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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.


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Let’s talk about it…….

Riding and being around horses is good for your mental health isn’t it?

Well, yes it is until you start worrying about riding more than you enjoy it and I know that there are a lot of you out there for whom this is the case.

What we want is for the time we spend around horses and riding them to be relaxing, fun-filled, exciting, great exercise, a source of friends and sharing experiences, a sense of achievement and success, “me time” away from work and family pressures….and so much more.

For various reasons, last week I was feeling especially stressed but after a good ride in the sunshine, on a beautiful horse, in the company of lovely people my stress levels fell to a much more manageable level and I felt re-energised, calmer and more able to tackle the issues which were causing that stress.

However, sometimes due to a huge variety of reasons riding and working with horses can become the very source of stress which has the opposite effect to all of the above.

This could come from fear and anxiety, from the pressure of competition, from issues on the yard or from concern about the welfare or health of your horse. Or perhaps it might be due to pressures in other areas of your life such as work or relationships which prevent the time you spend with horses from being as relaxing as you would like.

My approach to helping riders is to treat each person as an individual, “whole” person. You’re not just a rider with a confidence issue. My training in hypnotherapy and psychotherapy combined with many years of working with people with all sorts of issues and from all sorts of backgrounds gives me the experience and skills to be able to help you with mental health challenges so that, together we can work towards you being able to achieve all those health benefits which riding and horses can bring.

Just get in touch – YOU ARE NOT ALONE <3

(Thanks to Lisa Hannah for the photo which was an entry in the 2019 confident riding photo comp <3 )


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I guess we can look at this time of year in a couple of ways, perhaps seeing it as the end of Summer or, if you still think of life in term times and academic years it can be looked at as the start of a new phase.

So here we are at the end of Summer 2019 and I’m wondering how you’ve all been getting on. I definitely hope that you’ve had lots of fun whatever you’ve been up to.

Either way as one season finishes and another begins this is a good time for some reflection.

One of the simplest, and most useful, methods to reflect and learn is to use a three step approach to analyse how things have been going for you. This analysis can be done after any ride where you’ve challenged yourself or have been challenged by events out-with your control. I don’t think it’s necessary to analyse every single ride, we don’t want to risk losing the opportunity to ride simply for fun, but it’s useful to have a think after a schooling session, a lesson, a competition, camp or training day.

I’ve heard this three step analysis referred to as a “Sh*t sandwich” and the reason will become clear!! You can choose to give it that name or another on if you wish!

STEP ONE

What went well? What did you do that gave you pleasure? Which achievements are you proud of? Did you succeed with something new? Did you ride faster or harder and did you jump bigger? Did you feel more in tune with your horse?
You will have your own definitions of success here and the aim of this step is to celebrate those successes and allow yourself to feel pleasure and pride.
It’s so easy to belittle successes and I really do feel that it’s important to allow ourselves to enjoy each and every success, great and small.

 

STEP TWO

This is the step where you have a think about those things which didn’t go well and work out why that may have happened.
So, have a think about any mistakes which have been made and work out why they happened in order to learn from them.
What else happened which, if you were given the opportunity to repeat that experience, you would like to do differently?
Looking at those things which didn’t go so well, why did they happen? Were they things over which you had some control or were they due to uncontrollable events? Had you set goals for yourself which were achievable?

I do talk a lot about being positive and learning but, don’t get me wrong, I totally get that sometimes you can feel upset, angry, “down” or just simply “rubbish” and I have those feeling too. However, the important thing is to acknowledge those emotions, understand them and then let them go, avoiding the risk of over generalising them and believing that because something has happened which you’re unhappy about it means that everything is rubbish!

STEP THREE

Step three is simple – just repeat STEP ONE!!
This means that you’re finishing the exercise on a positive note and, whilst making sure you take the learnings from step two on board you’re actually allowing yourself to enjoy the pleasure of your successes.

If you carry out this simple three step analysis then it will help your overall confidence as you see how it is possible to celebrate the good stuff and learn from the “sandwich filling”!

Happy Autumn to you all as the sun gets lower in the sky.

