Georgina’s Story

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I do enjoy a good collaboration with fellow equestrian professionals so when the chance came to invite Georgina Bull to share her story, I jumped at it, especially once I heard that she had worked hard to overcome confidence issues and regain her enjoyment of riding. Here is ‘GEORGINA’S STORY……’

Georgina is a registered Osteopath in the UK who, alongside treating horses and humans, takes a special interest in the relationship between how horse and rider move together. A rider herself, owning 2 horses and competing in Endurance riding, she has worked with the Team GBR Elite Endurance Squad travelling with the riders to European and World class competitions. Georgina runs her own clinic in Northamptonshire and regularly runs rider biomechanics workshops. You can find Georgina on FaceBook as well.

Georgina having fun on the water!

I remember being like every typical horse mad kid, I couldn’t wait to ride every time I got the opportunity and rode my bike dreaming it was a horse! At 15, I was doing routine chores for a private stable and being allowed to ride in return. They had beautiful horses, but one day things didn’t quite go to plan.

That fateful day saw me get on a huge, 17.1hh plus dark bay mare, who I was riding in a dressage saddle. Needless to say, I couldn’t reach her girth to do it up, and when her saddle slipped, she took off bucking and I landed on the floor. I remember thinking I was dead, until I realised thankfully, I wasn’t, I’d just badly broken my shoulder. 

Whilst I was in hospital, I said to my mother I wasn’t going to ride again. She insisted I got rid of all horse related stuff, and I couldn’t bear that thought, so I made sure I’d ride again when I could. After having my shoulder fixed in an operation, I then didn’t get a chance to ride for several months. When I was invited to ride a friend’s confidence giving gentle mare, I was an absolute wobbling, nervous wreck. 

My confidence took a huge beating and for many years I rode at home myself but never dared even consider hacking or competing, it was totally outside of my comfort zone. I regularly went out and helped various friends as a groom whilst secretly longing to actually be riding myself. That longing never went away and I visited a variety of confidence clinics and hypnotherapists to try and help myself.

I was so frustrated at myself for getting so stressed at something so simple as just hacking out but when I moved my mare to a different location 5 years ago, I realised I was making excuses for myself. I had no other facilities to ride other than a bridleway and initially hacked out on a lead rein with a foot soldier with me, after riding my whole life! I very quickly discovered that nothing went wrong and was supremely proud of my achievement of hacking for 20 minutes with a friend on her horse one day! 

I owe a lot to my mare, she taught me to trust her and she taught me that whatever happens, I can do it and she will look after me. She has been wonderful and with her quiet insistence that we go and investigate this clump of grass, or that tasty thing over there I began to start hacking confidently, even if only in walk and trot! When I found myself in the position of buying an Arab, I never believed I would be good enough for him, but the joy that he also brings me is humbling. 

With some key breathing techniques and the help of a wonderful group of friends who helped encourage me to stretch my comfort zone and test my limits I found myself riding further until they set me the challenge of actually entering an endurance ride. Back came ALL of those worries I thought I was overcoming. The day of the ride I literally couldn’t function thanks to nerves but again, they told me to breath and take it step by step, at my own pace. It may not have been fast, but I completed it against lots of odds and I’m still elated 4 months later! I know I still have a long way to go, and have to work at my confidence each time I ride but the smile it gives me to look at the ride pictures never goes away, and the love I have for my horses just gets more each time I ride.

Georgina is now able to enjoy her beautiful horse.

Review of the Year 2019

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2019 was a special year for Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland as we celebrated fifteen years of working with riders to help them with confidence and mindset issues.

The year began with some lovely coverage in the Scottish Farmer magazine and ended with being invited to contribute to the ‘Ask the Expert’ feature for three consecutive months in Horse and Rider magazine.

From The Scottish Farmer Magazine

I have continued to work mainly with individual riders on a 1:1 basis and this work has been steady right throughout the year. Clients have come with a variety of riding related issues. Client confidentiality means that I can’t tell you much about them but one client, in particular, was kind enough to go public with her story and this was published as a guest blog earlier in the year.
Here is a link to Jennifer’s Story

Each client is different with individual experiences and goals and I really do love meeting each and every one of them. Preparing for a first session with a new client is very exciting, wondering what will they have to say and what has been going on which has led to them contacting me.

