Q. I have lost my nerve a bit after I fell off my mare in the arena. Now when we ride near the door in the arena she spins and spooks. I get tense which doesn’t help. What can I do to help us both feel more confident?
Losing “your nerve” after falling off your horse is quite common – even if you haven’t been hurt.
Your mind is a powerful tool that can work for you or against you. Much of what goes on in our minds happens unconsciously.
Here are 7 quick techniques to help get you back on track.
1) Recognize that how you are feeling is perfectly normal. Whether you’ve had a fall from your horse or just come close to falling off – even if you haven’t been injured – a primitive part of your brain connects a place or a situation with danger. It triggers the release of stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol) that prepare you for flight or fight. These cause physical reactions like increased heart rate, shallow breathing and tense muscles. In this case, riding near the arena door is the trigger.
2) Calm your mind with focused breathing. Taking long, slow, deep breaths (using your diaphragm) is the fastest way to feel more calm and confident. It eases the physical symptoms by slowing the flow of the stress hormones. Your thoughts calm down as you focus on the breathing. When you are in a relaxed state you’re better able to see things as they really are because you’re not experiencing the cluttered thinking caused by your emotions.
3) Release tension from your body. Stiff muscles and joints affect your balance, suppleness and confidence. They also impact your horse. Practice recognizing where you hold tension and then letting it go by breathing deeply and releasing on every exhale.
4) Change the pictures you see in your mind. Visualization is a strong and proven technique used successfully by professional and world-class amateur athletes to improve their skills and confidence. Your mind doesn’t know the difference between a real and an imagined event. If you keep mentally replaying the mistakes you’ve made or what you imagine might happen, your mind believes you. Change your mental videos from the possible bad outcome to seeing the positive outcome you want. Your mind believes you either way.
5) Mind how you talk to yourself. Much like visualization, your self talk affects your confidence and your results. Using positive self talk is more than ‘positive thinking’. Look for solutions to possible problems rather than focusing on the problem.
6) Start in your comfort zone. Ride where you and your horse are most comfortable. Gradually move out of that area while paying attention to your breathing, tension and thoughts. When you feel you can’t manage the stress well, return to the area where you were comfortable until you are both calm again.
7) Take your time. Setting specific deadlines only puts more pressure on you and can actually harm your confidence if you don’t meet it. Taking one small step at a time has a cumulative effect that increases your confidence over time. You won’t overwhelm yourself (or your horse) as you learn new skills and expand your comfort zone.