 

(Thanks to Lynne Blore and Rosalyn Cowie for the lovely photos which were entries in the 2019  competition)

 


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So you’ve decided to enter your very first show. How are you feeling?

It’s important to give yourself the very best chance to have fun and enjoy your day and there are some simple steps which you can put in place which will help you to minimise any feelings of tension and nervousness. In this piece I am delighted that Sean Whiting who is Director of the country and equestrian specialists Houghton Country is sharing his top horse show preparation tips for beginners.
Sean’s tips are all things which are within your control and which you can absolutely do to ensure that you and your horse are prepared and ready for action.

Sean says:

While you’re bound to be excited about taking part in your very first horse show, it can also be very nerve-wracking. But, regardless of whether you’re going to be show jumping or showing off your newfound dressage skills, you’ll give yourself the best chance of enjoying the experience by properly preparing for it.

So, I’m going to share my top horse show preparation tips that will ensure your first competition is as stress-free as possible. My advice should help you to bag some extra points from the judges, too!

Always read the rules very carefully

Even the most seasoned of horse riders know the importance of reading each horse show’s rules very carefully, because they can differ a lot from event to event. So, as soon as you become aware that you’ll be taking part in a particular competition, it’s vital that you get a copy of the rules, pay close attention to them, and start your preparations with these rules in mind.

The rules of your chosen competition will dictate everything, from what you need to wear and how your horse should look, to what you might need to do in order to be eligible to compete at a certain level. It’s also particularly important that you check what tack you can use well ahead of time — especially when it comes to your horse’s bit. This information gives you the opportunity to find and change to an alternative if the bit you currently use isn’t acceptable. Plus, it will allow you to put in extra schooling at home to get your horse used to this change without the nerves and excitement of competition.

If were to ignore the guidelines of your event, you could turn up to your first show and find that you’re unable to compete for one reason or another, or you might miss out on vital points because you aren’t quite presented in the way that you should be — this is especially true in the showing world. So, always check the relevant guidelines before starting your preparations and, if possible, speak to other people competing in similar classes or the show organisers if anything is unclear. 

Attend a similar show as a spectator first

If you’ve never attended a horse show as a spectator, I would highly recommend doing so before you compete for the first time. Everything from the noise to the overall atmosphere can be quite intimidating if you aren’t used to it. And, on show day, you’ll also have the added pressure of actually taking part. If you can volunteer to be a groom for the day for one of your friends, this will give you a feel for how everything works ahead of your debut and should help to take a lot of stress out of the experience. 

Horse shows can also be a lot of fun for those watching so, while you might be going for research purposes, you’ll have a great time too. 

Step up your grooming regime

You should already be grooming your horse every day to keep their coat in the best condition possible but, when you know that there’s a competition the horizon, you’ll want to step up your regime — especially in classes where turnout is an important factor. For example, you may decide your horse needs a bath to get the best possible shine from their coat, or to remove stains or excess grease. All of the horses at competitions look preened and poised so, if yours doesn’t look its best, you’ll stand out for all the wrong reasons.

You also need to check whether there’s a specific way in which your horse’s mane and tail need to be presented, especially in show classes. This is often dictated by the breed of your horse and the type of class you have entered. You aren’t typically expected to be plaited up for show jumping classes, however you may choose to go all out regardless, because it’s a great way of giving your horse a professional and polished look. 

Make sure you have the right equestrian clothing

It’s not just your horse you need to think about: you’re going to be the other half of the team. So, you need to put just as much work into ensuring you look the part.

The rules around what you can and can’t wear will differ between classes and events so, again, you need to read and follow the relevant rules closely. But, once you have an idea of what your competition look needs to consist of, I would recommend investing in the highest quality pieces that fit with your budget. With equestrian clothing, you often do get what you pay for. So, to ensure you look and feel your best, it’s a good idea to opt for pieces from a reputable brand. Plus, quality horse riding attire can last for years, so you’ll be able to wear yours to plenty of other competitions. 

