Feeling nervous following a fall? Piling pressure on to yourself by worrying about what other people think of you? In the second part of a two-piece confidence series, rider psychology coach Helen Rennie uncovers two more of the most common rider worries and advises how to tackle them.

A lot of anxiety problems are habits that we’ve got in to and it takes roughly 100 repetitions of a new habit to get rid of the old habit. So, there is a lot of effort that has to be invested in change before you get the benefit of it.

It doesn’t just affect people who have had a nasty fall or fall off often — even if you never fall off, simply experiencing a lot of spooks and bucks can wear you down, and just the anticipation of spooking, bucking and rearing can be a real problem for people

Issue: nerves after a fall or accident

What it means: riders relive an experience and fear the same thing happening again.

Symptoms: when someone experiences a traumatic event, they can relive the experience over and over again. Anyone who has a responsibility at home, such as children or being self-employed, is often more predisposed to reliving traumas of a fall compared with someone who doesn’t have those life responsibilities.

Solution: often, riders can bounce back from a fall better if they are not reliving the experience, but with those who do relive it, you have to get professional help. We’re only talking one half-hour session to resolve the reliving of the experience. Trying to fix that yourself is very difficult.

The next consideration is how long you wait to get back in the saddle. There is an age-old philosophy that you should get straight back on, and although I agree it’s not good to delay unnecessarily, there is much to be said for waiting until you are physically able. When we’re not in great physical health, we are far more predisposed to anxiety, which could exacerbate the issue.

Next, examine what is going on in your mind and take note of any thoughts that you might have (‘what if’ thinking), addressing the memory of the fall and negative thoughts that go with it. You can then challenge them as explained before.

When it comes to dealing with the physical symptoms of anxiety, I get riders to work on relaxation, doing a guided meditation or breathing technique to bring stress levels down. It tells your brain that when you’re in that situation, you don’t need to worry.

Top tip: if you are reliving a bad experience, imagine you are watching that experience on a TV. This automatically disassociates you from it and starts to take some of the realness out of it. If you practice this often enough, you can disassociate yourself from the experience and help with your anxiety.

Issue: worrying about what other people think

What it means: this comes back to self-belief. When we try to validate if we’re a good person or not, we typically look internally and externally. If internally we don’t reinforce ourselves very positively and don’t have a lot of positive self-belief, we then become very reliant on external feedback from other people.

Symptoms: when riding in front of other people, such as on a livery yard or riding at a competition, riders worry about what other people think.

Solution: work on developing some strong positive beliefs using evidence through what people say you do well as a rider. Ask people around you for positive things about your riding, and ask yourself what you are working on that is making you a better rider so you can start to build self-belief.

You can also ask what your trainer thinks you are good at. Ask them to point out the things you are doing well as well as the things you can improve on, so you know what your strengths are as well as what you need to work on.

From there it is about focusing on what you can control, which takes you away from judgment thinking. When you are in task focus mode, you are focused on what you are doing — this means you can no longer be in judgment mode at the same time. Give yourself a checklist and focus on the process of doing a certain movement or task.

Top tip: if you really struggle to ask for people’s opinions of you, start with a trusted friend and ask them what they think you do well as a rider. Share your achievements with friends, including on social media if you are happy to, but don’t spend too much time dwelling on and comparing yourself to others.


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