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I am delighted to be able to share with you a small collaboration with Katie Foulser of Yellow Cob Dressage .Katie and I looked at how we could collaborate and decided to do a Q&A for each other and also invite a few questions from the public via social media pages which we could both answer.
So this is what we came up with……
My questions for Katie and Katie’s replies were:
1. I’d love to hear about your riding experience. Can you tell me a bit about what you enjoy doing?
I started riding when I was 5 years old and rode till I was about 17. I did pony club and unaffiliated local shows.
I got back into horses when I was about 29 and now I don’t know what I did with my time during that break !
I have owned Tess since 2016, my friend saw her at Goresbridge sales in Ireland – I fell in love and a few days later I tracked Tess down at a dealer in derby and bought her. Tess was green in her schooling and we have been focusing on dressage.
For the first time in my life at 35 – I have started affiliated dressage with Tess. This is something I thought I would never do and has been such a massive achievement for me.
2. You say that you’ve had some confidence issues. Can you tell me a bit about that and how it came about?
I had a bit of a run of bad luck with horses and after a few accidents on my previous horse I had just lost all my nerve.
Outside of horses, I am quite an introvert and don’t have the best self esteem so as soon as my horse confidence began to take knocks, I just found it really hard to get it all back in balance.
When I got Tess I was terrified to canter in the arena, it took me months to hack her in company only and I would cry before and during the hack and didn’t want to go faster than trot. I would get scared as soon as Tess got worried about anything and would freeze and become a passenger.
It was only in the last year I started hacking her alone.
3. I’d love to hear about what you have done to help yourself with your confidence. How do you deal with this?
I have had supportive friends which has helped. I also had the biggest determination to want to overcome it.
Apart from work – riding is the only thing I do so I wanted so badly to be able to move past the fear and into a positive place.
I broke down everything into small steps, worked hard to not give myself a hard time if I had a bad day & to celebrate achievements however small.
I also found planning my riding each day or week helped. I would visualise positive rides and worked on a positive mindset. I read a lot about this and found Olivia Towers social media really helpful.
Last year my friends clubbed together and got me a rider confidence course voucher and this was the catalyst that pushed me strides forward.
I have worked for a mental health charity for 14 years and I took some of the tools and techniques from this to apply to my lack of confidence in riding.
4. I Know that you’re a blogger, can you tell me how you got into blogging?
I found I was posting lots of daily updates on my personal page and then when I got my first sponsored rider opportunity with Equimind online shows – I decided to create a Facebook page to blog our journey on.
I was determined that this would be completely honest, open account of our riding journey and although that can be hard to do, I’ve kept to that ever since.
I think people are very quick to always post social media content that portrays themselves / their lives as being perfect all the time and that isn’t reality so I wanted to avoid this and in turn help others who may have some of the same struggles.
We now have Instagram and Twitter as well and I try to do vlogs as well especially when we go to competitions.
5. What are your riding and blogging goals for 2019? I’d love to hear about them.
Unfortunately Tess went lame before Christmas so I’m not entirely sure what this year will bring. However our goals were:
1. Qualify for our first ever Pet Plan area festivals and attend with my best friend and her horse – this will be a first for us all.
2. Qualify for the TGCA cob championships and attend this.
3. Get into the top 15 leaderboard for MyQuest and go to the Myquest regionals.
4. Progress to novice level.
5. Enjoy Tess, learn new things and have fun
Katie’s questions for me and my replies:
1. Tell me more about what you offer at Riding Confidence Scotland
Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland started in 2004 in response to an awareness that many riders had confidence issues which were spoiling their enjoyment of this wonderful sport.
I had been studying hypnotherapy and psychotherapy and realised that what I was learning could be applied to these riders.
The core of my business is 1:1 sessions with clients where we can work together to find out what is going on and how best to help the rider sort it out by using her mind in a helpful rather than an unhelpful way.
Hypnosis is often used to back up the things we talk about and help the rider make the changes needed at an unconscious level.
I help the rider to develop a “tool box” of ideas to use in different situations which will help them to achieve their goals and overcome anxiety. These riders may be novices or very experienced competitors. Anxiety can arise at any stage of life and experience.
I also do talks to all sorts of different groups: Pony Clubs, Riding Clubs, Yards and at camps etc. Working with riding coaches or trainers I run workshops and clinics where we can combine my psychological approach with ridden work and this is a growing area of my business.
Also on offer are phone or Skype/faceTime sessions for people who live too far away to travel and these are becoming increasingly popular.
2.What is your own riding experience ?
