If jumping is something you’d love to do, but plucking up the courage to get your horse over a fence feels impossible, you’re not alone. Whether it’s because your horse becomes excitable and difficult to handle or lacks confidence and is tricky to jump, or you’re simply uncomfortable with the idea of leaving the ground, there are many people out there in your shoes. But with a bit of help you’ll soon find your mojo again, which will open up lots of fun opportunities for you and your horse.
Back to basics
The feeling your horse gives you as he jumps can be unnerving if you haven’t done it for a while, as it can feel quite dramatic, especially if he has an exuberant jump. But put simply, a jump is just an exaggerated canter stride and nothing more scary, so keep that in mind.
When reintroducing yourself and your horse to jumping, go right back to basics. Canter around in your jumping position to refamiliarise yourself with it and start with just a few poles on the ground in random places – you can leave these in the arena to trot or canter over whenever you’re in the school. When you feel ready, stand one end of each pole up on a small block to make it more challenging. Then you can turn one of them into a very small cross-pole and maybe even a little upright.
Only move on to the next stage when you feel ready, as pushing yourself to do more too quickly could end up setting you back. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to progress to the next step or how big your jumps are – the size of the fences isn’t a measure of achievement. Even top showjumpers only jump small fences when they are schooling at home. If you can get over a small fence feeling safe, confident and in control, then that’s a huge achievement and a great foundation to build on.
A helping hand
It’s important to understand that there’s no shame in asking for help when you’re having a confidence crisis. Whether that be confiding in an experienced friend about the best way to deal with the situation or speaking to your instructor about how you feel, a problem shared is a problem halved. There’s lots of help out there, from tuition and horse retraining to sports psychology and even supportive friends and family, but no one can help you if you don’t let them know there’s a problem.
Top up your training
If you feel nervous about jumping, it seems crazy to book a jumping lesson, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be flying round a course like Ben Maher – you don’t even need to leave the ground to get a lot out of it.
Your instructor will be able to help you fine tune your position so you’re more secure in the saddle and refresh you on jumping technique, such as the best way to approach the fence, using poles on the ground. Plus, if you’re having problems with your horse, such as him rushing off or refusing, they may be able to spot the cause and help you solve it.
Book a private lesson so it runs entirely at a pace you’re comfortable with and you don’t have to worry about holding anyone back or feel the pressure of them watching you. When you book the lesson, have an honest conversation with your instructor about why you’re booking it, and let them know what is and isn’t within your comfort zone so you know they won’t ask too much of you. They will have had lots of experience helping people to rebuild their confidence, so make the most of their expertise.
Surround yourself with people who are understanding and supportive of your situation.
Help with your horse
Consider whether your horse’s behaviour or confidence is helping the situation. If he blasts off at the first sign of a jump or needs to be nursed over it, then he’s unlikely to be filling you with confidence. If this is the case, it might be a sensible idea to arrange for him to have some training with a professional to help straighten things out and, once the trainer has worked with him, they will also be able to help you with some tips and tricks to get the best from him.
While your horse is being retrained, why not book some lessons on a schoolmaster? This will help to boost your confidence so that when you get back on your new and improved horse, you’re both starting off in the best possible place to build your jumping confidence together.
If you’ve arranged for your horse to have some training, be there to watch when you can. You’ll learn a lot from watching how an expert rides him and seeing him jump well will help build your confidence, as you’ll know he can do it.
Mend your mind
Confidence is a state of mind and how you think can have a powerful effect on what you can achieve. Many people find the help of sports psychology, hypnotherapy, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and many other types of therapy invaluable for helping them to retune their minds into thinking in a more positive, confident way, and overcome the things that have been holding them back. Then they often go on to achieve things they never thought were possible. There are lots of different types of therapy available – a quick search online will tell you more about what’s involved and how they can help.
Only tackle jumping when you’re in the right frame of mind – there’s no point getting the poles out if you’re feeling tired, frustrated or stressed, because it’s unlikely to go well. Instead, work on it when you’re feeling relaxed and positive, and have plenty of time.
The big issue
Try not to make an issue of it – just thinking that you’re going to be having a jumping session at the weekend suddenly makes it into a big thing to feel stressed about. When you work on your jumping, try to avoid not jumping for a while, then arranging specific sessions for it. Instead, just leave the poles out and pop over them most days as part of your normal riding routine. This way, you avoid making too much of an issue of it, plus doing a little bit every day will help to build your confidence slowly and steadily. And don’t just stick to jumping in the school – if you see a small branch across the path when you’re out hacking, there’s no reason why you can’t pop over it and get a bit more practice in!
When you’re in the saddle, exude a confident persona, even if you have to fake it, and remember to breathe – talk or sing to your horse because it will help to keep you breathing.
Be kind to yourself
Remember, it’s okay to not feel confident. Beating yourself up over what you can’t do or haven’t achieved won’t help you in any way. Learn to recognise when you’ve achieved something, no matter how big or small – there will always be something positive to celebrate. And if things don’t go quite as planned or you didn’t achieve what you’d hoped, that’s okay, there’s always another day. At the end of the day, you’re already taking the first steps towards conquering your fear of jumping and that’s a huge achievement in itself.