Use That Wonderful Imagination

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Last weekend I read a wonderful article from the Financial Times by Alain de Botton “How to travel from your sofa”. It’s all about using the experiences we already have and our amazing imaginations to allow us to travel anywhere and to re-live past experiences.

I believe that this is a skill we can all use and develop during this period of confinement at home. I also believe that using this skill now will mean that it is more use to us once this crisis is over and life returns to normality.

Personally, just three days into lockdown, I’m feeling pretty relaxed and have been enjoying the things I’m filling my days with. I’m managing to continue with some work but inevitably this has slowed down considerably. However, I guess that over the coming weeks there will be times when I do resent the confinement and wish that I was out there experiencing the wider world. This is the time when I will really need my imagination to help me and I would suggest that you will all benefit from a helpful imagination too.

De Botton talks about re-living holidays right through from remembering what you had for your first breakfast to re-experiencing the sights and the sounds of your destination. He suggests that this imagined experience can be as real as you want it to be and that by “travelling from your sofa” will help you to be more comfortable with isolation.

Our 2019 summer holiday in Shetland

So how can YOU use your wonderful imagination to help you at this time of enforced isolation? I would like you all to spend some time regularly developing your technique of “How to ride from your sofa“.

The technique is really very simple. Just make yourself comfy where you won’t be disturbed for a while, close your eyes and take yourself back to a wonderful riding experience and then re-live it.

This will be most realistic if you involve ALL of your senses and because horse riding is such a physical activity you can really feel as though you are actually on horseback. You are activating all the elements of your nervous system and can really enjoy the ride.

Start right at the very beginning of the ride, for example bringing your horse in from the field and grooming him all the while allowing yourself to be aware of what you can see, hear, feel, smell and even taste. Allow yourself to look around and take in all the elements of your environment so that you are actually “there”.

Then work through to mounting up and heading off for your ride. So you can feel your seat in the saddle, your feet in the stirrups, the reins in your hands. You can see the horses neck stretching out in front of you and can hear the footfall of his movement. You can smell the wonderful scent of horse and perhaps the leather of your tack.

The actual ride will be different for all of you but IT’S A GOOD ONE! Perhaps you are out for a hack or you might be riding a cross country course. It really doesn’t matter.

Your mind is very clever at distorting time so your ride can be as long as you like whilst real time might be completely different. You can re-live an entire week long riding holiday in half an hour on the sofa!

Give it a try and see how real you can make it and notice how it helps you avoid the frustration of confinement.

I’m off to the sofa for a ride!

Sign up to receive your free Five Steps to Riding Confidence programme to help you to get ready to be the rider you want to be once life returns to normal.
Or get in touch to arrange some online 1:1 sessions.

I am also offering a limited number of 20 minute online sessions per week to help you to identify your strengths and challenges. Only four available per week and the cost is just £15.

Once I’ve finished my “ride from the sofa” I’m off to Italy!

Some Personal Thoughts on Grief

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My morning view always helps

This is a highly personal post which I think will help me and I hope might also help you.

In the last eighteen months my father, my mother-in-law and, most recently, my mother have all died. Each of them had lived a good, long and happy life and their deaths were anticipated and, although very sad, for each of them death was a release from a life of dependence, limitations and the associated indignities of old age. We miss them all but death of an elderly parent is a normal and expected part of life.

Over the years I have also experienced the death of friends, other family members and much loved animals too. I’m sure that each person reading this will have had their own losses.

My most significant loss, which is difficult to write about publicly but which is important to include in this piece, was the death of our only son Fergus in 1997. Fergus was stillborn at full term and was a precious and deeply loved part of our lives in the short time we had him with us. We remember him frequently and often wonder about the life we wish he could have lived.

Grief comes, not only from the death of a cherished person but also from many other experiences such as:

  • Loss of a relationship
  • Loss of a dream
  • Loss of a pet
  • Loss of identity
  • Loss of a job, home or security
  • Loss of health
  • Loss of independence

There are many emotions associated with grief and the experience is individual and personal.

In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross published a model of the five stages of grief, namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and for many years this model was frequently quoted to those who were grieving as the “normal” process which had to be “got through”. Generally, this model has been discredited as there is very little evidence of moving through the process in an orderly fashion.

Instead, from my experience working in the NHS and subsequently in my current role and also from my own personal experiences, I believe that grief is far more complex than a defined process.

There can be a whole complex mix of emotions and they can come alone or they can arrive as a jumble all at the same time. Emotions can jump from overwhelming despair, through anger, to a sense of relief and back again to sadness all within one train of thought.

For me the overwhelming emotions initially occupied my every waking thought, and a lot of my sleep time as well. Then gradually over time feelings have settled and acceptance has come. Nothing has been “got over” but happiness has returned and life has continued whilst memories have been cherished. I distinctly remember a friend saying to me some months after Fergus had died that she was happy to see that “my smile had returned”. I think it was at that moment that I knew I was going to be happy again.

Eighteen months on from the death of my father it is now the memories of him as a younger man which I recall rather than those of him in his last months. My feelings about my Mum are still too raw and recent but with time I know it will be happier memories which rise to the surface rather than images of her being so frail and helpless.

