it hard to cope with what we often see as 'weakness'. Women often become terribly depressed because of it and claim that they 'feel like they have turned into another person,' one that they don't like very much!
So, don't suffer in silence. For more on the Menopause take a look at My Menopause Doctor.
Unlike football, hockey or rugby, riding is not typically considered a team sport since when we are competing it is often, just us and our horse, even though, of course, this in itself is a very special kind of teamwork! However, whilst I've been away at Uni and joined the University of York Riding Team I've discovered competing in a team with other riders and their horses can be great fun and can teach you loads. For instance.....
Constructive criticism can make a huge difference…
One of the main things that riding as part of a team has taught me is how useful feedback and constructive criticism is. We train as a team each week, and as a result get to watch one another riding different horses. We have learnt that a really useful exercise is to instruct and critique one another, since this means getting a different perspective from that of our riding instructor. When we warm up at competitions, we always have another team member there coaching and encouraging us, which not only helps us to get the best out of our horses, but is also good for calming nerves too!
Similarly, over the past year I think I have learnt a great deal from watching my team-mates ride. Since we train at a riding school, we all ride the same ponies so it has been really interesting to see how different riders of a similar ability cope with a certain horse. I have learnt to watch which techniques others use to get good results, and to try to adopt these myself to improve my riding as much as possible. Also, when we are learning new movements, I find it really useful to watch my friends riding through them first so I can visualise them before trying them out myself.
Not everyone will gel with the same horse…
Watching teammates riding the same horse has also taught me the important lesson that not everyone will instantly gel with the same horse, and that’s okay! For example, there is a lovely whizzy pony at our riding school called Blossom, who I just seem to wind up and find tricky to maintain at a balanced pace, whilst some of the other riders get her to calm down straight away. Similarly, there are some ponies who I find easier to ride than other people do. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one of us is a better rider than the other, but rather we are just not as suited to the same horse due to our different riding styles. I have come to realise that this is just something to learn from rather than something to worry about, and is part of what makes the sport so fun!
Learning from mistakes…
I am embarrassed to say that in one of my first ever competitions riding for the team, I jumped the wrong course of show-jumps and got eliminated-oops! I am still kicking myself about it now, especially as I had done a good dressage test so had help put the team into a good position. However, whilst I felt like I’d let them down, it meant that the rest of the team learnt from my mistake and went that extra bit further to ensure they knew the (very complicated may I add!) course correctly. And, we have never made the same error again as a result (touch wood…) So although it was frustrating at the time, it helped us as a team to realise the importance of learning from each other's mistakes.
And of course, the importance of supporting one-another…
As with any team sport, riding as part of the University Riding Team has made me realise how big a difference a smile or word of encouragement from a team-member can make. Before I go in the arena to do a dressage test or jump my round, my team-mates are always by the side of the school cheering me on, and sometimes that’s all I need to settle those horrible butterflies! We all support each other during training, too, which just helps to make the whole atmosphere so much more positive. We have all become really good friends and feel so proud of each other when we do well which really is a lovely feeling.
I am so pleased that I joined the University Riding Team, and would encourage any other riders who are at university to do the same. I have had such a great year of competing with them, and feel that my riding has come on a huge amount as a result. My confidence in my own abilities has soared. Whilst the bond between a horse and rider is a seriously special one, the bond between riders in a team is also so important too, whether this be a local Riding Club team or team GB at the Olympics. As we have found, words of wisdom and an encouraging smile can make a whole world of difference.
Do you ride as part of a team? I would love to hear about what you’ve learnt from your team-mates!
Find University of York Riding Club on Facebook HERE @UYRidingClub
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A loss of confidence is something that happens to many riders. Sometimes, it's just a niggling doubt about doing a bigger jump or a harder dressage test, or like me, you can lose it in a major way!
I always used to consider myself to be quite a confident rider and used to love being put on the naughtier ponies at my old riding school. I'd had my fair share of falls, but nothing really phased me. However, in the summer of 2014 I had a fall that I was worried would change me as a rider forever.
I had been lucky enough to have the opportunity to ride the lovely Scampi, a 16.2hh thoroughbred who was absolutely stunning and seriously talented at dressage. However, he was inexperienced, and I just didn't have the experience to give him the education that he needed either. A few weeks after I had first started riding him, I took him cross country schooling. I was feeling pretty confident, and was keen to see how we would both get on. We flew over the first couple of practice fences and it seemed to be going to plan. However, as I was coming up to a slightly larger fence but nothing too complicated, Scampi saw something in the hedge-line, which combined with my lack of experience meant we took off for the jump miles too early. I went flying, and narrowly avoided being trampled as he bolted off into the distance.
Although I remember very little of the fall itself, or even the morning before (which was very annoying as it was my Biology A level exam the next week and I had just done a lot of revision earlier that day, which I went on to forget…), both Scampi and I stayed in one piece. I got checked out in hospital, fortunately escaping with just bad bruising and slight concussion. I count myself very lucky, and it reminded me just how incredibly important wearing appropriate safety gear is; when I took my hat off it completely disintegrated, showing just how powerful the impact of my fall had been!
The day after the fall, all I could think about was getting back on Scampi; I was so worried that if I didn’t, I would lose my confidence completely. A couple of days later I rode him around the school at home, still feeling very bruised and fragile but it did feel good to be back on board. However, in the following weeks I found myself feeling physically sick just at the thought of riding. I found I didn’t want to jump, didn’t want to enter any competitions – my attitude towards riding had changed completely, and for weeks when I first sat on a horse all I wanted to do was get off again.
I think my problem was that I expected my confidence to come back straight away. I didn’t realise that it would be a slow process and that I would have to take my time, step by step. I wasn’t going to be able to go straight back to how I had been before the fall, but instead I needed to go back to basics and build it up again slowly, just as I would with a horse that had lost it's confidence. Although the fall itself wasn’t that bad, it was certainly the worst that I had ever had, and I think it must have had a much greater impact on me than I originally thought.
Slowly, I started to ride my own horse again; even riding him I felt nervous initially, but after lots of gentle hacking, I began to remember what I loved so much about riding, and that it didn’t need to be something scary at all. I realised that regaining confidence after a fall wasn’t simply a case of ‘getting back on again’; it meant changing my whole way of thinking, and learning to trust in both my horse and my own abilities as a rider. I think it was only once I had realised and accepted this that I was truly able to begin to move forwards.
Although it was indeed a slow process, I am at last finding my old self returning. We have recently started schooling our ex-racehorse, Alfie, and all I want to do is get out there competing with him, a feeling which I can’t imagine myself having had this time last year. Joining the University Riding Team at York has also given my confidence a huge boost, with the competitions that I have taken part in reminding me of just what it is that I used to love so much about competing. Sometimes, all it took was for someone to tell me I was doing okay, and suddenly I would find myself feeling so much better, which is a reminder how important it is to surround yourself with the right people at times like this!
So nearly two years on, I feel that my confidence has almost fully returned. What my fall certainly taught me was that these things take time; I didn’t realise how slow a process regaining confidence really can be, and that it isn’t simply a case of putting on a brave face. After all, horses can be scary animals! But they can also be the most wonderful friends, and riding my horse and going out to competitions has once again become one of the things that makes me smile the most.
Do you have a similar story to share because I'd love to hear it, whether you've regained your confidence or are still struggling with it. It always helps to know you're not alone!
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