How to Improve your Riding Confidence and Overcome Anxiety

how to be a more confident rider

I can’t believe I feel the need to say this … but there really are people shaming others into riding when they are not confident or going to be safe. NO! This is not OK! I hate it when I feel ranty but I get regular personal stories from people of ‘well someone on my yard said “Just get on with it’ even though I didn’t feel safe and he’s got me off before and that’s when …(insert disaster here)” It makes me really cross to hear this thoughtless talk which by all accounts is going on all the time.

How to Become a More Confidence Rider and Overcome Anxiety

Horse riding is a thrilling and rewarding experience that can also bring about feelings of fear and anxiety, especially for riders who are starting their equestrian journey later in life. On our Intelligent Horsemanship Courses we see a number of students who are quite nervous about handling or riding horses. Our aim is that when they leave, they will be far more self-assured and confident… Not through ‘Gung Ho’ bravery or psyching themselves up, but by teaching them a safe approach to working with horses. This approach minimizes the risk of injuries and, as a result, instills confidence in themselves.

Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or have been riding for years, these 10 expert tips will offer practical solutions to help you become a more confident rider.

Admitting Your ‘Nervousness’ is the First Step to Becoming a Confident Rider

Various factors can contribute to horse riding anxiety, such as past accidents or witnessing others getting injured. It could also be related to unfamiliar horses, new circumstances, or seemingly irrational fears. A change of lifestyle is a well known factor in bringing about more ‘caution’ in professional jump jockeys riding.  Hence the expression ‘They went at a married man’s canter’.  The awareness of having something (or someone to lose) may be the first time the rider has ever even considered the consequences of falling. 

If you are nervous at all in any circumstances on or around horses, first of all I would like to say a big ‘Well Done’ for admitting it in the first place.  There are thousand of nervous riders in Britain.  If you admit to the fact and take responsibility for it then you can start to do something positive to conquer your fears in the safest and fairest way and become a more confident rider.  Much better than blaming your horse for being ‘nervy’ and prone to napping (because he very likely will be) and punishing your horse for being ‘ungenuine’ and refusing jumps.  It is the way forward to a more considered, contemplative and possibly intelligent way of riding and interacting around horses. 

10 Expert Tips for Boosting Riding Confidence and Overcoming Fear

Step 1 – Conduct a Risk Analysis:

First of all you need to do an analysis of how valid your fears really are.  How safe are your horse riding experiences?  What is it exactly that you fear the most – what is the likelihood that could happen?  

Although there are accidents that come totally out of the blue, calculating the risk factor of each situation shouldn’t be too difficult.  For example:- An experienced horse rider with a good seat walking a quiet, aged cob round an indoor school – risk factor 1% .  A very inexperienced, unstable rider jumping a novice, unschooled, highly strung horse round a cross country course on a wet and windy day – risk factor 99%.  Which brings us to one of my favourite questions;- ‘What’s the difference between intelligent people and stupid people?’  Well … ‘intelligent people do intelligent things and stupid people do stupid things!’ 

The next time you are going to ride a horse and you are feeling fear (as opposed to being genuinely excited by a competition; an entirely different thing) do a risk analysis of the situation.  It’s normal to feel nervous, but identifying specific concerns is important. Consider factors such as your horse’s behaviour, your ability to handle potential situations, and any practical solutions that can address your worries. This may involve delaying certain rides, taking lessons to improve your riding skills and confidence, or taking precautions like wearing protective gear and carrying a mobile phone.

Step 2 – Establish Your Comfort Zone and Work Up From There

To improve at anything and become a confident rider we have to come out of our comfort zone.  However, it’s wise for both horse and rider to work their way up in small steps. Here at Intelligent Horsemanship and on the How Very Horsey Rider Confidence Courses we often work on a traffic light system where green is your comfort zone and red is your biggest fear i.e. Cantering in an open field. Now you’re never going to feel confident if you always put yourself straight in the red zone. Take logical steps and work towards your confidence goals overtime.

Step 3 – Use Proper Safety Equipment

Take sensible precautions to protect yourself – wear a rider’s back protector, have a neck-strap, take a mobile phone with you, although even with your mobile still always tell someone where you are going and what time you are expecting to be back.

Think about it, when are you going to feel more confident? Leading your horse in a pair of flip flops and a dress? Or with proper footwear, a riding helmet and gloves?

Step 4 – Develop a Stable Riding Position:

A solid riding position is crucial for maintaining balance and control. Focus on improving your seat, posture, and balance through regular riding lessons. Seek the guidance of an understanding instructor who can provide valuable feedback and help you strengthen your riding skills. A stable riding position will boost your confidence and make you feel more secure in the saddle.

We have loads of fantastic content, magazine articles and webinars on rider positioning available to our Members.

Step 5 – Find a Supportive Instructor (& Team):

When searching for an instructor, look for someone who specializes in working with nervous riders. A supportive and patient instructor can create a comfortable learning environment where you can openly discuss your fears and concerns. Their expertise in guiding nervous riders will help you progress at a pace that suits your comfort level and builds confidence.

Confidence Masterclass With Kelly Marks, Sandra Williams & Daisy Smith From How Very Horsey

Step 6 – Start with a Calm and Experienced Horse:

Choosing the right horse plays a significant role in building confidence. Begin by riding a calm and reliable horse that matches your skill level. A well-trained and predictable horse will provide a secure foundation for you to develop your riding abilities. Gradually progress to more challenging horses as your confidence grows.

Step 7 – Practice the “As If” Technique:

Acting “as if” you are confident can have a positive impact on your mindset. Even if you still feel some fear, behaving as if you are confident can help diminish those feelings. This technique, first written about in 1948 by Dale Carnegie in his book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,”. Simple as it may sound it has been used successfully by thousands of people in thousands of different situations.  Give it a try and experience the power of positive thinking.

Step 8 – Focus on Breathing and Relaxation:

Deep diaphragmatic breathing is essential for relaxation and stress reduction. Practice breathing exercises off your horse, visualizing yourself riding with ease. Additionally, take a moment to relax your head and neck by gently turning and shrugging your shoulders. It’s funny how our shoulders can end up so close to our ears when we are under stress! This simple technique helps release tension and promotes a more relaxed riding experience.

Step 9 – Explore Alternative Fear-Control Methods:

There are several alternative approaches that can help manage fear and anxiety. Techniques like Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), hypnotherapy, visualization, affirmations, or Bach Flower remedies have been beneficial for many individuals. Consider exploring these methods and find what works best for you.

Step 10 – Connect with Like-Minded Individuals:

Joining a supportive community of riders who share similar concerns can be immensely helpful. At Intelligent Horsemanship, our members have access to a private Facebook group where you can connect with like-minded individuals. Sharing experiences, advice, and encouragement with others who understand your fears can provide valuable support on your journey to overcoming riding anxiety.

Take Home Message

Riding anxiety is a common challenge that many equestrians face, but it doesn’t have to hinder your enjoyment of horse riding. By acknowledging your fears and taking proactive steps to address them, you can develop a safer and more enjoyable relationship with horses. Confidence is built through proper preparation, a supportive network, and a gradual progression that suits your individual comfort level. At Intelligent Horsemanship, we are here to support and guide you on your journey to overcoming fear and becoming a more confident rider.

Become a Confident Rider
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