Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Confidence Issues

Confidence Issues

Confidence issues. Everyone has them. But how do we beat them back and stop them from destroying self-assurance in our horses and ourselves? This is a very complex problem and sometimes difficult to find solutions to cure. There are so many diverse fears we face as riders because each of us has a different reason for feeling inadequate at times. I am not a psychologist and don’t have all the answers. Nevertheless, I feel if you have a sense of humor about most things and a healthy dose of common sense most dilemmas fall by the wayside. However, if your fears are incapacitating you, I would suggest you seek out a sports psychologist to help. There are two informative books on the market that I have read and would recommend “Heads Up” and “The Riders Edge” by Dr. Janet Sasson Edgette, who is a noted sports psychologist and contributes to Practical Horseman magazine.

Fear of Falling

The number one fear that most of us face is the fear of falling off our horse and, in particular, being injured. As older adults, this is not something we want to consider as a possibility, and yet it may be inevitable. The anxiety about falling may not be as simple as fear of falling itself, but in the consequences of such a fall. Thoughts in your subconscious might be; if you fall and are injured, will you be financially able to afford the expenses or the time to heal or, because you are older and less fit, how much more serious might your injury be? We know we will not bounce back as quickly as we once did. On the other hand, if you are fearful and anxious when you ride, you will communicate to your horse that something is wrong and your fears may become an unfortunate reality. You cannot ride with emotional stiffness, your objective is to be as calm and relaxed as possible and enjoy your time riding. If you find yourself experiencing feelings of fear when you ride, it is well worth the time and effort to deal with this issue as you continue, and to make sure your trainer understands and is willing to help you overcome this issue.

Show Nerves

Each one of us gets nervous at shows, but if you actually sit back and look at the complete picture objectively, I am sure you will find reasons to be less uptight. Here you are, spending over a hundred dollars or more, to do what? Enter a ring and be judged by someone who may or may not be qualified to judge you. Not all judges are created equal; after many years at shows, I’m convinced the majority got their judging permits from a gumball machine. In addition, let’s not forget there are more than enough politics to go around. Are you fearful of going off course and looking foolish? Don’t be, you’re not the first to flub a round or be dubbed ‘the off course queen.’ Not everyone wins all the time. When it comes down to brass tacks, do you really need the 50-cent ribbon to prove you’re a good rider. All these things mean little at the end of the day. Showing should be used as a yardstick to see how far you have come in your training. As long as you and your horse do the best you can at this particular moment, and gain knowledge of what you need to work on at home, that should be rewarding enough.

It’s All In Your Head

I realize just because someone tells you not to be nervous, does not mean you will not be nervous. Nervousness is involuntary, and cannot be turned off with a switch. Fear is a reality and should not be pushed aside. It matters to you and should matter to your instructor. Discuss your fears or concerns with your instructor and set up a program of small steps to follow – for example, practice exercises first at a slower speed, gait or even rehearse them on the ground before mounting, etc... This may help alleviate some worries. Never let anyone put you in situations that make you feel uncomfortable or over-faced. If you‘re fearful of jumping higher fences, go back to a lower jump until your self-assurance returns. Doing one thing repeatedly until you feel comfortable ought to give you some amount of confidence in your capabilities. In addition, as you become fitter and more at ease on a horse you will gain self-confidence in your abilities to control different riding situations that may arise. Finding the confidence to believe in yourself may take some time but it is achievable with patience, practice and the right trainer.

Fear of the Unknown

As beginning adult riders, we fear the unknown; it is equivalent to being the new kid in school. Conducting ourselves safely around horses may be an issue that sets the alarms off. Since we do not know what to expect from the horses or what is expected of us, we are fearful of the situation. The only way to overcome this particular fear is by having a competent teacher give us instructions on how to behave in the presence of horses. Observe how people interact with their horses and you will get a sense of what is acceptable or not with horses. Once we know what to expect from the horse, mentally and physically we become more comfortable and competent around them. As with most things in life, experience teaches us, how illogical our fear usually was in the first place. However, there is always room for more wisdom and knowledge. Any additional time you can spend around horses and barns will be beneficial.

Not Good Enough

Another anxiety inducer may be the mental aspect of being the oldest kid on the block. Are we afraid others might make fun of us for not being… what? As good as them, as young, as fit, as confident, as beautiful, as knowledgeable…?
Should we be embarrassed because we are older and think we are not competitive anymore? Do we fear looking dim-witted for not getting it the first time? On the other hand, perhaps we will fall off and humiliate ourselves? Well my answer to all these fears is twofold; number one – who says the younger people are good riders, fit, beautiful, knowledgeable and have never fallen off, etc…? Number two – Who Cares? That’s right, who cares about any of this? We are now mature adults who have decided to ride; it is our time, and we are doing this for ourselves after spending years of doing for others. If anyone thinks you look foolish, that’s his or her problem, not yours. I was told once, “there’s no fool like an old fool”, I just smiled and walked away, knowing they will never understand how extraordinary it is to be loved by a horse. A personal favorite, from my previous trainer “you will never be as good a rider as so and so, because you are too old and started too late.” Ouch, that hurt! But I got over it. There is no end to the thoughtlessness or rudeness of some people, but that is not only in the equestrian community, it is universal. So, if this particular fear is holding you hostage, I say who cares to anyone who thinks they are better than you are. In the grand scheme of things, and at this stage of the game, is it really as important to you now as it might have been twenty or thirty years ago? It shouldn’t be. As long as we are reasonably safe, healthy, building confidence and our horses trust us, learning how to improve our riding skills and having fun is all that matters.

Until next time

Quotes for Today

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
- Confucius

When you're young and you fall off a horse, you may break something. When you're my age and you fall off, you splatter.
- Roy Rogers

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