Conquer your riding fears

If you've been scared by a spook or fall you might have had a nasty knock to your confidence

If you've been scared by a spook or fall you might have had a nasty knock to your confidence

Whether your bête noire is bucking or jumping, don’t let fear limit your riding activities. Follow confidence coach Ian Banyard’s four easy steps to help you control your fear and become a happy, confident rider.

Building confidence starts with understanding how the three parts of our brains work; the reptilian part automatically triggers our fight or flight reaction to a threatening situation; the mammalian produces emotional responses including fear; and the rational allows us to think logically about things. Ian says: “The key is getting those three things working together, with the logical brain in the lead.”

If you’ve had a fall or scary experience, Ian advises against hopping straight back on as you’ll still be upset. Instead, take some time to visualise your riding going well, thinking about all the times it’s been fine and you’ve been confident. Don’t let your brain turn one bad experience into your future expectation – instead focus on your riding and why you do it to rebuild your confidence.

In the saddle, you’re in charge – the horse’s brain is mammalian so you need to be the rational side of the partnership, leading and thinking ahead - use
Ian’s tips to cope with fear when you’re riding.

1. Take 10 deep breaths to slow your heart rate – if you get nervous your horse will pick up on that. Remember you’re in it with your horse, and he’ll be trying to work out what’s going on, so transmit calm by being calm yourself. Ian says: “If something’s happened and you’re ok, it’s all about how quickly you can bring yourself back down.”

2. Acknowledge what’s happened and your emotional reaction, then think about what you need to do next, whether that’s getting off or just walking on. Remember you’re in charge – both of yourself and your horse, and he needs you to be in control.

3. Calm down by talking soothingly to yourself the way you would your horse. Ian says: “Riders can be very good at talking to their horse to calm them, but they often don’t do it for themselves.”

4. Look ahead to where you want to go. Think about what needs to happen next and take control. Bear in mind if you don’t control your brain it can run away with you the way a horse would.