How to overcome fear...if it's a habit
Well, it's late, so I'll try to make this legible and quick, but forgive any errors or inconsistencies.
I got my horse two years ago, and since then, I've pretty much lived in a constant state of fear and anxiety with her. Sometimes the fear backed off and I had periods of happiness and confidence, but for the most part, it's been an ever-present part of my life when riding this horse.
Finally, at long last, I've begun taking lessons with the really really great trainer who sold us the horse. Better late than never, I guess. I love this trainer, she's everything I respect, admire and trust, and after just one lesson, she's already helped me so so much.
The biggest thing she worked on me with was my position. Two years of defensive riding have led me to develop a very hunched-over, almost fetal position-like form. She had me sit back so that my butt was actually touching the saddle (now that was a really weird feeling), roll my shoulders way back and keep my eyes and chin up, because I have an ingrained tendency to just ride along watching the horse's ears and watching what the horse is looking at-->part of my problem. And I have to say, I was really, honestly surprised how much of a difference it made. All this time, I've been thinking that I need to make sure I'm confident and happy and relaxed and focused before going out to ride, and all I really needed was a good seat. With a good, solid, strong seat, the rest just sort of falls into place.
Anyways, I'm working really hard on correcting my posture. I want to do well and learn and impress this trainer, so I'm working on it every chance I get. But, as she said, I'm not going to fix it overnight, and it may take weeks or even months for me to learn how to ride properly automatically, without thinking about it. It's two years of fixed and uncorrected habit I'm having to break.
On that same note, I feel like my confidence is that way as well. I've been riding timidly and fearfully for two years, and I can't break myself out of that mindset. My horse has become really good since the lesson started to change me, but I STILL am feeling nerves before I think about riding. And it's really frustrating.
She is not a bad horse at all. I've really only ever rode her inconsistently, besides a week last summer; I have never rode her every day for any extended period of time. Despite that, every time I get her out, the worst she ever does is get tense, anxious, walk fast and maybe shake her head, and that's usually only when I'm feeling scared and nervous. She'll be fresh, sure, but she's got no buck, no rear, no bolt (not for the last year or so anyways). And I'm FEARFUL because of the reasons mentioned. Is that not ridiculous? So WHY am I still scared? I don't even know what I have to be scared of anymore.
I rode our older pony every day this summer (obviously with some exceptions), and though she was a bit hot and go-ey this spring, by the end of the summer, she was the sweetest, quietest most bombproof animal you could ever want. She just recently had a couple weeks off (I'm back at school now and don't have as much time for riding), and honestly, she's even worse than my other mare is after the same amount of layoff. The pony becomes faster, more stubborn and more resistant than the horse ever would be. Yet, it's not the pony I'm ever nervous about riding. I know that if I spent maybe a month riding the horse every day, she would astound me with how good she can be, but I'm just so intimidated by the prospect.
How do I break this frustrating and crippling habitual mindset? I'm convinced that all it is now is habit. With the trainer's help, I really don't have much left to be scared of; I'm just used to being fearful. If anyone has any tips, advice, or encouraging words, I would greatly appreciate them.
First, congrats on all the progress you are making on your seat! That is totally fantastic. just like you said, it makes a world of difference in what you can deal with if you feel secure in your seat. As you know, it's all a spectrum. I mean for every person out there, there is someone who is further or less far along the spectrum of riding skill than yourself. I ride better than a couple of my friends, and I went out today with another friend, trailriding, and while I worried at a couple of points, she was without a care. Her seat is more secure than mine. That's just a fact. But I'm better than I was last year. That 's a fact , too. And so are you. That is what you need to think of. Just keep moving, one step along after the other, along the spectrum of horsemanship growth.
Don't allow yourself to spend much time at all thinking about that you are afraid. Just repeating the though in your head keeps it alive and feeds it. I am not saying that you deny it. Just say it once, and then get on with whatever you are doing.
When the horse spooks a bit and you get that surge of adreniline and you grip with your feet for a sec, you brush it off faster if you laugh about it.
If you can ride from time to time with someone who rides less confidently than you, you will be strong for them because they will need you. It feels great!
sounds like you have a great instructor... easiest way to get through it is do it - keep riding - it will get easier
talk to your trainer - get regular lessons with them if you can - and you will improved... I use positive visualization to help with my nerves before a comp (Imagine myself doing a clear jumping round before I go in) maybe this will help with your fears... often its more the thought of what could happen but when you are actually do it - its all fine
Oh and if something does go wrong - dont worry it happens - do not allow yourself to over analyse it (Easier said than done i know)
Congratulations on trying to get control of your fear, I've been there before and it's not easy. The best advice I can give you is to keep riding, often. Continue your lessons to help fix your position and rebuild your confidence, and then practice what you've learned over and over again.
Try to make sure each ride is as positive as possible. If you're feeling extra nervous one day, ride at a walk only. Count to 10, sing songs to your horse, do whatever it takes to keep your cool. It helps :)
Keep us updated!
I am good about laughing about spooks when I'm with a friend. When I'm on my own, spooks and anxiety generally get me nervous, and then as a result I get frustrated and angry. I will have to remind myself to smile and laugh, just keep smiling and laughing.
And you are right about the riding with someone less confident than you thing. It does help.
I think I'm going to mention it to my trainer this weekend at lessons. She suggested that I come trail riding with them one day, and/or ride one of her greener horses to get the experience and confidence which will accompany it. I don't want to force myself upon her and pester her and make her take me, but if I don't ride lots of different horses through different obstacles, I'm going to have a hard time overcoming my fear on my relatively quiet mare.
If she suggested it, you are not forcing yourself!
I guess what I am saying is because I rode with a couple of older ladies that basically just wanted to walk on the trails, my riding stagnated and I never learned anything new. But by riding with a newer friend who is bolder (but still sensitive to my needs) my riding skills have at least tripled! I am a much better, bolder, more skilled rider than before I met this one particular lady.
So a bolder friend (who still is sensitive to my insecurities) has been the BEST improvement to my riding skills personally. :D
Someone like that can gradually build your confidence and broaden your horizons. Like a mentor.
A) I'm riding with someone much more timid or less experienced than me, because then I need to help them and provide a solid "rock" for them
B) Someone like the trainer, who is way more confident and experienced than I will ever be--when I'm with someone like that, it feels like nothing can hurt me and I always have help
If I'm with someone of much the same experience and confidence, I don't really learn or improve. Same goes when I just ride by myself all the time.
However, being that I am often underconfident and doubting of myself, when I am with her I tend to compare myself to her and my brain will sometimes get to saying that message, "I can't ride as well as she can" . . .like Debby Downer. And she will sometimes say things like "cowgirl up", which only serves to remind me of my NEED to cowgirl up. So, I don't always end up feeling more confident. IN actuality, she has helped me hugely to push my fear boundaries. And, then I can put that into place when I go out with my less brave friends and it's me saying, "come on, let's go!". So, I would say both types of riding buddies help.
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