As a confidence coach for horse riders, I know that it’s not uncommon to lose fortitude at different stages of your life. Even if you haven’t had a recent fall from your horse or a horse-related injury, it can happen.
For adults, anxiety about riding can become a problem after having children or taking on the responsibility of caring for aging parents or an ill spouse. You might be the sole or main income earner in your household. With these life responsibilities, you “can’t afford to get hurt.” You can’t afford to have time off work. You can’t afford an injury that would prevent you from being the caregiver.
So, stop beating yourself up, thinking that you shouldn’t feel this way or thinking that you’re crazy. You really aren’t. There is a perfectly natural reason for your anxious feelings.
All of your behaviours and actions are controlled by your unconscious mind. And the main priority of your unconscious mind is to keep you safe. The good news is that there are ways to convince your unconscious mind that you aren’t putting yourself at unnecessary risk when riding your horse. So, instead of making you feel anxious every time you get in the saddle, it will only warn you when there is a real potential danger.
First, answer these questions honestly:
- Do you have the riding skills to handle whatever might come up when you’re riding?
- Does your horse have the right training to be able to do the work you’re asking of him?
- Do you have the right horse for you at this stage of your riding?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then you need to make some changes. That could be investing in riding lessons to improve your skills, training for your horse to make him more suitable for you and the work you want him to do or buying a horse that is more suited to your current riding skills and goals.
On the other hand, if you answered “yes” to all of the questions, then you need to focus on mindset work that convinces your unconscious mind you aren’t in any real danger when you’re riding.
Because your unconscious mind cannot tell the difference between a real or an imagined event, it’s critical that you’re careful about the words you use and the mental images you create with regard to riding. That means avoiding any negative self-talk or imagining negative outcomes.
This is a mental skill that all elite athletes have – the ability to consistently imagine themselves as competent, confident and successful in different situations. They use this mental technique as a way to prepare and practice for a wide variety of circumstances. And so can you.
When you feel anxious about riding, you’re future-thinking and imagining a negative experience with a negative outcome. You ask “what if?” questions that have a negative answer (“What if my horse bucks?” or “What if I get hurt?”) or you talk negatively about yourself (“I’m not good enough” or “I can’t make that jump”).
When you notice negative thoughts, turn them around by asking yourself “Is it true?” If it isn’t true, find the evidence to support this and write out a list of all the reasons it isn’t true. Focus on those reasons multiple times throughout the day. Repeat them every time you notice the negative thought.
If it is true, then write down all the steps you can take to decrease the risk and change the outcome. Then you’ll have an action plan for moving forward rather than staying stuck, frustrated and anxious.