I have continued to work alongside trainers and coaches, giving talks at camps and workshops. As well as continuing to deliver some talks at the Equiteam camps at Lindores, April brought a Spring Confidence Boost workshop at Muirmill Equestrian in Ayrshire with Julia Kerr from Coaching 4 Confidence a fun and successful evening .

The Summer months saw me venturing south of the border into Cumbria for a series of talks at the Dannii Little Confidence camps at Greenlands Equestrian. These are great fun, an easy drive from Dollar to near Carlisle and we already have a date in the diary to return in 2020.

Each year I have a commitment to continuing to learn and, amongst other things, I enjoyed attending the Scottish Hypnotherapy Foundation annual conference. This was an opportunity to network with other hypnotherapist and to learn from the presenters who gave interesting and stimulating talks. I have subsequently been accepted to join this organisation and look forward to learning more from them in 2020. There have also been regular meetings with my supervisor which give me an opportunity to discuss, in confidence, any concerns from a professional point of view.

With two retired ponies of my own I continue to find opportunities to ride when and where I can. Regular lessons at Kilgraston Equestrian keep me learning masses from the great coaches there. February brought a fab ride up in Kingussie and then there were lots of rides over the Summer, closer to home, on the Exmoor Ponies owned by the vet school from Edinburgh. I have booked a super exciting riding holiday for 2020, I’ll tell you more about that in the New Year.

On a personal note 2019 has been tinged with sadness as we said goodbye to my lovely mother-in-law in September. We miss her greatly but were privileged to have her in our lives for so long, she would have been 98 just a few weeks after she passed away. When she was fitter she regularly joined us in Dollar for Christmas, so her absence is felt especially at this time of year.

Nancy Wall my mother-in-law

So, as Christmas approaches and 2019 draws to a close I would just like to thank all of my clients and the coaches I have worked with this year. It means so much to me that you are prepared to put your trust in me and allow me to help you to fulfil your goals and overcome your fears. Thank you and MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A VERY HAPPY 2020.

Tiger the Therapy Cat


Let’s Take Another Look at Goal Setting

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There have been a few occasions recently when people have told me that they don’t really like goal setting and, in fact, have found it to be demotivating rather than the intended, confidence boosting motivation.

I think there are a few reasons why this could be the case and perhaps, by looking at goal setting from a slightly different point of view rather than the, commonly used, S.M.A.R.T. goals which involve writing things down , measuring progress, checking back and regularly reviewing, might help people to feel that they can use goals more effectively.

Perhaps people who don’t like goal setting have been focussing on unachievable goals or on purely results driven goals and, I agree that these approaches can both be demotivating.

I believe that goal setting in equestrian sport is essential for anyone who wishes to ride for anything more than the simple pleasure of being on the back of a horse. So, if you are learning and wish to learn more and if you are competing and wish to push yourself to improve then using some form of goal setting is the way to go.

When thinking about your goals, always make sure to focus on what you DO want to happen rather than on what you don’t want. Your brain is very clever at focussing on what you tell it so it’s important to tell it what you really want to achieve.

We can look at three types of goals in sport psychology:

  • Process Goals are the way of measuring and executing the training process in order to enhance your existing skills and gain new ones. These might include how many times per week you intend to ride and how often you have coaching and attend training clinics. They might also include enhancing your mental skills as well as your riding. They are your day to day and week to week training plans.
  • Performance Goals are a way of tracking your overall improvement in the sport. They include developing consistency in performance and things such as fitness and stamina. Performance goals are a way of measuring your progress.
  • Outcome Goals are the results you gain from consistently working on your process and performance goals. This is where you keep your eyes on the prize and look forward to winning some rosettes and trophies.

All of the above are important looking for at outcomes in any sport but they aren’t all equally weighted in their effect on your performance as a rider.