Give your horse plenty of time to warm up

I’m sure you’ve very used to helping your horse warm up before training at home, but I would recommend giving them plenty of extra time before your first few competitions. The noise and atmosphere of a competition is likely to be completely new to them, which can be very distracting, so it might take them a bit longer to get into the right frame of mind. Plus, the more you practise before you head out in front of the judges, the more prepared you’re likely to feel. So, give both you and your horse plenty of time to warm up and get in the right mindset to compete.

Taking part in your first equestrian competition is likely to be very exciting, but also quite stressful. However, by taking my tips on board to ensure you’re well-prepared, you should be able to give yourself some peace of mind.  

In our next blog we will look at my top tips for getting your mindset ready for your first show now that you have the practical things in place.


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As riders, in order to get the most out of our riding, achieve our goals and have total belief in our abilities, we need to develop the four C’s of mental toughness.

 

 

 

Whatever discipline you have chosen and, whatever level you are riding at within that discipline, having a strong mental attitude will help you considerably. It will help when you are learning new skills, overcoming challenges and coping with the stresses of competition.

The following list gives suggestions of helpful attributes for each of the four C’s.  Read through them and, being honest with yourself, give yourself a mark out of ten for each one.  This will give you an idea of your strengths and your challenges and highlight areas which you can work on.   

It is likely that you will have periods of time when you’re feeling mentally tougher than others but the aim is to increase your strength in each of the four areas.

If you need any help with this then do just get in touch

 

1.  Commitment and Motivation 

  • I let go of mistakes and focus on what I am going to do next
  • I don’t give up even when the odds are against me
  • When I don’t achieve my goals it makes me try even harder
  • I am prepared to work hard in order to see improvements 
  • I can raise my game even when I’m not in the mood.

2.  Concentration

  • I know how to relax during tense moments
  • I don’t get angry, even when I make a mistake
  • I am able to focus on the things which I can control and don’t worry about bad luck
  • When riding, I focus in the moment and on the task I am performing 
  • I am able to make correct decisions even when under pressure.

3.  Control

  • I can stay focussed even when I have other distractions
  • I can control distracting or unhelpful thoughts when I am riding
  • I am able to control my nerves so that they don’t harm my performance
  • I am able to control my emotions when I am riding
  • I am able to quieten my mind and avoid overthinking.

4.  Confidence

  • I bounce back quickly after any mistakes
  • I am able to trust my talent and experience rather than try to over control things
  • I am able to overcome self doubt when it creeps in
  • I still believe in myself, even after a poor performance
  • I have a strong belief in my abilities.

 

 

Photo credit: Dave cameron

                                      

 

 

 

 


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Jennifer is a client with whom I have been working for some time, helping her to overcome some significant anxieties and regain her enjoyment of riding. She very kindly offered to allow me to publish her story and share it with you, so huge thanks to Jennifer for volunteering to go public and for her kind words about the work we do together. It is a huge privilege to be part of a rider’s team and to have somebody trust me enough to allow me to tell others about how they have been helped is deeply moving.

In her own words, here is Jennifer’s Story:

Lola

I was on holiday on Skye when my daughter first announced that she wanted to go pony trekking. I decided to go along with her for old times’ sake, because I rode from the age of 8 to the age of 28, when I gave up after a particularly nasty accident.  I had under-estimated how afraid I had become in the ten years since I last rode a horse (and rode in an ambulance). I knew I’d be a bit nervous, but I was not prepared for the extreme physical response. I tried to get on the lovely sensible cob they tacked up for me, and blacked out for a moment, with the first panic attack I ever experienced. The people at the yard were lovely about it, and I got on eventually.  I ended up going on a hack with two leaders beside me, one at each side of the poor, blameless horse, who never put a foot wrong. I was sobbing quietly with fear and turning round now and then to force a smile and wave at my daughter… I was making bargains with the universe at that point… ‘if I survive this hour, I’ll never ride again and I promise I’ll try to be a better person…’ 

Because my daughter loved her pony trek, I booked her weekly riding lessons at an absolutely first-rate local riding school. I couldn’t even watch at first. Then I did, and then I suddenly wanted to ride again.  I booked myself in for weekly one-to-one lessons. In my first lesson, I got off when my instructor had to step out of the school for a moment. I was too afraid to sit, by myself, on a stationary horse. I didn’t like riding, and I didn’t like that particular horse. I’m pretty sure she was laughing at me. 

