Have you ever experienced that dreadful sinking feeling when you know it’s time to ride? Your head is telling you that you love riding and you can’t be scared because it’s your hobby; it defines you. But your gut is telling you not to get on and that something dreadful will happen if you do.
We’ve probably all experienced riding nerves, perhaps before a competition or when pushing yourself to jump that extra bit higher, or to hack alone, but sometimes nerves can get the better of us and turn in to outright fear.
Sometimes it’s caused by a fall or an incident and happens suddenly, other times it is a gradual build up from riding horses that are too much for our ability, or taking a long break from riding that make us lose our nerve and not want to get back on.
I’ve experienced it myself; when I was a teenager, I rode my friend’s horse, who bolted down a main road with me. I had a really nasty fall and it took me months and months to regain my confidence and in fact years until I felt safe hacking again. It’s probably only in reflection that I can see how scared I was and how close I was to giving up riding altogether.
However, I did not. And thank goodness for that because now I love nothing more than long hacks with Cee. I have also fallen off him a couple of times since I’ve had him (both when jumping) and it didn’t make me the slightest bit nervous to get back on. I’m not sure whether it’s because I trust him and I know that the fall was my fault and not him acting in malice, or that I now think more logically and practically about nerves and being nervous.
Anyway, here are some ideas for beating riding nerves:
- Think about the odds
So you may have had a really bad experience, but think about the odds of it happening again. Your horse might have spooked at something totally unexpected. Consider how likely the same scenario is to happen again. If it’s really likely – for example your horse bolted when a pheasant flew out of the bush, then there’s potential for this situation to arise again, so probably best to avoid it until it clears itself up (such as the shoot season finishing and there being less pheasants about). However, if the situation was a complete fluke, then try to keep this in your mind to reassure yourself that it will not happen again, so there is less need to worry.
- Minimise the risks
You get nervous that you’ll fall off hacking and nobody will find you? It sounds obvious, but you can get so much reassurance from telling somebody exactly where you are and to call you or even look for you if you are not back by an expected time. Take your phone, wear hi-vis! If you set out with as many risks minimised as possible, then you will feel naturally more confident.
- Have somebody on the ground
Having somebody you trust on the ground can massively ease nerves. They don’t necessarily even have to be horsey. Even having your partner who can’t contribute any equine knowledge, but will happily sit and watch your flat work can be hugely reassuring. I did this a lot when I got back in to hacking – I roped anyone and everyone I could in to walking alongside me. Physically they would be useless in a situation where my horse bolted (that’s what I was most scared of) but psychologically the reassurance was huge.
Breathing regularly and evenly calms nerves; it’s a fact. But as riders, a lot of us tend to hold our breaths when we are nervous or are concentrating. This makes us tense up, which our horse senses and the problem gets aggrevated. If you are singing, or even talking to your horse then you force yourself to breathe regularly. If you are lucky enough to have an arena with a music system, then crank up the radio and sing along. Or sing to your horse when you are out hacking.
Note – don’t ever use headphones when you are hacking as it can stop you from hearing traffic or other vital clues to what is happening around you.
- Take the pressure off
I experienced this with my sister, who became an extremely nervous rider last year. She got to the point where she’d get tearful before riding, so I asked her why she did it if it upset her so much. I told her that nobody is forcing her to do it and that she didn’t have to ride if she didn’t want to.
Ultimately it’s your choice and your choice alone as to whether you ride or not. If you really don’t want to, then there is absolutely no point in forcing yourself to do so. Take a break for a few days, a week or even a month. Once you realise that you don’t have to ride, but you do it because you want to and it’s your choice, then you may find that you start wanting to and that you miss it. After all, nobody likes to feel forced in to doing something scary!
These tips have helped me at various times and I hope that somebody also reads this and feels a little better. Does anybody have any other tips to beat nerves? If so, please comment them!