From my own experiences of the death of much loved animals I know that the pain and emotions can be just as strong as they are for the death of a person. So if somebody tells you “it is just an animal”, in my opinion they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re just being clumsy with their words.

Grief is different to mourning. It is an internal set of feelings and emotions, thoughts and also sometimes includes physical pain. Mourning is the public side of grief. It includes the rituals of a funeral, sending and receiving cards and flowers, in days gone by the wearing of black clothes, time off work and away from socialising. With the loss of a pet it might include keeping mementoes such as a lock of hair or a horse shoe, having photographs framed and keeping a special item associated with that animal. The rituals of mourning all help with the internal grief and are an important aspect of our lives and society. If you have a religious faith then that can be a great help as can other expressions of spirituality.

Support from family and friends has been an enormous help for me over the years and I think I will share with you just a few of the things which I found of particular help and a few which actually had the opposite effect.

After Fergus died the outpouring of love and support we experienced was almost palpable. Friends who simply called round and talked about him were the absolute best. For me it didn’t really matter too much what they said it was just their being with me that helped. People who were prepared to listen to me without judgement and without chipping in with their own experiences were amazing. At a time of extreme grief I really didn’t want to hear about any comparable situations as I was so absorbed in my own.

I don’t want to be judgemental about the things which didn’t help me as I am sure that people were trying their best to be supportive. However being told that “you’ll get over it” isn’t helpful and especially unhelpful for me was people saying “You must be feeling …..” or “You will be feeling…..“. Personally speaking I don’t want to be told how I must be feeling…..

Overall, the least helpful thing was the one or two friends who simply said nothing as they didn’t want to upset me. For me, I would rather that someone made a clumsy or slightly thoughtless comment than said nothing at all. At a time of grief, saying nothing can be interpreted as simply not caring.

So if you are grieving in your own life, for any kind of loss, then I send you my love and support. If you have a friend or family member who is grieving then simply be kind and show support by getting in touch and listening to them.

If this is something you are struggling with then don’t hesitate to get in touch and I will listen to you and offer you some help and support. I consider myself to be fortunate in my attitude towards death and loss in my own life. I see it as part of the rich tapestry of life and even though life hasn’t necessarily turned out as I might have expected when I was younger I cherish each and everyone one of my life experiences.

Nature always helps me too.

Emotional Strength…..some thoughts.

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Emotional strength isn’t necessarily constant throughout life but having emotional resilience will certainly help when dealing with those challenges, disappointments and upsets which happen to each and every one of us.

What are the characteristics of an emotionally strong person?

  • An emotionally strong person will see opportunities for learning when they make mistakes or encounter disappointments.
  • An emotionally strong person will be adaptable and able to handle unexpected situations without seeing them as a “disaster”
  • An emotionally strong person is able to assertively express their needs without apology but with sensitivity to other’s feelings.
  • An emotionally strong person will focus on finding a solution to a problem, rather on the problem itself.
  • An emotionally strong person can accept advice and constructive criticism without personalising it.
  • An emotionally strong person will move on quickly from unwanted or negative situations rather than holding on to them.
  • An emotionally strong person will take pleasure in success, both their own success and that of other people.

If you’ve read the above list and felt that you have some work to do on developing your own emotional strength then never fear. A few simple changes and lots of practice will help you with your own development.

Ways to help yourself to become emotionally stronger

  • Take some time to become aware of what’s going on in your own life at the moment and write down what is helping you and what is not helping.
  • Make lists of your personal strengths and your personal challenges. If you find this difficult then try doing it with a trusted friend or simply make lists of what you enjoy doing and what you don’t enjoy. Chances are that if you enjoy something then it’s a strength!
  • Spend time with positive people who care about you and remove yourself from situations of negativity.
  • NB if you are in a situation where you feel trapped or you are unable to escape then seek professional help and support.
  • Include physical exercise as well as emotional exercise, it’s important to look after your body and your mind.
  • Think back to a time when you overcame a challenge in the past. What resources helped you then and how can you use that previous experience to help you now?
  • Break down any problems or issues into manageable chunks and deal with them one step at a time.
  • Learn from mistakes and avoid generalising them or labelling yourself by your mistakes.
  • Be aware of emotional pitfalls and develop ways to either avoid them or handle them.
  • Ask for help. Admitting that you need help is a sign of strength and often the first step towards getting things sorted out.

Would you like a simple programme to help you to move from where you are now to becoming the rider you would like to be?
Just sign up here to receive your free Five Steps to Riding Confidence Framework.

What is positivity and what is it not……some thoughts.

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I had planned to choose a few more of my favourites form my recent month of positivity posts but have changed my mind a little. I think it’s worth having a think about the real meaning of positivity, or at least my personal interpretation of positivity.

Sharing a positive day with friends

For me, positivity is a choice which means that I choose to focus more on the good things which happen in my life than on the bad things. A simple example might be to tell you about my horses. My younger girl, Luna who is the daughter of my first horse Judy, was going to be my show pony and I had lots planned for her. She was backed quite late and was showing a lot of promise however, she damaged tendons in her off hind when she was about 8 and hasn’t been ridden since. I was upset, disappointed and shed a lot of tears at the time but after the initial sadness I started to think more positively in that I had another horse to ride, Luna was paddock sound and could live a good life with me and I was in a position to adjust my plans and concentrate on different things.

