Month: November 2019

Month: November 2019

Category : Uncategorized

When I first started doing my job, in my naivety, I felt that it was my role to help clients to never be anxious and I certainly had a few clients who asked me to help them to achieve that aim. However, I very quickly learned that this simply isn’t possible, or even desirable for a human being, and developed my role by helping clients to tolerate all of their emotions. I believe that part of a healthy mindset is being able to tolerate what are frequently seen as negative emotions, they are part of us and are there to protect us and to help us to develop and grow.

The big four emotions which we experience are Anger, Joy, Fear and Sadness and each of these has a family of emotions attached to them e.g. anger includes irritation and annoyance, fear includes anxiety and worry.
We also have a set of social emotions such as Guilt, Shame, Jealousy and Envy and I’m sure all of us have experienced these at one time or another.
The majority of my clients seek help with the fear set of emotions and a significant minority with the social emotions as well.

Typically, and understandably, clients don’t like feeling anxious and then take steps to avoid exposing themselves to situations in which they experience anxiety. The ‘negative’ emotions can be very painful to experience and the client may have paired this emotion with unpleasant consequences. This leads riders towards a situation where they limit themselves to riding within their comfort zone or perhaps not even riding at all. An anxious person may unconsciously deflect their anxiety and experience anger and frustration instead and this can lead to confusion and self doubt. If the client was able to tolerate the initial anxiety, the primary emotion, then the way forward would become clearer.

As a therapist part of my job is to help my clients to develop the skills needed to deal with the emotion they’re trying to avoid and this may include helping them to expose themselves to that primary emotion and learning that they can deal with it after all. Clients learn that when they do feel anxious that they can let it go and not allow it to escalate. Developing the belief that you can do this is liberating as you realise that you really aren’t at the mercy of anxiety.

Understanding emotions helps the client to stand back from them and it can reduce activity in the limbic system of the brain and subsequently lessen the unpleasant physical symptoms which are so often experienced.

In learning to understand an emotion it’s important to validate the client’s experience and this can be the difference in a professional and a relationship with a friend. A friend might say things along the lines of “You’ll be fine” and “don’t worry’, they are being well-meaning but a professional therapist will validate the feelings and help the client to work through them, gain understanding and an ability to have more control.

The aim of learning to tolerate anxiety is that the client recognises what is happening quickly. As soon as they are aware of the physical symptoms they experience such as physical tension, butterflies, shallow breathing they are able to use their thinking brain to tell themselves that it’s OK it’s only a feeling and not a predictor of disaster. This allows the rush of stress hormones to return to normal levels, the physical sensations to lessen and the rider to gain confidence that they have control over their negative emotions and not be nearly so affected by them. It isn’t always easy but growing in confidence the rider then develops an understanding that the anxiety isn’t needed in most everyday riding situations and their enjoyment grows and their ability to stretch out of their comfort zone soars.

Talking about emotions and learning to tolerate them.

Month: November 2019

Category : Uncategorized

I used to be really brave and would ride anything, anywhere. Why am I not like that anymore? Why have things changed?

This question is so common and I’m sure many of you may have experienced this for yourselves. Why does it happen and what’s going on?

Throughout our lives we’re constantly developing and changing. None of us are exactly the same today as we were yesterday or as we were as a child. The person we are now has developed through a vast number of different experiences which have brought us to this moment in time.

As a child, or youngster, we often have little awareness of our own vulnerability and for many (though absolutely NOT all) there is no anticipation that something unwanted might happen. Children are more likely to just be in the moment and just to get on with things without excessive anxiety. It can, however, be argued that this childhood innocence is changing in the 21st century with over anxious parenting and increasing pressure to succeed leading to increased anxiety in young people.

A baby will show no sense of anticipation or worry the first time a balloon pops, with a loud bang, close to them. But pretty quickly can show signs of worry or distress if they anticipate that a future balloon might do the same.

With a horse rider who has had a series of negative experiences then the sense of anticipation that there might be a repeat can lead to anxiety and loss of confidence even when they are riding quietly on a relatively unchallenging horse.

Confidence and self-belief aren’t an absolute constant throughout a person’s life. Confidence can ebb and flow and can often be dependent on all sorts of life events which may be unrelated to horse riding. 

A common situation which I encounter is a rider who has been very confident and brave when riding a horse which they’ve known well for many years and are now riding a new horse. Perhaps the old horse has died or maybe the rider feels that want to move up a level and are ready to try a more sensitive horse or one that’s more highly trained. This can sometimes lead to a feeling of not being able to “do it” any more and a doubt in the rider’s mind. With a new horse it’s important to give yourself time to develop the new relationship. Yes, it might be different but all of your past experience hasn’t suddenly vanished and given time there is no reason why you won’t feel comfortable in this new horse-rider partnership.

There are lots of therapy techniques which can help you to re-find your lost confidence (it’s probably not all that far away, but just hidden out of view) plus other techniques which can help you to recover from accidents or unwanted incidents and if you would like to know more about these then please do get in touch.

So, if you feel that you’re a different rider now to the one you used to be then you’re not alone. The chances are that you are actually a far more experienced and competent rider than that fearless child and with a bit of work you can re-find that self belief and enjoyment of the wonderful sport of horse ridingĀ 

Donna Whitehed and Jess having fun

Month: November 2019

Category : Uncategorized

I’m sure you will have seen and read many posts about the importance of “Being Kind to Yourself”. This week is International Day of Kindness and I have posted about kindness on my social media channels.