The critical ones are the process goals as they are the groundwork you need to do to learn and make progress. Without these basic plans you’re not going to achieve any outcome goals.

Performance goals need to be realistic and challenging enough to make sure that you keep on improving. Your performance will show improvement if your processes are in place and carried out consistently. If your performance goals aren’t being achieved then it’s important to return to the process goals, re-assess and change them as necessary.

Outcome goals might be seen as the most exciting, and by making sure that your have been working on your process and performance goals then they will take care of themselves and results will follow.

You will have a lot of control over the process goals and also a significant amount of control over the performance goals. Outcomes are less easy to control as there are so many variables and so much which is completely outwith your control as an individual rider. They are well worth having as it is exciting to dream about a big win and to imagine that wonderful feeling you will get as a winner and how proud you will be of all of the hard work.

So never stop dreaming and by setting up your processes needed to help you to get there then you’re giving yourself the very best chance you can.


Learning to Tolerate Emotions

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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.


I used to be able to do it, why have things changed?

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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 riding 

Donna Whitehed and Jess having fun

Some Thoughts on “Being Kind to Yourself”

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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.


The Comfort, Stretch and Panic Model, Made Simple

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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.

COMFORT ZONE

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.

STRETCH ZONE

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.

PANIC ZONE

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.


Winter Opportunities

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Fun in the snow

In my opinion we have a choice about how we view the season of Winter.  We can either spend the next few months moaning about it being too dark, too cold, too wet, too muddy or we can embrace this time of year and think of it as an opportunity.  So here are my tips for some Winter Motivation.

1.  Accept that we live in Scotland (or elsewhere in the UK/Europe/Northern hemisphere) where the Winter days are short and, let’s face it, it rains a lot!  There is nothing we can do to change that.  So, as always have a think about what you are saying to yourself eg ‘This is awful’, ‘The weather is ****’!

If you’re constantly telling yourself that something is awful then that is what you believe.

So, change it round into seeing it as an opportunity eg ‘At least there are no flies!’

2.  Have a look at your goals.  How did you get on during the Summer months?  Is there anything that you need to work on?  Once again, look at it as an OPPORTUNITY.

3.  Are there any situations which you are avoiding eg riding on windy days or avoiding those shadowy corners in the arena?

Yet another OPPORTUNITY to do some de-sensitisation work.

4.  No where safe to ride?  Guess what?  Another OPPORTUNITY!

Group together with some friends and hire an indoor arena.  Make plans to ride out with other people. (You’re much more likely to do it if it’s in the diary).

5.  Be nice to yourself.

Dress warmly.

Use plenty of moisturiser and lip balm.

Wear bright colours.

Drink hot chocolate.

Go for a sauna.

Think warming thoughts.

6.  Missing the shows and events?

You’ve got it!  Another OPPORTUNITY!

Investigate Winter leagues and arena events.  Sign up and make a commitment.

Check back on your goals and measure your progress.

7.  Work on your fitness.

Use the OPPORTUNITY to sign up for an exercise class.

Go for brisk walks with the dog.

Do some strength training.

Set yourself up for the Spring.

8.  Pamper your horse.

If the weather is too bad to ride spend time with your horse instead.

Give him a good groom and thorough check over.

Adjust his feeding as necessary.

Give your tack a deep clean.

9.  And if you really can’t ride…..

Don’t feel guilty, your horse won’t mind having time off.

Enjoy the extra time with family or non-horsey friends.

Read a book by the fire.

Enjoy the warmth of a roaring fire.

Make plans and set goals for 2020

ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY

So, I hope you enjoy the Winter Season and do let me know how you intend to make the most of the opportunities which come your way.


Lifelong Learning

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I love my riding lessons

I’m sure many of you are familiar with being asked a question along the lines of “Surely you can ride by now, why are you still having lessons?” Your answers might vary from having a new horse and wanting to develop your skills in partnership with that horse, wanting to increase or refine your technical riding skills or having someone on the ground who can help you to work out why you might be having difficulties in certain areas of your riding. There are as many different reasons for having lessons as there are riders.