Although I always planned to call up and cancel my lesson, I found that I went back every week, for some reason. I rode the same horse, who got steadily smaller and less frightening… My instructor was brilliant, and I was getting less afraid. 

I became reasonably confident, if not exactly bold, and  decided that the horse was actually lovely, and the only one I could ever ride. I bought her in October 2017 and I was full of excitement and optimism. Unfortunately, we had a few setbacks over the winter, and I fell off more times than I can remember now. My confidence shrank, and my anxiety made my poor, sweet mare anxious. The more tense I got, the more likely she was to spook, and the more she spooked, the less confident I became. I tried a few things (every book ever written on the subject, an instructor who specialised in nervous riders, prescribed medication even… ) but none of it really made an impact on my lack of confidence because it didn’t address the underlying issues. I’d got to the stage of being nervous around my horse on the ground too. 

By the time I contacted Jane, I was desperate to move past my fear or riding so I could enjoy this again. I really didn’t want to part with my mare, but the situation was making me miserable.

Jane took time to listen and understand, then worked out how we could tackle the causes of my anxiety. She worked on both the bigger picture and on the small triggers that provoked a fear response. We worked  on a plan to tackle the issues stage by stage. We set short, medium and long term goals and she cheered me on when I ticked them off. I learned some relaxation techniques and some confidence-building tools, and we used hypnosis to support these.  They are all tools that I can use in other areas of life, too. I’ve found them surprisingly helpful for more than just riding.

Hacking out on Lola

It’s worth mentioning that I also have regular lessons with an excellent  instructor – Jane’s work is non-ridden, and away from a yard environment, which felt very ‘safe’ and comfortable for me, particularly in the early stages. I personally found the two approaches worked very well and gave me quick results. As I learned how to manage my fear, I found that I was able to get more out of my riding lessons, becoming calm enough to concentrate on learning the skills to make me a better rider. As I improved technically, my  confidence increased, and being a better riding gave me the confidence to know I could handle my horse safely. I stopped scaring my poor mare with my own nervousness, and I’m quite surprised (and really delighted) by the progress we’ve made together. First time I hacked out for an hour by myself and enjoyed it was just the best feeling. I kept ticking off the goals; riding a dressage test, hacking along different routes, schooling alone, jumping… it all started to fall into place for me, and it was just amazing.

Jane helped me to change my mental approach to riding, to manage my expectations and to challenge myself without triggering fear again. She didn’t show me how to ride in spite of my fear –Jane has taught me how to ride and enjoy it, without fear.

I have gone from being anxious from the moment I thought about driving to the stables, to riding my own horse every day and looking forward to that time above all else. I’ve even started jumping again. As my horse is resting after treatment for the next few months, I will enjoy the privilege of riding a very handsome young cob belonging to a friend, and I’m really excited to start working with him; to have the confidence and skills to ride him.

Lola is currently recovering after some treatment.

Jane has given me back my confidence and I can’t express how grateful I am to be able to love riding again. Maybe even more than I did first time round.


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A recent FaceBook post seemed to strike a chord with a few people, and It’s something I need to be aware of personally, so I thought I would expand on it a little.

Be proud of your achievements.

When a new client comes to see me for their initial consultation session, or when I meet riders at talks and clinics, I ask them what they do, or wish to do, with their horses. I have lost count of the number of times riders have replied “Oh, I am JUST a happy hacker” or “I ONLY ride at home” or “I ONLY jump little fences”.

So my mission is to get people to drop the “I JUST….” and “I ONLY…..” When you qualify your achievements and the activities you enjoy doing, in this way, then you are telling yourself that what you choose to do is unworthy of celebrating and therefore you will come to believe that, as a rider, you don’t deserve praise or that you are “less” than other riders. This is simply not true.

Each of us makes choices about what we do with our horses depending on our lifestyles, other commitments, experience, the horse we ride, confidence levels and a host of other variables and we don’t need to justify that to anyone. The only thing which we must do is to look after the welfare of our horses, everything else is a choice.

