A lot of riders suffer from nerves at some stage in their riding career and accepting them is key to enjoying yourself again. Mindset coach Aurélie Segun, an instructor at Ferme de Gue equestrian centre in France, shares eight things that will help you get back on track.
1 Smile — even if it feels false
“It’s a good idea to smile when you are afraid. The more you force your features into a smile, the more dopamine gets released into your body, helping you feel calm,” says Aurélie.
“Fake smiling may feel silly at first, but the benefits are real.”
Nerves sometimes cause riders to hold their breath — often without realising it — and a lack of oxygen in your body makes everything worse. Try humming when you’re nervous. You can’t hold your breath when you hum and it’s something positive to focus on.
3 Cry it out
“Crying is one of our bodies’ ways to release the stress hormone cortisol, which is why we often feel much better after a big sob,” explains Aurélie. “By crying, you are releasing the chemicals associated with fear, and you will be able to return to feeling confident sooner.”
4 Don’t hide it
You might be able to hide your fear from a coach and even from yourself, but there’s no fooling your horse, who will sense your concern. Tell your coach what it is that’s making you nervous so that you confront it, rather than allowing it to fester and become a bigger issue.
5 Remember — heels down
If you find yourself sitting something tricky, like a spook, remember that keeping your heels down is your seat belt.
“Internally repeating this statement helps to override the natural tendency to curl up into a ball, which will only make you more vulnerable in the saddle,” says Aurélie.
“It also gives you something constructive to focus on until you feel that you have regained control.”
6 Get off if you need to
If you do feel overcome by fear, it’s OK to get off.
“Instead of putting yourself and your horse at risk, I encourage riders to get off before they feel completely overwhelmed,” explains Aurélie. “You can continue doing some groundwork until you both feel calmer and remount when you think that your emotions are at a level at which you can listen to each other and ride safely.”
7 Sit up!
Aurélie explains that unprocessed fear causes riders to curl up into the metal position. We end up leaning forward and drawing our heels up towards our seat. This puts us in a vulnerable position from which we are much more likely to fall, feeing into another vicious cycle of increased fear and potentially more frequent falls.
8 Take deep breathes
Aurélie recommends spending a few minutes taking deep breathes before riding.
“Deep breathing signals to our brain that it’s OK to relax, so we can begin releasing any excess cortisol (a stress hormone) that has built up in our bodies.”