Many horse riders, particularly those struggling with nerves, anxiety and fear around riding, believe that confidence is either something they have, or they don’t. As if confidence is some magical, mystical thing that some riders are lucky enough to have or not.
But this is simply untrue! Confidence is a skill that can be learned. Just like learning to do rising trot (or posting if you’re in the USA!), or learning to jump. All of us can learn how to become more confident when riding, no matter our individual starting points. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an experienced competitive rider who’s ridden for years, or a beginner who has started taking lessons at a riding school. Regardless of the causes of your nerves, anxiety and/or fear, you can learn how to (re)build your mindset and create real, long-lasting confidence around riding.
In this article, we will explore:
- Three things you need to know before you learn how to be confident
- Why following a step-by-step process is important
- What the confidence-competence loop is and how it’s relevant for riders
Three things you need to know before you learn how to be confident
How long have you been struggling with your riding confidence? Is it a recent challenge, or have you always felt unconfident? Either way, I suspect that if you’re reading this, then you’d love to know how to go from how you feel right now to creating that ‘inner knowing’ that you can handle whatever life (and maybe your horse) throws at you.
Before you even begin learning how to be confident, there are a few things you need to know.
Firstly, this might sound obvious, but you have to really want to be confident. If you don’t want to be confident, then that’s absolutely fine, but you need to accept that fact and stop beating yourself up for it. There may be things that you deep down don’t want to do with your horse, and that’s absolutely fine; that is your choice. But if there are things that you dream of doing with your horse, for example hacking out, going to shows, qualifying for the championships, learning to jump, going to polework clinics, handling your horse confidently from the ground, stop worrying about what other people think, etc. (and I’m sure you already know your equestrian dreams!), then unless you make a decision to do something about it, and commit to taking action. Without these two things, nothing will change. You’ll stay feeling exactly as you do now.
Secondly, you will need to accept that there is no magic wand. You have to take 100% responsibility for not only making your mindset and confidence levels a priority. The only person who can control what you believe, think and feel is YOU. What I can do is show you how. Yes, there are absolutely things you can do at a superficial level to help you manage how you feel, such as breathing techniques, things such as Rescue Remedy, Calming Cookies or Kalms tablets, however none of these will resolve the underlying issues that are causing you to experience nerves, anxiety and fear around riding. For real, long-lasting confidence, where you trust yourself and your judgement, and you where you have that ‘knowing’ with absolute certainty that you can manage whatever happens, you will need to delve deeper and understand your mindset so that you can learn how to create the future you want for you and your horse.
Finally, you will need to keep an open mind. Not every technique will work for every rider, and you’ll need to experiment to see what works best for you in your specific situation. In addition, since building confidence is a skill, it takes time and deliberate practice to see changes. Like anything, when you first start learning a new skill, you start with the basics and get those right before you move onto the next steps; building confidence around riding is no different! You’ll have those amazing lightbulb moments, and you’ll have times when things don’t go to plan, and that’s OK, it’s all part of the process. Remember, some techniques, strategies and psychological tools might feel strange, or you might uncover things about yourself that don’t feel very comfortable. This whole process is about learning more about yourself, so that you can create the best possible relationship with your horse (and have the most fun together, obviously!).
Why following a step-by-step process is important
Imagine that you’re going on a day trip to the beach. What would you do? Use Google Maps, a SatNav or would you go old-school and use a map? Whatever you use, you need to know how to get there, otherwise you could end up anywhere! Becoming a confident rider, and learning to let go of all those mindset blocks and limiting beliefs that hold you back, means that you need a ‘map’ to follow, otherwise you won’t arrive at your desired destination.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s the end point, the outcome which is the most important thing; rather the biggest, most positive impact comes from the process itself. Focusing purely on an outcome, which you may or may not be able to control, can be a form of self-sabotage, of judging your value and achievements on external circumstances which you simply cannot influence. As any elite athlete will tell you, when you focus on the process, you focus on those things that you can control, which means that you are waay more likely to achieve your goals and dreams.
What the confidence-competence loop is and how it’s relevant for riders
When horse riders are struggling with a lack of confidence, they often experience strong, uncomfortable emotions, which means that they procrastinate, become full of self-doubt and stop taking positive, constructive action. But when they learn to manage their fear, riders are more able to take control of their actions and how they respond to the inevitable challenges of owning and riding horses.
The big question then, is how to do this?
Well, as we make a decision to take the teeniest, tiniest step forward at the edge of our comfort zone, we start to become ever so slightly more competent. With practice, we become more competent, and when we become more competent, we become more confident. This is called the confidence-competence loop. It’s a positive, constructive cycle of skill development (practical and psychological), increasing competency, and growing confidence and self-efficacy. The trouble is that most riders get stuck in and don’t know how to take action; their minds convincing them that the worst will happen, in an attempt to keep them safe from harm (perfectly logical really!).
It’s only when a rider gets to the point where they make a decision to do something about how they feel about riding, i.e. nervous, anxious and/or scared, that they kick start this confidence-competence loop. Taking the first step (and knowing what that first step should be for you, in your specific situation) is often the hardest.
So, if any of this has resonated with you, and you’re ready to take your first steps towards becoming a more calm, confident and resilient rider, so that you can finally make real progress towards your equestrian goals, I invite you to join my wonderful community of riders just like you, who are doing just that! Click here for details.