Now, if you describe yourself as ‘Just a happy hacker” but actually you’re an “unhappy hacker” or you’re saying that you do one thing but actually wish you were doing something else, then that is another matter completely. It is part of my job to work out, or to help you to work out for yourself, how you can learn to expand your comfort zone, be happy and content with what you choose to do or to push yourself to compete at a more advanced level and I certainly enjoy the challenge of helping a rider to fulfil their goals.

You can apply this to all sorts of areas of life as well as riding. So no more “I ONLY have a small business” or “I JUST run a couple of kilometres” etc etc.

Let’s all agree to DROP THE “I JUST….” AND “I ONLY…..”!!

Whatever you choose to do, do it with a smile.


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“Spring drew on…and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces in her steps” – Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre.

Today the sun is shining brightly, it’s warm with that familiar Scottish chill in the air and a couple of layers of clothes are still needed. On my usual lunchtime dog walk I took a few pictures of tree buds ready to burst open and new leaves about to unfurl. Spring isn’t usually in too much of a rush to arrive in this part of the world.

Rowan leaves opening in the sunshine.


When we’re in full winter we often yearn for the longer days and warmer sunshine of spring to arrive and the same could be said for our longings when things aren’t going as we wish with our horse riding or any other area of our lives. In the winter we might wish that things were better or different and as spring arrives hope increases, positivity grows and, just like the leaves unfurling on the trees, opportunities begin to appear. Sometimes our, metaphorical, spring comes quickly and at other times it might feel as though it will never arrive.

My job at Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland is to help you to find your spring when you’re struggling to see it and feel that you’re stuck in your winter season. What a joy it is to help someone to open their eyes to the spring which wasn’t too far away but they were just unable to grasp it or it was just beyond their awareness.

My promise to you is to help you to find your very own spring, whatever that means to you, to assist you to find solutions which are sustainable and which can be used in all sorts of situations and to overcome all sorts of challenges. Working together we will work out what is going on and come up with a plan of how to move forward. Drawing from my training and fifteen years of experience of working with horse riders I have a varied and extensive tool box which I can share with you.

I don’t offer you a quick fix, magical solution which will make all your problems vanish in only one session. However, what does come quickly for you is a renewed sense of springlike optimism that things can and will change for the better. Over the last fifteen years clients have had an average of four 1:1 sessions and for every average number there are some who have needed just one or two and others who have had many more. My aim is always to help you to help yourself to regain your enjoyment of riding and be in a position to achieve your goals whatever level you are riding at or aiming towards. Some, but not all, clients will have hypnotherapy and this can often speed up the process by accessing the unconscious mind and helping you to use the inner strengths which you may have been unaware that you had.

So, as the spring always follows the winter, changes will come for you too. Perhaps your spring will arrive more quickly than you expected or perhaps it will take a little longer than you hoped but changes will occur and, working together, we will make sure that those changes are the one you are searching for.

The larch trees are greening up nicely and have these delicate pink flowers.

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I have been thinking of perfection quite a lot recently and wondering about the best approach in writing this piece. I do a lot of my thinking whilst dog walking and today decided it was the right time to sit down put together my thoughts and share them with you. So, I have decided to look at perfection from two points of view, firstly those perfect moments which we experience without consciously going looking for them and secondly consciously striving for perfection and how that might affect us.

This isn’t the place for a philosophical discussion on the meaning of perfection or even its existence, many Phd theses have probably been written on this subject and, I suspect, haven’t come to a definitive conclusion. Simple definitions of “perfection” are “The state or quality of being perfect” or “The action or process of improving something until it is faultless”. Each of us will have our own idea of what we find perfect, no doubt you have heard a friend describe a partner, or a horse, as being “perfect in every way” and you have (privately I hope!) thought “no thanks, not for me”!!

I know that I have experienced “perfect” days which have been memorable for many reasons. Could they have been different? Definitely. Could they have been better? Perhaps. Does that make those memories any less perfect? I don’t think so.

