Rider confidence: Going at your own pace

Rachel Sabin dressage confidence

Phew, that was an interesting couple of weeks! Snow, rain, wind, accidental galloping and even a couple of mini-hacks have made for an eventful fortnight!

The accidental galloping sort of links to my theme for this blog of going at your own pace. However, as the phrase suggests, this pace was not exactly planned.

Although the evenings are slowly beginning to get lighter, there's still a definite race to the yard from work to catch the daylight. The other day, my friend and I did exactly this. We encouraged each other to ride as we were both fed up after a long day, so off we went to our outdoor school.

It started well with some good walk and trot work going on. I was heading down the centre line towards C when suddenly behind me I heard hooves. My friend’s horse had spooked and performed beautiful airs above the ground before bolting!

Apparently 17hh Fynn had a complete meltdown at a pigeon (although Fynn is adamant it was a full-sized eagle), so Ruby had obviously had to join in too. My chunky lazy coblet suddenly turned into a Grand National contender, and guess what… I DIDN’T PANIC!

I just sat, steered and stayed on! Ok, so my legs shook for a good ten minutes after and Ruby kept spooking because of this, and we eventually gave up and went back to the stable, but hey, we were both alive!

Now, I had planned to work in walk, with a little bit of trot thrown in. The fact that I was down in the outdoor school was an achievement in itself, but as we all know, with horses things don’t always go to plan! However, I always find that it helps if I decide what paces I'm going to work in before a schooling session.

Sometimes, I tell myself that today I’m just going to work in walk. Some people may scoff at this, but there’s an awful lot you can do in walk. Lots of walk to halt transitions, bending, 10m circles and basic lateral work can all be done at this pace.

This also ensures that I’m working at a pace that I’m confident in. Often, I find that I do go out of this pace as I’ve settled into the ride and am able move on to trot or sometimes even canter work.

The mood that Ruby's in can sometimes influence the pace I go at. I know this isn’t ideal for the horse to dictate what's going on but in certain cases, it’s needed.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Ruby occasionally turns into a snorting agitated dragon due to my nerves. This means that she’s worked up by the time we get to the arena. When this happens, I trot her as soon as we hit the arena surface. This settles both of us down and once I feel her relax, we go back to walk, ready to start our session.

Getting thrown in at the deep end

Rachel Sabin rosette

It’s also important to progress at your own pace as well. One week after buying Ruby, we entered our first dressage test, after being encouraged by her old owner. This was also my first competition ever.

For me, this was a good idea as it meant that I didn’t have time to get stressed about travelling to, warming up and performing at a show. Winning our first rosette was also a massive confidence boost!

I actually felt a lot safer at the event as there were so many people around who could, and most who actually would, help if we got a bit stuck. I did develop a new ‘phobia’ though - the show preparation routine. Two hours of grooming, plaiting, and tidying for a five-minute test, who thought of that brilliant idea?!

Being thrown in at the deep end may not work for everyone so it's important to take things one step at a time. Later on in the year, we travelled about an hour away to go to a competition. As it was further away, I felt that it made sense to do more than one test, so entered a Prelim as well as an Intro.

This was not our most successful experience! Having gotten myself so stressed about the Prelim, we completely blew the Intro, cantering around the edge and jumping the white boards before our test even started!

Ironically when it came to the Prelim, I was holding Ruby’s reins so tightly that she couldn’t possibly canter so we messed up that one as well!

Even though we could do the Prelim movements at home, it'd been too soon for us to compete at this level and it did knock my confidence for a while. Since then, we’ve only done Intros and for now, that's what we’re going to keep on doing!

Rachel Sabin dressage test

Recently, we’ve begun to venture into the great outdoors and do some light hacking. Sometimes this is just a ten minute plod to a nearby motorway bridge (I've a feeling this beast will come up in a later blog) and back to the yard. So far, we’ve stopped in walk with a little trot thrown in. I’m hoping to get out a little more in the upcoming weeks so will keep you updated in my future blogs.

These gentle hacks have reminded me why I had a horse in the first place. TO HAVE FUN! So next time you begin to feel stressed, just remember the reasons why you love horses, focus on these and use them to keep those pesky negative voices at bay. 

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