Hi, I'm Rachel. I'm 31 and own a 14.3hh Welsh cob called Ruby/Rubaloo/you little... (depending on her mood). I'm also a complete wimp. I'm the worst car passenger in the world (don't even get me started on flying) and I'm a Nervous Nelly in the saddle.
Before I bought Ruby, I hadn't ridden for two years due to my old horse Chico having serious leg problems. Sadly, in December 2015, I had to make the decision that all horse owners dread and Chico was put to sleep at just nine years old.
I’d always had an element of nervousness when it came to riding, but my confidence had been knocked not only by my time out of the saddle, but also by the fact that both Chico and I had both been as inexperienced as each other. Oh yes, and my chunky monkey who would apparently "make 15.2 tops", actually made a good 16.2, which really didn't help! By the way, a top tip for riders who wear glasses, take them off if you’re riding a large horse as if you can't see very far you feel a lot closer to the ground!
Luckily, I didn't have to search very far for my new equine bestie as three stables down, on the same yard, was the lovely Ruby who’d been backed and brought on by a friend of mine. I hacked her out a couple of times and even rode her in the warm-up arena of a Christmas dressage competition while she was dressed as a reindeer with angels, unicorns and several Santas cantering past her! She didn't bat an eyelid and I knew she was the one for me.
Ruby is a fantastic confidence giver, but sometimes that little voice in the back of my mind creeps in and I start to think 'what if'? On occasion, she has been known to get her knickers in a twist and leg it. So far I've stayed on every time (in fact the one time I’ve fallen off her was over a trotting pole in the indoor arena)! Yet instead of remembering that I was in control of the situation and it was all fine, I focus on the "I could’ve fallen off and broken my neck" aspect of it. Luckily I have a few tricks up my sleeve to try to keep my nerves under control that I’ll be sharing with you.
It's all about you
Own up, who just read that subtitle to the tune of McFly's song? But seriously, focussing on yourself and what you’re doing is a massive part of being confident. Look at Carl Hester in the Olympics. His horse put in a massive spook, but Carl didn’t react. He just carried on with what he was doing and completed a fantastic test.
Reacting to whatever your horse might be doing is completely natural, but not always helpful. A couple of weeks ago I entered a dressage competition where Ruby got fed up of waiting and decided to have a little stroll in reverse. Of course, being me I reacted, flapping about and shouting for someone to grab her. I'm still cringing with embarrassment now! What I should’ve done was to take a deep breath and focus on my riding.
Once I was in the arena however, my nerves disappeared because I had a bigger challenge to complete... remembering the test! Ruby could’ve been tap dancing while throwing her head up in the air like a giraffe and I probably wouldn't have noticed as all I could think of was 'enter at A, turn right, 20m circle at B'. When you’re trying to remember a test, you’re thinking only of what you’re doing, not what your four-legged friend is playing at.
I try to use this to help me when schooling at home. If the nerves start to rear their pointy little heads, I simply start riding a test to see if I can remember it and I usually begin to relax.
When in the saddle, I always tend to be too busy fussing about what everyone else is doing instead of concentrating on myself! Our outdoor school is next to a fishing lake and every horse at the yard has had a spooky run in with terrifying fishing tackle at some point. Also, across the road is the mare's field and being mares, they like to have a whinney over the hedge! As a result, every time I ride down to the arena I'm looking for trouble, which makes Ruby turn into a snorting (yet very ladylike – obviously) dragon!
In order to get over this, I have to tell my brain to stop. Sometimes, literally saying this out loud is needed. I also find singing helps to stop my nervous thoughts running at full speed, but unfortunately for Ruby, the song that always pops into my head is 'Amarillo'! She could totally win a Lip Sync Battle with that tune! Apparently singing makes you breathe correctly, which releases relaxing chemicals into your brain. Get those karaoke tunes on the go!
Remember, sometimes it really is all about you! In my next post, I’m going to be focussing more on this by encouraging you to go at your own pace. Until then, keep calm and carry on riding!