I’m a great believer in lifelong learning which can be defined as “the provision or use of formal and informal learning opportunities throughout people’s lives in order to foster the continuous development and improvement of knowledge and skills needed for both employment and personal development”.

I think, to date, the youngest rider I have worked with was about 8 years old and the oldest was well into her 80’s. Riding really can be a lifelong activity.

So, I really do think that it’s important to continue to have input from a riding trainer, coach or instructor especially if you struggle with self belief and self confidence. I was talking to a group of riders yesterday and we all agreed that it’s also very important to find the correct person to help you, someone who really makes an effort to understand you, your needs and the partnership you have with your horse.

Of course, lifelong learning doesn’t just apply to the ridden aspects of our equestrian lives. We continue to learn about horse behaviour, management, feeding, care of land, horse health and many other things and often build up a huge wealth of knowledge. I think an openness to new learning is vital and am always sceptical when I hear that age old saying “But I’ve always done it this way”!

Equestrian sport can give us personal learnings which have benefits in other life areas too. Learning resilience, the importance of hard work, being able to enjoy success and accept defeat, learning interpersonal skills and how to deal with conflict are just a few life areas which will benefit from our contact with horses.

Sharing knowledge and always learning

From my point of view as a confidence and mindset coach I see how riding and looking after horses can teach us about our strengths and challenges. It helps us to understand why we think, feel and behave in certain ways. It shows us how both positive and negative experiences can impact on our general well being and how learning to handle all of our experiences can make us stronger and, hopefully, more compassionate individuals.

So, keep on learning. Keep on learning about riding, about horses and about yourself. xx


Seeing is Believing

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Seeing is Believing

Through the horse’s ears. You really can feel as though you’re there on horseback.

How your imagination can help you to relax, grow in confidence and learn new skills.

Our imagination is a very powerful tool which we can learn to use to help us in all sorts of life areas.  We can learn to use mental imagery or the ability to create or recreate an experience in the mind.

Most of us do this many times each day either consciously or unconsciously.  Think back to an occasion where you have been daydreaming and remember just how vivid the experience was, possibly to the extent that you felt you were right there in that imagined moment.  Then think of a time where you may have experienced anxiety and remember how your imagination ran away with you creating all sorts of unwanted scenarios which compounded your experience of all those unpleasant anxiety sensations to the extent that you believed that what you had imagined would actually happen.

When we are using our imaginations we experience the greatest effect if we involve all of the senses.  So it is much more than “visualisation”, or seeing things, it is hearing, feeling, smelling and perhaps tasting too.  When we create scenes in our minds the stronger and more vivid we make the whole sensory experience then the more powerful the results.

Here are some simple, horse related,  mental imagery ideas to get you in the mood and show you how you can use all of your senses.  Feel and imagine every detail of the following:

  • The colour of your horse’s coat with the sun shining on it.
  • Putting your hand under a horse’s mane on a cold day.
  • The smell of new leather.
  • The soft sound of a horse’s “nicker” as it greets you in the morning.
  • The smell of fresh hay.
  • The smell of a dirty stable (yuk!)
  • The sensation as you ease yourself into the saddle and take up the reins
  • The image of your horse’s ears as they listen to you.
  • The footfall of your horse as you walk on a hard surface.
  • The feeling as you dismount after an enjoyable ride.

All of the above are likely to be familiar to riders and easy to recall or imagine using all of your senses.

There are three main uses for mental imagery which I would like to talk to you about: relaxation, confidence boosting and skill enhancement and these can be used in any life area, not just horse related activities.

Relaxation

Mental imagery is a wonderful tool to use for simple relaxation perhaps to calm down, to focus, to aid sleep or help you to rest, to escape or have some time out.

Many of us have a favourite place, or perhaps a safe place, which we can develop to aid relaxation.  This might be a place in nature, a favourite holiday location, a beautiful beach or perhaps soaking in a warm bath.  You will have your own place.

So a simple technique to practice is to find somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed for a short while (phone off!) and make yourself comfortable.  Then take some deep relaxing breaths in a ratio of 1:2 ie the out breath should be twice the length of the in breath and you are breathing in calmness and out tension.  Personally, I like the ratio of breathing in to the count of 3 and out to the count of 6 but it’s best to find your own count.

