Confidence And Anxiety: What You Need Most And Least When Riding

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Anxiety is the most common problem we have to try to overcome in training riders and horses at Phoenix Farm. Confidence is what we're always trying to develop or to increase.

We like to think of confidence and anxiety as the opposite poles of riding.? Or maybe they should be the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West'

To ride effectively (and to enjoy it), you need to have confidence in your ability and in your security on the horse. You don't want to feel anxious about your ability to stay on your horse's back. And your horse should feel confident in you and in his ability to do his job.

That confidence comes from a balanced and correct position, in whatever discipline your doing, even if you're just trail riding. All proper position begins with a straight line from your head to your heels, sitting on your seat bones, with your heels down. If you don't have that minimum, you can't be balanced. And if you aren?t balanced on the horse's back, you simply can't be secure.

How do you accomplish that position' Training and practice?for years. it's that simple. You have to learn, from a good instructor, how to sit in the saddle. Some people do it more naturally than others, but there are no shortcuts?unlike weight loss, there is no 14-day or 30-day plan. You will spend a lifetime, ???????? and you will never perfect it

You have to have confidence in your horse and his behavior and abilities. How to you develop that confidence in your horse, instead of being anxious about every step he takes' It usually starts with finding the right horse. It means finding a horse with the right temperament, conformation and athleticism for your abilities and experience and for the job you want him to do.

As I wrote in an article in last November?s Horse Journal, finding the right horse requires you to be brutally honest with yourself about your abilities and about your budget.

Confidence also comes from training that develops your horse and your partnership in a logically progressive way. Confidence becomes anxiety by either over-facing or under-facing a horse and rider. Progressive training can be a fine line, and it takes commitment to meet your goals and to overcome whatever baggage you (and your horse) may be carrying around.

To ride well, you have to have confidence in yourself and in your horse in the situation you're facing. That situation could be going on a trail ride, instead of riding in the ring. It could be riding a dressage test or a reining pattern. Or it could be jumping a course in a ring or on a cross-country course. That confidence comes from the work you?ve done, from the training you?ve done, to develop yourself and your horse as athletes.

The most common event that causes riders to lose their confidence is a fall, especially a fall from their own horse that results in an injury. They become anxious about feeling the pain that the injury caused again; they become anxious about their security; and, most of all, they become anxious about their horse and about repeating the circumstances that caused them to fall off. Perhaps the horse spooked at something and spun out from beneath them or bucked them off, or perhaps he refused a jump and dropped them. Consequently, they panic every time their horse raises his head to look at anything, or they panic whenever they need to jump the kind of fence the horse refused (for instance, a ditch, a drop or an oxer).

There are two basic solutions to overcoming fall-induced anxiety. The first is, basically, to get back in the saddle and become a better rider to overcome your fear. Ride your horse, ride other horses, ride as much as you can. Get your butt in gear.

The second solution is to determine if the horse that caused this fear is the right horse for you, to determine if he has the right temperament for you. This is especially true if the horse is flighty, spooky or especially sensitive. Do you really need a more confident, quieter horse, a more dependable soul with less athleticism' Maybe you need a horse with a better work ethic or a horse with more experience' Maybe your horse just needs a stronger rider than you'

We often see riders struggling with unsuitable horses, and it doesn't have to be that way. Usually they've bought the horse because it was beautiful or because it was inexpensive, but sometimes they've just made a mistake. Usually the horse is just too high-octane for their abilities or level of confidence, and both horse and rider quickly become frustrated with each other. Usually the horse does something to cause the rider to fall, sometimes to fall repeatedly, and the rider starts to ride with noticeable tension, which makes the horse anxious and even more likely to repeat the action that caused the rider?s anxiety.

That can become like a computer ?do-loop,? a circle that can only be broken by getting the person to stop riding the horse. Sometimes a trainer can ?restart? the computer by putting the rider on another horse and riding the horse themselves for a period, then putting the pair back together when each has separately gotten past the problem. But often the only solution is to separate them permanently?to sell the horse to a more suitable rider and to find a more suitable horse for that rider.

Too often, people resist selling (or giving away) an unsuitable horse and finding a new one. I'm not suggesting that every time you fall off or have a problem, you should discard your horse like a plastic cup you're done with. But if you and your horse simply aren?t suitable, move on to a new relationship. Your horse probably isn?t enjoying this unsuitable relationship either.

Confidence is largely about your partnership with your horse or horses. Do you fit together physically and mentally' As a result, do you trust each other and believe in each other' We all get along with different types of horses better than others. it's like finding your perfect dance partner.