The Importance of Kindness

I think most of you probably have a good idea what being kind to other people means and I sincerely hope you all have a good understanding of what being kind to horses means but, what does being kind to yourself mean?

It probably means something different to each of us but I think it’s worth spending a little time thinking about it.

Psychologist Albert Ellis, the founder of rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) talks about the importance of “Unconditional Self Acceptance” and this could be a good place to start. Ellis talks about each of us working towards accepting ourselves as unique individuals with unique strengths and unique challenges. He suggests that it can take many, many years to truly accept ourselves as we are but that it’s something to work towards being comfortable with.

As I see it, this means that we avoid comparing ourselves unfavourably to others. Whether that’s comparing ourselves unfavourably to other riders we encounter or whether it’s comparing ourselves to supermodels we see in magazines and feeling dissatisfied with our appearance. In both cases comparison usually leads to disappointment.

Unconditional self acceptance also means that we relieve ourselves of the pressure that we ‘should’ or ‘must’ ride at a certain level or jump a particular height. On the contrary, we push ourselves to do these things because we want to and we wish to develop and learn not because we feel under pressure.

Unconditionally accepting ourselves means that we don’t generalise our mistakes. So instead of telling yourself that you’re a “rubbish rider” because you’ve been eliminated at the first fence you tell yourself that you simply made a mistake and you’re going to work out why the heck you did that and avoid making the same mistake again!

Unconditionally accepting ourselves DOES NOT mean that we let ourselves off the hook for bad behaviour and it doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to give up on learning and working hard to fulfil our goals.

Being kind to yourself might also mean sometimes being quite firm with yourself. For example you might like to be kind to yourself with a treat of a bar of chocolate but it might not be self kindness to have two bars!

Being kind to yourself might mean making sure that you programme your riding into your week to make sure that it happens and avoiding feeling guilty about other commitments and demands on your time. Being kind to yourself doesn’t mean that you are unkind to others but it might mean that you learn to say “no” more often.

Finally, it’s worth noting that along with working towards unconditional self acceptance we can also try to unconditionally accept other people for who they are. It’s not always easy by any means but I think it’s definitely worth trying.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you feel being kind to yourself means.

Month: November 2019

Category : Uncategorized

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about the comfort, stretch and panic model over the last couple of weeks. Some of them, seem to me to make the concept more complicated than it needs to be so I thought I would put together my take on this and keep it simple and useable for any rider.

The comfort, stretch and panic model.

So, let’s look at what’s going on in each of the three zones.


Everyone’s comfort zone will be slightly different varying from riding a familiar horse quietly in an arena, through jumping a track at a certain height to galloping freely in an open space. Whatever your comfort zone is, it’s basically where you feel ‘comfortable’, unchallenged, relaxed and probably pretty confident.

From a neuro-psychological and physiological point of view, when in your comfort zone, your anxiety/fear responses are unaroused and your stress hormones are within normal limits.

When in your comfort zone, learning opportunities are limited. However, it is a very useful place for consolidating learning and practicing and rehearsing existing skills.

There is no rule which says that you must ride outwith your comfort zone but if you choose to remain there then it’s unlikely that you’ll make any significant progress or develop as a rider.


Your stretch zone is where a lot of good stuff happens and generally it has a gradient from feeling very comfortable to feeling very uncomfortable! So it’s important to be aware of how you’re feeling and to manage your stretching to a level which you can handle.

When a client is feeling very nervous and generally struggling with their confidence, I generally suggest that a good place to stretch is along the border of your comfort and stretch zones. In this area you’re just stretching a little, nothing too demanding or too stress inducing just challenging yourself by doing something new.

With a client who is less anxious but perhaps, worried about what others might be thinking or experiencing a period of self doubt then they might well be able to tolerate being further out into the stretch zone. Everyone is different.

In the stretch zone you’re likely to be aware of some sensations associated with your normal stress reaction brought on by that cocktail of hormones your body naturally produces when it’s under stress. Remember, that this is absolutely normal and experienced by every human being when under stress. Any anxiety sensations you experience are nothing to be afraid of in themselves they’re just ‘normal’. So keep reminding yourself of that!

Once this new activity becomes comfortable then you know that your comfort zone has expanded and that you’re ready to stretch a little bit more. Over time, you can look back and see how far you have progressed and feel proud of how much larger your new comfort zone is compared to when you started thinking about this process.


This isn’t a nice place to be for anyone and especially not for horse riders. Many of you will have been there at some point, I know that I have and it’s not somewhere I want to be very often, if ever!! (Though, from a purely professional point of view, I’m glad to have experienced my fair share of panic situations as it gives me more of an understanding when my clients tell me how they feel!).

The panic zone is where the communication between horse and rider has gone, or become ineffective. The rider and/or the horse are out of control and the situation is dangerous,

Of the three possible fear reactions in this situation – fight, flight and freeze – the one which a rider tends to experience is the ‘freeze’ reaction where your mind goes numb and your body can’t react.

Given enough time, the thinking part of your brain will catch up with the survival mode and you will probably regain some control or be able to make a plan to extricate yourself from the situation but often there just isn’t time and….well you can imagine what could happen….I’m not going to put ideas into your mind!

I can’t think of any riders I know who would deliberately put themselves into a panic situation but they can arise because of circumstances out of our control. They can also arise because of inexperience or an over active imagination which creates imagined panic inducing scenarios.

If you have found yourself in a panic situation and haven’t been able to leave it behind you yet, then keep a look out for a future post with some ideas and advice on how to do that.
Or feel free to get in touch for more personalised help and advice.