Once you are physically relaxed then you can mentally relax using the imagery.  So make your scene as real as possible using all of your senses so that it almost feels as though you are really there experiencing that special place.  Nobody else is allowed to join you there unless you specifically choose to invite them.  Practice this frequently until you have a tool which you can use effectively to help you to relax when you need to.



Confidence Boosting

This is probably the mental imagery technique which I use most often with clients and it can make an enormous difference to the experience of riding horses (or mules or donkeys!).

When we are feeling anxious about riding, or any aspect of our lives, then it is likely that we are practicing negative mental rehearsal where our imagination is conjuring up a negative situation which just adds to our anxiety and can prevent us from enjoying our riding.  I’m sure you can all remember a situation where your imagination has run away with you and created a mental disaster movie!!!  

Given that our brains are super clever at believing what we tell them then we need to find a way to change that story into something much more helpful and to train our brains to focus on what we actually want to happen rather on what we do not want to happen.

Mental activity strengthens the neural pathways in your brain associated with those things you focus on with your thoughts and feelings.  So, if you learn to focus on helpful thoughts and feelings then you will strengthen the helpful pathways and vice versa.

Two simple confidence boosting techniques which you can practice are:

  • Firstly to make yourself comfy as above and allow your mind to bring into focus a super positive past experience.  Perhaps a wonderful ride from the past where everything just felt right, you were having fun, feeling focussed in the moment and felt at one with the horse you were riding.  ( if you haven’t been fortunate enough to have had such an experience on horseback yet then think of another life area where you had your ‘perfect day”).   
  • Allow the sensations associated with your memory to grow strong and vivid, feeling that you are truly immersed in that memory.
  • Then imagine gathering all of those sensations together and store them inside of you and keep them there.
  • The next step is to think of a challenging future situation (start the exercise with something just a little bit challenging until you are familiar with the ideas) but tackle this future challenge with all of the positivity and strength associated with your wonderful memory and notice how that challenge has already become a little bit easier to deal with.
  • Practice this regularly, the more you practice any new skill the easier it becomes.

The second useful technique is to help you to get rid of an unwanted image:

  • If you find that you have intrusive, unhelpful thoughts and images then simply telling them to go away won’t help.  Instead, you need a way of replacing them with something more helpful.
  • So, practice with something relatively easy and unchallenging.  
  • For example, imagine an image (and all of its’ associated sensory information) of a dirty stable.
  • Then SWIPE IT AWAY as you would swipe past a photo on a smart phone or tablet. You might like to link this action with a word or phrase such as “STOP”.
  • Next replace that unwanted imagery with all that is associated with a clean and sweet smelling stable.
  • Build this method up until you can replace unwanted riding imagery with wanted outcomes and feelings.
  • Practice, practice, practice!

Skill Enhancement 

When you are in training or learning a new skill then mentally rehearsing the technique is hugely valuable.  This is something which is practised throughout the sporting world and there is much evidence which shows that the brain cannot tell the difference between something real and imagined so that what you practice mentally is setting up the same neural pathways as if you were practicing in reality.  So that when you come to actually performing the skill it’s almost as though you have already done it.

In mentally rehearsing skills we can practice from an associated point of view i.e. seeing and feeling things through our own eyes and senses as though we were actually there.  This can be very real and powerful.

Alternatively, some people find it easier to mentally rehearse from a dissociated point of view i.e. feeling that we are watching ourselves performing an activity on a screen.  This can be a useful method to use if you are wishing to imagine what a judge might be seeing  or to imagine what picture you are presenting to any onlookers.

So next time you are having any riding coaching or lessons make sure that you take note of all of the aspects of what you are learning, how the horse feels, what you are seeing, the actual movements you are making and then you can continue to mentally practice this new skill after your lesson is finished and note how much easier you find it next time.

All of the above ideas and methods need to be practiced regularly until they become second nature so give them a go without delay!

This article, written by myself, was first published in Horsemanship Magazine.