I first learned to ride when I lived in Germany as a child. Riding, what I now realise, were dressage school masters though I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing at the time!! I gave up after too many experiences on “Rex the Rearer!”
Then I just rode occasionally for years until starting again as an adult.
I bought my first horse with some money I got unexpectedly, a Highland Pony mare and fell in love with this versatile breed, going on to breed a foal from her and buy another youngster. So I have owned and ridden Highlands now for over 20 years. The two I have now are both retired unsound and will spend the rest of their lives with me here at home.
After thinking I had given up riding I started to get the itch again and now ride regularly at an equestrian centre which offers great teaching on lovely well schooled horses. To be honest I feel like I am finally learning to ride properly and I am loving it.
3. What things / themes do you find at the most common fears in riders ?
All riders are different and come with their own experiences and challenges. However, the vast majority of them come with anxiety in one form or another.
Perhaps the most common fears are being affected by a previous negative experience and/or imagining that “something” bad will happen that they won’t be able to deal with. Both of these result in the rider often becoming stuck their comfort zone, perhaps even avoiding riding at all and definitely not enjoying themselves as much as they could.
I like nothing better than a rider telling me, with a huge smile on their face, that thy have done something on horseback that they thought they would never do again such as jumping over a certain height or going for a hack on their own.
4.If you could offer just 1 tip to riders to improve their confidence and mindset what would this be ?
I think my top tip is to learn to ride “in the moment”.
If you remember that if your horse is going in the direction of your choice at the pace of your choice at any moment in time then everything is OK then you have a great skill to help you in any situation.
This means that you aren’t focused on the past or on an imagined future but on what is happening right now.
5. How can riders manage competition fear ?
Competition fear can come from many directions such as the fear of being out of your comfort zone, the fear of being judged, the fear of not being perfect or the fear of getting hurt.
If a rider makes sure they are well prepared for what thy are asking themselves to do they will be more comfortable getting out and about.
Though perhaps the most important thing is to accept that being anxious sometimes is perfectly normal in a competitive situation. When a rider puts a lot of pressure on herself that she mustn’t be anxious then it can make the anxiety much worse. If she accepts it, learns to re-frame it as excitement and use it to prepare her to get out there and have some fun then things can seem much better pretty quickly.
After asking each other questions we both then gave separate replies to those we had received via social media. So here are the questions followed by each of our answers.
1 – Ellie from Facebook “Heart going like the absolute clappers when getting on after my bad accident, improving but still get the shakes if I don’t do it regularly.”
thanks for your question.
You tell us that you’ve had a bad accident and I’m glad that you have recovered and are riding again though you are continuing to struggle with some ongoing anxiety.
This isn’t surprising at all after an accident but there are definitely lots of ways to help you.
There is an excellent technique called a re-wind which I use frequently following trauma and it can be extremely useful. It is a way of separating emotion from memory and allowing you to learn what you need to from what happened but it no longer having a negative effect on you in the here and now. This is best done 1:1 so you would need to find someone who is qualified in this technique and close enough for you to see.
In the meantime accepting that it’s OK to feel some nervousness can lessen the power of the anxiety and help you begin to have some control over it. Remember that the symptoms of anxiety aren’t a predictor of anything bad happening they are simply sensations brought on by the normal reaction to perceived threat. So when you experience them try reminding yourself that it is only a feeling and perfectly understandable.
If you can learn to ride “in the moment” then this will help you to avoid thinking about the past and trying to predict the future and combine this with some breathing exercises and physical relaxation.
The most simple breathing technique is to make your out breath twice as long as your in breath – this is extremely easy to do and very calming. I like to breath in to the count of 3 and out to the count of 6 but it’s best to find your own rhythm.
Give it a try and see how you get on. Best wishes Jane.
Katie says – It can be extremely difficult to overcome confidence when it stems from a bad accident. This is because the part of our brain called the “amygdala” senses perceived or actual danger, it makes a split second decision and begins flight response. This amygdala or primitive brain be triggered when you are about to do the same activity e.g riding that happened when you had an accident. When this primitive brain kicks in another part of you brain the cortex is shut down therefore making it hard for you to think clearly problem solve and concentrate.
Some tools that can help overcome this can be undertaking a thinking / speaking activity when your start to do something that may make you anxious e.g when getting on. The type of activity could be counting out-loud, reciting song lyrics. This will help prevent your primitive brain from taking over because your intellectual thinking brain is in control.
Other techniques that may help could be lessons, mindfulness, focussing on the fact that you rode many other times this week or month with no issue and celebrating your successes.
