Overcoming Confidence Issues

I’ve been thinking a bit about how we, as horse riders and owners, overcome confidence knocks. 

There can be confidence knocks to horses and humans, but in each case it is important not to dwell on the matter and strive to overcome the issue.

Firstly, you as the leader of the team needs to assess the situation and why there was a problem. Be logical, and think it through. Did your horse refuse because he was outfaced? Could you have avoided falling off by buying that shorter girth so the saddle didn’t slip, or not hacking alone on a windy day?

Once you’ve found the problem you can avoid it the next time you ride. This isn’t so that you develop a fear, but rather so the next ride is pleasant and you and your horse can build confidence up.

Try and ride quite soon after a fall so you don’t lose your nerve, and choose a safe place to remount; for example the arena. Once you’ve had a good ride you can start to re-enact the situation. I don’t mean go out on that windy day, but perhaps ride that route in company on a calm day. 

Once you’ve ridden a couple of times I think it’s really important not to dwell on the fact you fell off, or lost your confidence. The more you bring it up, the more it plays on your mind and you don’t move on. Yes, learn from your mistakes (don’t hack round the village alone on bin day, for example) but don’t think about it everytime you ride. I also find it important to try and inject some fun into riding, so you forget about your worries and remember why you love riding.

If it’s your horse who’s lost their confidence, jumping perhaps, then you have to re-establish your relationship and bond. Go back to flatwork for a session or hack with a friend so the horse relaxes into riding. Then go and do some jumps, but keep it easy and no pressure. That’s enough for one session; they just need to enjoy themselves and not feel overwhelmed. Then, a couple of days later jump again, focusing on overcoming the problem.

For example, a fortnight  ago I jumped Llani and the jumps got bigger and wider. Together with the a-frame, the wide and large oxer outfaced him slightly. I finished the session over a simple upright and did flat work and dressage for a couple of days before popping him over some little jumps at the end of the week. I just wanted him to enjoy the cross poles. Then a couple of days later we jumped again. He flew the cross,  spread, and upright, but when it came to an oxer (smaller and not as wide as the initial jump) he put the brakes on. So I built him up. Over the fence as a cross, with a back rail, as an ascending oxer, and once he was flying over them again I recreated the oxer we had earlier, and he flew it. He didn’t need to do any more than that. He was happy, I was happy. Next time I jump him I’ll do another oxer and ensure he’s over his confidence knock and then we can forget it ever happened.

If it’s a hacking problem then it’s useful to use a friend to overcome the problems, or visit the monster, and then you’ll be confident to hack alone past it.

Whoever loses their confidence, it’s the rider’s job to find it again as they are the leader and dominant party, but I don’t think we, as riders, should be afraid to admit there is a problem, or ask for advice, because once there’s a plan of action you can actively close the book on the confidence-knocking issue and move onwards and upwards.

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3 thoughts on “Overcoming Confidence Issues

  1. theInelegantHorseRider April 12, 2015 / 9:28 am

    I don’t have my own horse, yet, but I do have a fairly big confidence problem that reared its head again yesterday to the point where I got off in tears and walked back from the hack – I did get on a different horse at the yard. I hate having this issue, I think your advice is spot on – I’m trying not to dwell on it but its hard. Whenever I think I am over these things they come back – learning how to move past them and remember how much pleasure riding gives is important. Thanks for writing about this, sometimes I feel quite alone with confidence issues.

  2. Susan Friedland-Smith April 13, 2015 / 5:04 am

    I have confidence issues. I know how to jump the little courses, but not having ridden or jumped much for a span of several years and now getting back into it, I know I’m my own worst enemy in my brain. I overthink. I haven’t had the ability to do much riding out on trails for many years. Until last week. I think riding outside of an arena is great for confidence. I’m happy to say my new TB was a champ out on the trails. We put him in the middle of two horses and he followed the leader and was very calm throughout. Here’s to more confidence!!! 🙂

  3. C. July 25, 2015 / 12:49 pm

    How about breaking an ankle in a fall in March… and still being on crutches? I managed one 15 minute ride a month ago (before they noticed my ankle was still broken) and after the first scary minute it was wonderful… but I’m going nuts over here. If I hadn’t managed that ride in between I don’t know if I would still believe that I’d ever ride again at this point.

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