For many riders, a fear of falling is the biggest hurdle to overcome in order to feel confident. It can turn an otherwise pleasant ride into a negative experience and, in the worst cases, stop you from getting on your horse at all. But you don’t have to accept fear as a constant presence in your riding.
Spot the difference
There’s a big difference between irrational fear and genuine danger, but when you’ve suffered a confidence crisis your brain processes the former as the latter, increasing your fear response and causing an adrenalin spike. This can make even low-risk situations seem like disasters waiting to happen.
If you’re familiar with this sudden, unpleasant onset of nerves, create a routine in the saddle to help them dissipate. Remembering to breathe evenly and deeply is vital for decreasing adrenalin levels, and the easiest way to do this is to chat to a friend while you’re riding. If you ride alone, put the radio on and sing along. Try to stay in the moment – focus on the feeling of being aboard your horse and what he’s doing underneath you, rather than fixating on what could go wrong.
Prevent a fall
If you ride horses, it’s inevitable that you will, at some point, fall off. But you can minimise the risk by taking a measured and educated approach to your riding.
Learn the difference between a calculated risk and an unnecessary one. Jumping bigger fences is a risk, but if you and your horse are ready to move up a level and are comfortable with the lower height, it’s a calculated one and you mitigate it by being prepared. If, however, you decide to jump a much larger fence than you’re happy with because of pressure from others or you overface yourself on an unfamiliar horse, you’re taking an unnecessary risk.
Practice, preparation and sensible steps forward are key to successfully conquering more difficult tasks. Working with a trainer can help you gradually widen your comfort zone.
Back in the saddle
Getting back on after a fall – be it straight after or several months down the line – can sometimes be an overwhelming prospect. The key is to avoid overcomplicating the process and overfacing yourself. For example, if you have a fall while jumping, take everything back down to a level that’s easy for you. Popping over a cross-pole a few times and focusing on nailing the basics – a straight approach, a steady rhythm and a balanced position – will boost your confidence and allow you to build it back up again. Or, if you came off out hacking, ask a friend with a sensible horse to accompany you next time so you can build your horse’s confidence alongside your own. Doing something you find easy will allow you to enjoy it and you’ll soon want to seek out the next challenge.
The fear of failure
Sometimes, trepidation about falling off is less rooted in the fear of physical pain and more in the worry of what others may think, or that you’ve failed or are somehow inadequate. This isn’t the case. Rather, it’s a valuable opportunity to learn and grow.
If you’ve fallen off, try not to berate yourself for having made a mistake – it’s unproductive and will only make you feel worse. Instead, assess why you fell off and make a plan of action for how to avoid the problem in the future. In this way, you become a more experienced rider and allow yourself to improve and progress.
There’s lots of more advice about how to stay safe in the saddle in the November issue of Horse&Rider, on sale 21 September.