Understand your anxiety to beat riding blues

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You’d be hard pressed to find a rider who hasn’t dealt with anxiety at some point in their riding life.

Mental skills coach Jane Pike says, “It tops the list of the most talked about emotions with riders I work with, the effects ranging from fleeting glimpses in pressurised situations – such as in competition or training – to an ongoing relationship with anxiety that completely sucks the joy out of horsey life.”

In many instances, we ignore or suppress feelings of fear and anxiety only to have them become chronic feeling states that leave us in a perpetual, ongoing state of alertness and hyperactivity.

Not only is this stressful to experience, but it also prevents us from being centred and responsive riders who are able to engage in a fluid conversation with our horses.

Positive pathways

The positive use of anxiety requires that we move from a feeling state (where we receive the message of anxiety) to a logic state (where we can make an assessment about the information we have), on to a physical state (where we take action in one direction or another).

It’s a dance between our emotional, logical and physical intelligence that keeps everything in flow.

What commonly happens though, is that we get caught up in a thought loop. Instead of assessing a situation and taking action, we ruminate, worry and fall into an endless cycle of self-doubt that feeds on itself.

Fo instance, say you find yourself in a challenging situation with your horse. You feel anxious – an indicator that, for whatever reason, you don’t feel emotionally or physically safe. As a first port of call, this information is useful to you:

Do you feel that what you’re faced with is outside your current skill set as a rider?

Do you need to upskill, or get help from someone more experienced?

In this example, your anxiety serves a useful purpose. Pushing through will do nothing to process the emotional information, but will cause it to intensify further down the line, as well as put you and your horse in a potentially compromising situation.

Don’t lose hope

If you find yourself in a riding or horse-related situation where anxiety is an overriding theme, don’t lose hope. Although it feels all-consuming, it doesn’t need to be a permanent feature in your riding life.

There are many effective tools and techniques that can allow you to manage and move through anxious feelings with a bit of effort and practice your part.

Understanding your anxiety will give you the ability to manage any thought patterns that aren't serving you, and reprogram any negative associations that are currently getting in the way of you going out there and doing what you love with your horse.

For more advice from Jane Pike, don’t miss her article in issue 454.

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