I also found it’s important to not focus on or give yourself a hard time about rides where it hasn’t gone so well and just move onto the next time without dwelling.
2 – Clare from Facebook “I still have confidence issues with Crown and avoid riding him as always picture him bolting off with me which stems from an accident I had riding him. I’m like a nervous wreck and would love to know if there is any way to over come this ?
Thanks for your question. From what you tell us it sounds as though your imagination is definitely not helping you and there are some great ways that you can turn this around so that you can begin to think in a more helpful way.
Learning some visualisation techniques will help you to mentally rehearse riding in a more positive way. If you begin by using a word like “STOP” when you get these negative images and then imagining a bright white light then that will break the imagined scene of bolting. Then replace with images of riding as you would wish to ride. If you use all of your senses then this can be so real that you genuinely feel you are on horseback and is very powerful.
Combine this with calming breathing techniques as described to Ellie so that when you’re ready to ride you have a much more helpful mindset.
I would suggest it might be good to have someone with you to help and to just stretch out of your comfort zone in small steps as you regain comfort and confidence with your riding.
Let us know how you get on.
Katie says – it can be really difficult to get over fears when they come from a bad experience.
I would suggest getting some lessons with a really confidence giving instructor who is sympathetic who can boost you up.
It may also help to watch someone else ride Crown so you can see how he is being and made a plan about how to go from there.
Goal setting and breaking things down into steps can be extremely useful – set really small goals that are realistic and so that each time you feel you are achieving something. For example your first ride could involve simply getting on and riding a circle in walk only. The next ride could be two laps in walk etc.
Visualisation may also help you prepare for a ride thinking of positive thoughts and focussing on how you will feel during the ride and afterwards.
3. Dan from Twitter “Hey, confidence questions… I have a relatively green horse, and in the past we have had a couple of big moments and a very painful (but innocuous looking) fall. I want to progress but am crippled with self doubt. Any tips?
Thanks for your question.
Your doubts are understandable following your falls and now that you’re riding an inexperienced horse.
One difficult question I always ask people is whether they have the skills and experience to ride the horse they have at the moment.
Presuming that is the case then there are ways to help you to move forward.
Remember that you believe what you tell yourself and therefore you might begin by identifying what you are saying to yourself about your riding and start to look at how you can change that. So, perhaps you are telling yourself that you aren’t good enough and could change that to something like “I have the experience to ride this horse and am prepared to seek the help I need to regain my confidence and gradually regain comfort on horseback so that i can enjoy riding.”
Learning to ride “in the moment” is extremely useful so that you aren’t recalling the past or predicting the future but simple focussing on what your horse is doing at any moment in time. Just gradually stretch out of your comfort zone and avoid putting yourself in situations which you aren’t ready for yet.
An empathetic coach will be able to help you with this.
Let us know how things progress for you.
Katie says – Self doubt can be extremely difficult to deal with.
It may be useful to write down your doubts and then write a positive response to these to show yourself that these doubts are not founded in reality.
Are you having lessons with a sympathetic instructor you can relate to ? This can really help remove self doubt by having positive reinforcement about what you think you are not doing well. If this isn’t possible or as well as – could a friend watch you ride and help you counteract these thoughts as they pop up?
Reading about positive mindset may also be of use to you to help you train yourself to approach things with a positive viewpoint.
In addition goal setting to help you move towards constructive incremental small achievements – by accomplishing these each time this will counteract doubts you have about yourself.
4 – Rebecca from Facebook “ I always picture terrible things happening and it stops me from riding. I do have a horse that bucks but apart from that she has given me no reason for nerves. Very frustrating.”
Thanks for your question.
You might be able to see from Clare’s question that you aren’t alone in having an imagination which isn’t helpful. We call this “awfulising” or “catastrophising” where your imagination is thinking of a negative outcome where things go badly wrong. No wonder you are worried about riding.
If you check back to my answer to Clare then the visualisation exercise I described to her can apply to you.
I wonder if there is a reason why your horse is bucking? It’s always important to rule out any physical causes for unwanted behaviour and please do get this checked out if you haven’t already done that.
On a positive note it sounds as though you are coping with the bucking so I guess you have a strong seat and core which is helping you to do that?
A useful confidence building exercise is to do a short analysis at the end of a ride. Look at what went well and be pleased about that. Look at what challenged you and why so that you can learn from mistakes and finish on a reminder of what went well. I hazard a guess that in the majority of rides there is more good than bad?
In the meantime do think about some lessons or coaching from a suitably qualified person who will help you identify what’s going on and why.
