Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Respect Your Fears

Respect Your Fears

It seems many riders are experiencing fears concerning falling off their horses. In this post, I will attempt to allay some of those fears. I am not a sports psychologist nor do I have any credentials to suggest I have all the answers, but I can tell you what worked for me and hope it will do the same for you.

Primarily you must respect your fears, do not try to push them aside and ignore them, they are real. Panic, nervousness and fear are involuntary responses and need to be dealt with, not disregarded.

What We May Fear

Where should we start? Do you fear falling off and being injured? Most of us do have this particular fear and it is a reasonable one. Injuries can cause loss of income; loss of mobility; we may live alone and have no one to care for us or our animals, or the reverse; we have too many personal commitments to be sidelined by an injury. The basis for our fears is individual to each of us.

You may wonder if there is a way fears can be prevented and make our riding time more enjoyable and less tense. Fear can be debilitating, particularly if it is unfounded or based on experiences that are no longer relevant to our situation. However, it is also important to remember that fear is a natural instinct designed to protect us from harm, and a little fear can be a good thing if it prevents us from taking risks we are not prepared to handle.

And this is where it becomes more difficult: how do you know if your fear is justified or an overreaction? And if it is an overreaction, how can you manage your anxiety so that your riding becomes enjoyable again? Although there may not be a magic bullet, there are ways of assessing the validity of your fears and making them manageable instead of debilitating.

We all know the basic risks of riding and choose to do it anyway for the love of the sport and the love of our horses. So how can we be expected put aside the fear of falling and being injured? One way is to map out a plan for your personal safety before you ride. You can do this in a variety of ways:

Check out my post on the Art of Falling and do the Pre-Flight check, and the one on Rider Fitness, having some degree of fitness should make you feel better about yourself.

Have a reliable horse that matches your abilities as a rider. Some of us may want the big beautiful steed of our dreams when in reality a safer, older, saner horse may be what you need if not what you had in mind.

Never over-face yourself, and do not let someone else push you to do things you are uncomfortable doing; let your instincts work for you.

Make sure to use the best safety equipment available for you and your horse.

Remember what you did in the past with fond memories, but know that perhaps now is the time to set new goals for your current abilities and fitness level.

Take your riding seriously; do not take a lot of time off in between riding lessons. This will only make it that much harder to get your muscles back in shape.

Work with a trainer who knows both you and your horse, understands your goals, and has the capability to ensure you are not riding in an unsafe manner.

Establish a “home base.” This can be either an exercise, a particular gait or jump height, etc. where you feel the most confidence in your mastery of the necessary skills – and build gradually from there. Choose something you know you are good at; then, if you feel your confidence eroding or fear creeping back in, you have a place to go back to in order to regroup. Know your strong points and fall back on these when things go wrong.

Go back a few steps: whenever you feel a little uncertain, there is no shame in taking a step back, reviewing what you have already mastered and then proceeding. If jumping worries you, then lower the fences or decrease the pace – for example, trotting lower fences is a great way to build confidence before moving up to higher jumping. If your dressage test makes you anxious, practice and perfect the patterns and movements at the walk, then trot, etc., and build upon that.

If competition riding doesn’t float your boat anymore, let it go in favor of some other discipline. Consider spending more time trail riding or hacking out. The self-assurance of what is right for you now, not what was right for you in the past is all that matters. Don’t let others dictate what you should be doing – do what brings you enjoyment. No longer enjoying showing is not a sign of weakness or failure, just a sign that your priorities and tastes have changed. Remember, you’re riding for yourself, and no one else.

Focus on gradually improving your current riding abilities and you will accomplish your goals. Grant yourself the courage to say no to anyone pressing you to accomplish more, including yourself. This will not make you less of a rider. It makes you a smart rider who is not willing to take chances with your health and safety.

If what you are doing at present proves to be unsuitable for you, consider changing your discipline to something else that interests you and makes you feel more secure in your riding.

Fears and doubts should resolve themselves in the end if you manage them with patience, and by applying sensible goals to your riding program, you will build confidence piece by piece. In our society everything is rush, rush, get it done. But, the slower we take life in general the happier we will be. Take the time to achieve your goals. How long will all this take? The answer is: it will take as long as it takes. At this stage in our lives, we should have realized that it’s never about the destination, it’s about the journey – in fact, the journey is the destination – it’s the process and the experience of learning to be better riders and the privilege of working with our equine partners that ultimately makes riding enjoyable, not the arbitrary goals we set for ourselves.

In summary, to prevent yourself from being a fearful rider you must ride in your comfort zone, and not be pushed out of it by anyone – including yourself. If you recall the memories of your experiences when you were not afraid, you might consider why that was. Could it be that youth made you feel invincible? Is that really the reckless attitude you want to have now? Somewhere in the recesses of your brain, there are threads interwoven, that will come to the surface and help you to rely on yourself and your skills of the past. The good times you enjoyed then can be yours again, but perhaps in a different capacity.

Until next time

Quote for Today

Riding is a partnership. The horse lends you his strength, speed and grace, which are greater than yours. For your part you give him your guidance, intelligence and understanding, which are greater than his. Together you can achieve a richness that alone neither can.
- Lucy Rees

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