In partnership with Equisafety…

Hacking should be fun, and that comes with feeling confident and communicating to our horses that they are safe, even when faced with an unnerving situation. NLP practitioner and rider Tracey Cole explains how hypnotic phrases can help keep anxiety at bay.

Hypnotic language

To improve your hacking confidence, try a little hypnotic language. Don’t worry, doing this does not mean you will be in a trance! Here are some effective phrases to use:

  • “You know you can choose to be calm right now or in a few seconds’ time, don’t you?”
  • “That’s right” – you can just repeat this one if you forget the others
  • “I’m alright now, and now, and now, and now…”

How to use it

These phrases should be said in a lower, slower voice than you would use when you usually talk.

You can also try breathing deeply, breathing into your pelvis and breathing into your lower back, feeling calmer and more confident with each breath.

You can also breathe in time to your horse’s footfall: see if you can build up to breathing in while all four hooves move, and then out again for all four feet.

Why it helps

Choose just one or two of these phrases and repeat as you ride. By doing this, you’re giving your conscious mind (the pre-frontal cortex) something to do and reiterating to your unconscious mind that all’s well.

You are also anchoring yourself in the moment, rather than being in the future. Anxiety is all about thinking the worst of the future. Being in the moment prevents you from thinking ahead. You react as you need to do, and negative anticipation is reduced.

Dealing with anxiety triggers

Anything can happen when you’re hacking — that’s part of the appeal. But sometimes, this can trigger anxiety when faced with a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, or even scared.

From riding along a stretch of a busy road with large traffic zipping past, passing cows or pigs or even being chased by a loose dog. How you deal with this can be the difference between going home feeling happy and confident (and the same for your horse) or not.

To prepare for this, practise tuning out the sights and sounds of the distraction. Do this before you go hacking. Practise until you find it easy and can go hacking and repeat the process while actually encountering the distraction.

Visualise the challenge

Sights:

  1. Visualise a challenge you may face, and visualise yourself as a rider. You may feel the anxiety even while visualising – that’s perfectly normal.
  2. Begin to make those challenges fade in your visualisation.
  3. Drain out all the colours, until they are so washed out that you can make them black and white, or even transparent.
  4. Now add a cartoon version of the spooky object instead. Ask yourself, what’s happened to the anxiety?

Sounds:

  1. In a similar way, transforming the sounds removes the trigger.
  2. With sounds, turn the sound down.
  3. Now add in another sound, for example your favourite music or calming sounds of the sea.
  4. Turn up the volume on the new sounds. Now, where’s the anxiety gone?

Distracting thoughts

While hacking, it’s very easy to have those ‘what if?’ moments. Your imagination runs wild, yet in a negative way. Fears of falling off or getting lost abound. To overcome this, we need to remove the anxious feelings. Practise off your horse and then it’ll be a second-nature strategy to turn to when you’re riding.

Do the following:

  • Consider where the nervous feelings are in your body. Often they are in your stomach, solar plexus or chest, but they can be elsewhere too.
  • Now, will those feelings to move to another part of your body. We’re aiming to move them to somewhere silly like the big toes (who gets anxiety in their big toes?). From the toes we can wiggle it out into the air.
  • If the feeling won’t move that far, that’s fine. Moving the feeling even just a few centimetres can make a noticeable change.
  • Now consider, if that feeling had a colour, what would it be? Change the colour to any other colour.
  • Notice what has happened to the anxiety. Giving your conscious mind something to do and changing how your mind sets up anxiety in a part of your body, breaks the habit.

This content is brought to you in partnership with Equisafety, high viz clothing for horses and riders.

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