I believe that a positive person will understand and accept that bad things do happen in life but will have a deep seated belief that they will take these events in their stride and work through them.

A positive person understands that it is absolutely normal to sometimes feel anxious, sad, lonely or angry and that these negative emotions are simply part of being a human being. A positive person won’t define themselves by the challenges in their lives, in contrast they will be prepared to learn from them and, in fact, almost welcome them as opportunities to learn and develop. A positive person will approach a new experience believing that they will enjoy it, learn from it and tackle it with energy and self belief.

A couple of years ago I was on a day out, a few things went wrong that day and I found myself listening to the conversations going on around me and the language people were using to describe the day. I wrote a blog post about it which you can find here “Was it Really a Disaster?
This short post shows how some people choose to focus on the few negative things which happen and to magnify them while others to focus on all of the many good things which happen.

I believe that it’s important to be careful about attaching labels to oneself as we do believe what we tell ourselves. So do take care to avoid describing yourself as a “nervous rider” or an “unlucky person” and instead, make a decision to work towards positively expanding your comfort zone so that you develop more and more situations where any nervousness you experience becomes manageable.

A truly positive rider will understand that they can learn from mistakes and again, will make a positive decision not to focus entirely on the errors which they make. This positive rider will be realistic in understanding that certain things will always be outside their control and will choose to focus on those things within their control and perform to the best of their ability according to their experience and that of their horse.

If someone has a significant mental health issue all of this can be a much greater challenge. Please do be aware of friends and family who may find it extra hard to live a positive life and offer to help if you can or encourage them to seek professional help if necessary.

In summary, I believe that positivity is a choice where we choose to focus on the good things in our lives, accept that unwanted things can happen, but know that when they do we have the inner resources to handle them or know that we can seek outside help when necessary.

Three Favourite Positivity Boosters

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I have recently completed a month of daily, social media, positivity boosting posts and promised to expand on a few of my favourites so here goes….

A rider who is anxious will frequently have a pretty small comfort zone and be fearful of all those things which they think might happen if they even put a toe over their comfort boundary.

Before I go any further with this, it’s useful to point out that there is no law which says you must ride outside of your comfort zone BUT, if you choose to limit yourself in this way then you will have to find a way to accept that nothing much will change.

You may well have already heard me saying how important it is to focus on the things which you DO want to happen rather than on those you are worried about and by learning to expand your comfort zone you can really put this into practice.

I’ll give you a personal example which shows this idea in practice….

Some years ago I had booked myself onto a riding holiday in a mountainous area of Italy, however at that time I was really worried about riding down hills and used to even jump off and lead my horse down hill if it was more than a slight incline! I knew that, if I was going to enjoy the trip, I would have to be a lot more comfortable riding down hills! So I set about expanding my down hill comfort zone rather than focussing on worrying about what I feared may happen.

Lo and behold, bit by bit, my comfort zone got a lot bigger and the holiday was a great success and involved some very steep hills – SUCCESS!

Can you think of an example of how you could apply this to your own riding?

We rode up and down these mountains, they were pretty steep but a lot of fun!

My next favourite is about not being fearful of making mistakes.

This is another example of how many riders end up restricting themselves and avoiding growth and development.

So many people feel that they will be negatively judged for making mistakes or for being less than perfect. It’s perfectly understandable to want to get things right and avoid mistakes but it’s really important to learn that making a mistake is simply part of the learning process and it is not a reflection on you as a person or as a rider.

A confident rider will most certainly still make mistakes, right throughout their riding life, BUT they will see any errors as an opportunity to learn and will not define themselves by those mistakes but will see themselves as a “work in progress”.

If you find yourself making the same mistake again and again then it’s most definitely time to review your training and your techniques. And if you find yourself consistently making the same mindset mistakes, which aren’t helping you with the psychological side of your riding then it’s time to make some changes there too.

My third favourite for today is the one I posted at the very start of the positivity month and I love it.

It can be applied to any area of your life and if you follow through with it then you open yourself up to so many exciting possibilities.

In any year many opportunities will come your way and I’m sure you don’t want to miss out. Of course, there simply isn’t enough time to do absolutely everything but do say a big YES!

There is so much fun to be had and so many lovely place to visit and people to meet and to find yourself regularly saying no will just lead to regret. If you do find yourself saying “no” but wishing you had said “yes” then it’s time to ask yourself why you are doing this. It may be that you need a little bit of help so that you can stretch out of your comfort zone into that world of opportunity, so just get in touch if you would like that help.

A confident rider will sometimes say “no'”, but it will be for a valid reason and not because of fear of the unknown or of what might happen but probably won’t. If you have a friend who you notice is frequently saying ‘No” to suggestions then why not gently investigate their reasons and, if necessary, suggest they seek out some help?

So see where you end up this year by saying “YES” to all the wonderful opportunities which come your way. I’d love to hear about all the things you are saying “Yes” to throughout the year.

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