Being an effective rider starts in the mind first – if you think positive and believe in yourself, a better relationship with your horse will follow. To help you become the confident, fantastic rider you know you can be, follow Tina’s top tips:
You might laugh, but how much time do you actually spend holding your breath when you’re riding?
Think of something neutral, like today’s breakfast. Notice your breathing rate and how your body feels – relaxed all over or tense in places? Think of something that makes you happy and joyful and notice what happens to your breathing and the tensions in your body. Now, think of something that worries you. Notice what happens in your body: where are you tensing up and how has your breathing changed? Play with thinking of the worrying thing, but breathing like you’re happy. What happens to the worry? Next, think of something fear-inducing. Focus on your breathing and count four breaths in and four breaths out, and do this 10 times. What happens to your fearful thought?
Power of your imagination
It’s all too easy to imagine something horrible happening – those ‘what if’ thoughts. Have you ever noticed that if something happens, like the horse spooks, in that moment you cope perfectly well and feel nothing? It’s afterwards when you start to feel the fear.
Take a ‘what if’ that worries you and follow it through to a positive outcome – an outcome where you remain in control, or regain control and feel safe and happy. What happens to the feeling of fear? It might not go away completely, but you should feel calmer and more relaxed.
Stay in the moment
If we’re thinking about something that’s just happened, or might happen, we lose focus on what’s happening right now. It’s easy to wander off into thoughts of what to make for dinner, for example. But your horse is only ever aware of ‘now’ – his mind isn’t wandering.
Sit in your armchair and focus on the feeling: the sensation of your legs supported by the seat and the chair back against yours. Feel your feet on the floor, and so on. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the feeling of sitting in the chair. Increase the amount of time you can spend just sitting and being aware of the feeling, until you can sit in the moment for as long as you would usually spend with your horse.
Plan of action
Let’s take two extremes: if your fear is huge and you desperately want to beat it – for example, you’re so afraid you won’t even get on your horse – set yourself a series of tiny goals.
Your end goal might be to hack out with a friend, but your first goal should be to simply mount your horse, sit on him for one minute and then get off. This is a huge step forward. Your next goal might be to mount and have a friend lead your horse for five minutes. Your next goal might be to mount and walk around without being led for five minutes, and so on. At the opposite end of the scale, perhaps you’re planning to compete up a level next season? Your action plan of tiny goals might start wit h a truth session with yourself about all your concerns in going to the next level, and then picking them off one by one to deal with. Take each one and break it down into small chunks, so your action plan ends up as a list of things you can tick off every day.
Start an ‘I did it’ diary
It’s all too easy to focus on how far we have to go, rather than how far we’ve come. Keeping a diary of every step achieved is a great way to keep celebrating successes and reminding yourself that you’re moving towards that goal. It’s good use of your armchair time and will make you focus on the positives that happen every day.