Let us know how things progress.
Katie says – Having pictures in your mind of terrible things can be really debilitating.
You say that your horse has not given you any reason for this but she does buck. Is this a worry for you on some level ? Assuming you have ruled out all physical / tack issues for the bucking – do you know when she is likely to do this? Can you push her through this ?
I found that instead of allowing myself to picture bad things that could happen I thought about all the rides I’ve done where nothing bad happened, in fact good things happened. I then would visualise what the ride I was going to do that day would look like to help me turn my thoughts prior to riding into positive ones.
It may be useful to start with small steps / ride for a short period of time or do the thing you enjoy best when riding in order to help push those negative pictures out of the way.
5 – Paula from Facebook “I absolutely love XC but totally poo myself and feel sick because I don’t feel very good at jumping. My horse can jump but I don’t think I help him because I’m nervous. When I do actually do it I’m buzzing.”
Thanks for your question.
The symptoms you describe are very common and a result of the hormone cocktail surging around your body as it perceives a potentially challenging situation. Recognising and understanding what’s going on can often help relieve the symptoms.
Make sure you give you self plenty of time to warm up so that you aren’t rushing at the last minute and adding to the stress. having someone with you to help can be useful too as long as they are a calming influence and aren’t winding you up!
You say that you get a huge buzz from eventing so when you are warming up do remind yourself of how amazing you’re going to feel afterwards and focus on that rather than convincing yourself that you’re terrified and something bad is going to happen.
I wonder why you feel that you aren’t good at jumping? What’s the evidence for that? Is it due to lack of experience or lack of technique or is it just something that you are telling yourself? Whatever the reason you can change this by practising until your technique improves or having some coaching. We all have to learn and progress at different rates and it’s important to make sure we aren’t comparing ourselves constantly to others who we perceive as being “better” than us.
So have a think about what’s actually going on with your jumping and find where the areas for improvement are, set some goals and work towards the coming season and look forward to experiencing that buzz again before too long.
Do let us know how you get on.
Katie says – Although you say you feel conflicting feelings about XC it sounds like overall the feelings are really positive.
It is normal to have some fear and anxiety when competing as this helps us have a competitive edge and its human nature to want to do well.
You say you feel you don’t help him – are you having lessons to help you with this ? Does your instructor agree with you ? It may be that you are being too hard on yourself ? Could you have some XC lessons to help build up your confidence and reiterate to yourself what you are doing well.
That feeling you get of buzzing at the end sounds amazing – can you focus on that feeling before you go round and this will help you change your mindset before hand into a positive one.
6 – Louise from Facebook “I feel sick every time I ride my big lad following a fall. I talk myself out of riding him x”
Thanks for your question.
It’s perfectly understandable that you have concerns riding after having had an accident and as you will see from the answers to some of the other questions you definitely aren’t alone in this feeling.
If you look at my answer to Ellie’s question you will see that I talk about a technique which I frequently use called a re-wind. This might be something that you would also benefit from and you might like to investigate if there is anyone in your area who can help you with this.
Also the sickness you’re feeling is another common symptom and is simply a result of all those hormones in your body working on overdrive! If you’re interested to find out more about the Neuro-psychology of anxiety then I have a blog planned on the subject for later in the year.
If your anxiety is causing you to avoid riding your horse but you really want to ride then I suggest that you plan some easily achievable goals, recruit help from a coach or a trusted friend and work on a gradual desensitisation from where you are now to being able to enjoy riding once more.
Taking things at your own pace and starting with less challenging goals. Your comfort zone will expand and things you are worried about doing now will once again become enjoyable.
Let us know how you get on.
Katie says – It can be difficult when anxiety makes you feel sick but it is understandable that this can happen after a bad fall.
It may be helpful to plan your riding and set goals for yourself for a ride and keep the first few rides short and positive so you can replace the negative thoughts. This could involve literally getting on riding a lap and getting off again so it’s building positive reinforcement of good riding experiences and increase this a little every time.
Visualising a positive ride and how it will feel can help develop a more positive mindset.
When you get on your horse it may help to focus on the here and now and immediately give yourself a distraction from the fears.
Perhaps go for a hack with a friend and talk about a tv series or how your week has been to take your focus away from negative feelings.
When you have had a good ride no matter how small this may seem celebrate this achievement, think about how it made you feel during and afterwards and aim to create this same feeling and mindset each time you ride.
Katie and I hope you’ve enjoyed this Q&A post and would love to receive any feedback you may have. Thanks for taking the time to read this.