Rider confidence: Putting things into perspective

They say a holiday can do you the world of good, and here's Rachel to explain why she's taken that attitude to her riding recently in her latest blog post. 

Sorry for the gap in blog posts, it’s been a very busy couple of months! I got married, went on honeymoon and Ruby got away with the laziest rides ever as I was determined not to have any bruises in my wedding pics!

Just before the celebrations began, my friends encouraged me to join them at a confidence workshop that a local riding club was hosting and, as it was taking place in a pub, who was I to say no?

The session was led by Sue Wilkinson, an Empowerment Specialist who has a background in horses, having trained with Monty Roberts and Kelly Marks.

As well as discussing options such as hypnotherapy and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), which trains the brain to think in a different way, Sue also taught us short-term strategies that we could use straight away.

One of these was the ‘power pose’. The theory behind it is that if you look positive, you feel positive. Sue told us to stand hunched up, facing the floor and then instructed us to stand in a Wonder Woman pose. She asked us to compare how we felt, with all of us feeling a lot happier and more positive in the power pose.

Another technique that we could use straight away involved us visualising the thing that scared us and imagining it getting smaller and smaller until we could tread on it, before focusing on a more positive experience.

The lady who was the guinea pig for this one found it tricky to let go of a harrowing experience, but after a few more attempts at visualisation, she began to feel better about the situation.

So, with Sue’s methods in the bank for when I came back, I was ready to set off on my (oops sorry, ‘our’) honeymoon in Madeira for a fabulous week in the sun.

Of course, in order to do this, I had to land at ‘Europe’s most dangerous airport’ (wish I'd known this at the time of booking!).

We were only the second plane to actually land at the airport in 48 hours due to strong winds and my first view of the runway was out of our window as we blew sideways onto the tarmac, having suffered severe turbulence on the way down.

Every cloud... 

Ironically, this slightly traumatic experience actually helped me to return to England with a more confident attitude to riding.

My theory when I came back was, if I can survive that, I can survive anything. Nothing that Ruby could throw at me could compare to that landing.

So the day after returning, I tacked up Ruby, got on at the top of the yard, rode her down to the outdoor arena, and was able to have the confidence to get Miss Trot-a-lot to actually canter! I returned back to the yard feeling as though we'd achieved something.

The next day, I was scrolling through my phone when I read a headline that really helped me to put my fear of riding into perspective. A tree that I'd been standing next to only six days earlier in Funchal had fallen, killing thirteen people.

Suddenly I had an overwhelming sense of ‘that could’ve been me’ and it gave me a bit of a ‘life is short, ride the horse’ kick up the backside. In fact, it was such a big boot that later that week I attempted the unthinkable... jumping in the outdoor arena.

Leaving the ground... almost

Ruby's refusal.png

Ruby’s old owner, Tina, is selling her latest project pony (a 13.3hh dun mare if anyone's interested!) and wanted to see how confident she was over jumps.

After telling me this, she followed up with “are you coming?” to which I heard myself reply: “Yeah I’ll have a little jump.”

I think I must have still been in ‘yay I’m alive’ mode to even consider such silliness!

So, after being abandoned at the top of the yard as Tina thought I was right behind her, (I was still tacking up), we yet again got our brave pants on and headed to the outdoor.

Thanks to Sue’s techniques, I was able to keep the nerves almost under control and block out the vision of me falling off over a single trotting pole, while simultaneously sitting in the most positive way I could with super short jumping stirrups.

As Tina and Lady popped over the cross-pole, I realised it was almost my turn and suddenly all of those pesky nerves managed to get the better of me.

As I turned to approach the jump, I panicked, leant forward way too soon, clung on for dear life and of course confused Ruby so much that she refused.

Support from the sidelines 

On the next attempt, I had cheerleaders. Instructions such as ‘sit up’ and 'kick on' were echoing around the arena as I kicked, looked where I was going, grabbed hold of the neck strap and cleared it!

This jump can’t have been any higher than about 30cms max, but it didn’t matter - we'd jumped in the outdoor arena, stayed in the arena and survived!

In the air!.png

Of course Ruby had now decided that she was extremely clever and suddenly remembered how to canter without the use of a stick and several obscene words.

As we had our second attempt I shouted ‘ooh I’m not ready!’ to which the reply was ‘you’re fine, get on with it’ (I have such sympathetic friends). 

We approached in canter, jumped it and cantered away like a teenager at Pony Club camp! We’d done it again, and that was quite enough for one day.

Although my confidence is still better than it was, now that I’m getting back into my usual routine, that sense of ‘yay I’m alive’ is beginning to wear off and I get the feeling that it won’t be long before those blooming nerves come back to get me.

However, now I no longer have to pay for bunting, glitter and other wedding paraphernalia, I’ve actually been able to afford to book a lesson that should hopefully be a massive help. I’ll let you know how I get on next time.