What is NLP and how does it help horse riders?

by | Apr 23, 2022 | Equestrian Coach, Rider Confidence, Rider Mindset, Uncategorized | 0 comments

You might have heard of NLP, you might even have tried it, and it’s such a powerful tool for horse riders. It has been around since the early 1970s, and is used by therapists and psychologists from across the world.  In this article, we’ll be exploring:

What is NLP?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) began as a model of how we communicate to ourselves and others. It was originally developed by Richard Bandler, John Grinder and others. The NLP model explains how we process internal and external information in our conscious and unconscious minds. The belief is that ‘the map is not the territory’, and so the internal representations or interpretations we make about an event, scenario, situation are not necessarily what actually happened. 

NLP techniques work with the mind through which our experience is processed via the five senses (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory). It also involves the use of language and other non-verbal communication systems through which our neural representations are coded, ordered and given meaning. This includes pictures, sounds, feelings, tastes, smells and words (self-talk). Finally, NLP allows us to discover and use the programmes that we run in our mind (our communication to ourselves and others) to achieve our specific and desired outcomes. 

Ultimately, riding depends on communication; our horse and our body both have to understand what we want to happen. As we all know however, wanting is not always the same as achieving!

How does NLP work?

NLP is like a manual for our mind; it helps us to understand how we are thinking and feeling, the impact our beliefs and decisions have on our experience, and to make effective, long-lasting behaviour changes so that we can achieve our goals.

NLP allows riders to:

Explore our experiences by asking better questions, which provide us with the exact information we need to make the changes we desire. We can apply this to practical aspects of our riding experience, for example, around our riding position and use, and in designing and implementing strategies for training and influencing the horse. However we can also apply NLP techniques to explore how to use the process of modelling to gather information about how the best riders really do what they do, both in a practice sense and also in terms of what’s actually going on in their mind as they do it. 

NLP helps us to understand how our own individual ways of thinking and feeling actually work, and how this can help and hinder use in our riding (and the rest of our lives too!). Those repetitive, established patterns of nerves, anxiety, fear and stress can all at last be understood and changed. NLP helps us to explore how these patterns get constructed, used and repeated. Once we understand the structure, we know what needs to be done or changed. 

Once we know the changes we want to make, NLP provides us with effective tools with which to make them. Being a confident, resilient and positive rider, who has a fantastic relationship with our horses and the people in our world is no longer a mystery. In learning and using NLP techniques, we can better understand our individual patterns so that we can shift our mindset to wherever we ‘d love it to be. 

NLP provides us with extensive information about how people make sense of their experience. Things don’t just ‘happen’ to us; events do, but what counts is how we interpret or perceive them. How we ‘make sense of our world and our experiences’ underpins the meaning we give to them. We tell ourselves stories, relive vivid experiences over and over in our minds, talk to ourselves about our experiences, experience all the emotions and get ‘weighed down’ with the enormity of it all. NLP helps us understand how we actually do this, and gives us techniques and strategies to reprogramme unhelpful patterns.

NLP also helps us understand what our own behaviour may look like from another point of view, teaching us to imagine ourselves into someone else’s shoes. This can help us understand how our horses may be experiencing us and our training, and how we can make our relationships with them more harmonious, effective and enjoyable. 

Ultimately, NLP is not a set of theories, it’s a set of descriptions, so it works, and it tells us what works and what doesn’t. It can help us understand how we can bring about our successes and failures, how we can move on (or make sure that we stay stuck!), it does not make judgements. It tells us about actions and consequences, but it doesn’t praise or blame. NLP also tells us that perceived ‘failure’ is actually information and gives us valuable feedback on the effects of what we just did or thought, so that we can do something different next time if we choose to.

How can NLP help horse riders?

As horse riders and owners, we’re all fully aware of the inevitable ups and downs of our equestrian world. We’re passionate about our horses, and will do everything we can to provide the very best management, care and training for them. However, it’s so easy to get stuck in a pattern of thinking negatively, of experiencing unhelpful emotions, and of unconsciously accepting limiting decisions and beliefs. The symptoms of these challenges appear as a lack of confidence, nerves and anxiety around riding (or even the thought of it), self-doubt, self-sabotage and even fear. It has become the norm to compare ourselves and our horses to others, to be pulled from pillar to post with conflicting advice, and to feel like we’re being held hostage by our own mind. If you’ve ever thought, “I know it’s me, not my horse, but I don’t know what to do!”, then you’re certainly not alone!

The fantastic news is that you can choose to learn how to change your experience of your world, whether equestrian or otherwise. So if you’re struggling, then it is entirely possible to make the changes you want so that you can reach your desired outcome.

What do horse riders need to know before they learn NLP?

The thing with NLP is that it is a process of working with you, rather than doing it to you. NLP is all about having an open mind, and finding ways to take 100% responsibility for yourself and for how you respond to the world, since the only thing you can truly control is yourself. There are a wide variety of NLP techniques that can and do help horse riders, and when you make the internal shifts that you want and need to make, you’ll find benefits across the rest of your life too. Remember, whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right!

How I can help you…

As a certified and experienced NLP Practitioner and Coach (as well as being a BHS Senior Coach), I work with riders to help them overcome their confidence challenges, whether they’re happy hackers or established, professional riders. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re a novice rider or someone who has been around horses for years; it is entirely possible for you to overcome your personal challenges so that you can do more of what you love with your horse. If you’d like to find out more about how I can help you, click HERE. 

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