Two “perfect” riding memories spring to mind. One was quite a few years ago riding in a large group in Glen Tilt on my young Highland Pony. We were cantering along the river side and suddenly, for a moment, I felt like I was flying. I realised that Gigha had just effortlessly cleared a stream and for a moment I actually was flying. I was totally in the moment and therefore didn’t interfere with her in any way. A perfect memory which brings a smile every time I think of it. Another rider may have not enjoyed that moment, may have ridden it differently but for me it was perfect.

 

The above perfect moment was riding Gigha, the yellow dun on the right here.

My more recent memory of perfection was during a lesson on a youngish horse who can be a little bit bouncy and I find the canter transition a bit of a challenge. This one time, the coach was chatting to my friend and I asked my horse for canter and gave a loud “woop” as we executed the transition “perfectly”. Nobody else saw it but they knew from my reaction that it had been good. Could another rider have ridden it in a more balanced way, more accurately or “better”? Quite probably, but for me at that moment in time it felt perfect and at that moment, on that day I don’t think it could have been any better for me so therefore it was “perfect”.

The above moment was experienced through these ears.

 

These moments to treasure are, really simply that.  Memories of special occasions and experiences which in our subjective opinion were pretty well perfect.

,This is very different to the perfection which some people strive to achieve in their lives, whether as riders, in a different sport or any part of their life.  This type of perfection is actively sought after and worked towards.  For some time I have been encouraging clients to find a word other than “perfect’ to describe what they are looking for, believing that constantly looking for perfection isn’t helpful.  However, I have changed (or am changing) my opinion.  I think this change has been partly influenced by watching the film “Free Solo” where rock climber Alex Honnold tackles the 900m rock face of El Capitan without ropes or any other form of protection.  He works towards this feat meticulously with multiple rehearsals of the most challenging parts of the climb and many years of experience leading up to this.  He literally needs to be without error because the consequence of making a mistake is certain death and he achieves his goal saying that, for him, the risks on the day were minimal but the consequences of failure were ultimate.  But was it perfect?  Could he have done it differently?  I can’t answer those questions but I know that he did it as well as he possibly could have done on that day and survived to tell the tale.

Asking for people’s opinion on perfection via FaceBook I got some interesting answers.  Sari M said in answer to the question “Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?”  “Yes, or at least, I used to be. It was quite overwhelming to realise the amount of nuance available in horsemanship, how many tiny things there are to improve on, and as a perfectionist it felt like nothing I did could ever attain perfection. I’ve since come to realise that it’s more about the journey than the finished product!”

To the same question Nicola K said “I used to be… certainly striving for perfection with myself as a rider, which naturally resulted in ‘over trying’, tightness and tension … of course these passed onto the horse! These days I’m grateful for the brief rides I fit in, but the perfection days taught amazing control and I miss the precision”.

Susan C said “Totally relate to this sometimes striving for perfection gets in the way of actually doing what I should be doing and remembering what’s it’s all about ‘HAVING FUN’ “

If you are a rider who takes competition seriously and is aiming to be the very best that you can be then perfection needs to be thought about and carefully considered whilst at the same time asking yourself what “perfect” really means to you.  For example has your ride been perfect if you achieve a clear round?  Well, yes on the score board with zero faults but could it have been ridden differently?  Probably.  Were there aspects of the round which , if you could do it again, you would choose to ride differently?  Does it matter to you?

Thinking of dressage or showing where your result or your placing is down to the opinion of the judge rather than clearing fences then perfection is most definitely subjective.  In a competition with more than one judge then you will get more than one opinion or score for each part of the test.

So to strive for ‘perfection” can be a risky strategy as it could lead to dissatisfaction.  But, NOT to strive for perfection could lead to failing to continue to make progress, failing to get better and I doubt that you would want that.

I think that the key lies in being aware of what your goals are, recognising your strengths and acknowledging your challenges.  If you do that then you can constantly try to build on your strengths, work towards overcoming your challenges, develop your technique and your horse’s skills so that, as a partnership, you are always developing.

If you are striving to be the very best the you can be then I think that is something to be truly proud of.  If the very best you can be is considered by you, your coach, the judge and the course officials to be excellent then I really do hope that you can enjoy that and strive to experience it each time you compete.  Is that perfect?  Only you can decide whether the answer is yes or no. (In this context I think “excellence” is being as good, and correct, as you can possibly be given your levels of skill and experience).

I think ultimately the best way to look at perfectionism is to CONSTANTLY STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE AND ENJOY MOMENTS OF PERFECTION ALONG THE WAY.  In this short video we can see Horse riding with Confidence Scotland sponsored rider, Jodie Neill enjoying a moment of perfection whilst constantly striving for excellence.

I would love to hear any feedback on these thoughts and ideas and if you have any experiences of perfect moments or achieving excellence then please do share them if you feel comfortable doing so.


Category: Uncategorized

Category : Uncategorized

I am delighted to be able to share with you a small collaboration with Katie Foulser of Yellow Cob Dressage  .Katie and I looked at how we could collaborate and decided to do a Q&A for each other and also invite a few questions from the public via social media pages which we could both answer. 

 

So this is what we came up with……

 

My questions for Katie and Katie’s replies were:

 Katie and Tess

 

1. I’d love to hear about your riding experience. Can you tell me a bit about what you enjoy doing?

I started riding when I was 5 years old and rode till I was about 17. I did pony club and unaffiliated local shows.

I got back into horses when I was about 29 and now I don’t know what I did with my time during that break !

I have owned Tess since 2016, my friend saw her at Goresbridge sales in Ireland – I fell in love and a few days later I tracked Tess down at a dealer in derby and bought her. Tess was green in her schooling and we have been focusing on dressage.

For the first time in my life at 35 – I have started affiliated dressage with Tess. This is something I thought I would never do and has been such a massive achievement for me.

2. You say that you’ve had some confidence issues. Can you tell me a bit about that and how it came about?

I had a bit of a run of bad luck with horses and after a few accidents on my previous horse I had just lost all my nerve.

Outside of horses, I am quite an introvert and don’t have the best self esteem so as soon as my horse confidence began to take knocks, I just found it really hard to get it all back in balance.

When I got Tess I was terrified to canter in the arena, it took me months to hack her in company only and I would cry before and during the hack and didn’t want to go faster than trot. I would get scared as soon as Tess got worried about anything and would freeze and become a passenger.

It was only in the last year I started hacking her alone. 

3. I’d love to hear about what you have done to help yourself with your confidence. How do you deal with this?

I have had supportive friends which has helped. I also had the biggest determination to want to overcome it.

Apart from work – riding is the only thing I do so I wanted so badly to be able to move past the fear and into a positive place.

I broke down everything into small steps, worked hard to not give myself a hard time if I had a bad day & to celebrate achievements however small.

I also found planning my riding each day or week helped. I would visualise positive rides and worked on a positive mindset. I read a lot about this and found Olivia Towers social media really helpful.

Last year my friends clubbed together and got me a rider confidence course voucher and this was the catalyst that pushed me strides forward.

I have worked for a mental health charity for 14 years and I took some of the tools and techniques from this to apply to my lack of confidence in riding.

4. I Know that you’re a blogger, can you tell me how you got into blogging?

I found I was posting lots of daily updates on my personal page and then when I got my first sponsored rider opportunity with Equimind online shows – I decided to create a Facebook page to blog our journey on.

I was determined that this would be completely honest, open account of our riding journey and although that can be hard to do, I’ve kept to that ever since.

I think people are very quick to always post social media content that portrays themselves / their lives as being perfect all the time and that isn’t reality so I wanted to avoid this and in turn help others who may have some of the same struggles.

We now have Instagram and Twitter as well and I try to do vlogs as well especially when we go to competitions.

5. What are your riding and blogging goals for 2019? I’d love to hear about them.

Unfortunately Tess went lame before Christmas so I’m not entirely sure what this year will bring. However our goals were:

1. Qualify for our first ever Pet Plan area festivals and attend with my best friend and her horse – this will be a first for us all.

2. Qualify for the TGCA cob championships and attend this.

3. Get into the top 15 leaderboard for MyQuest and go to the Myquest regionals.

4. Progress to novice level.

5. Enjoy Tess, learn new things and have fun

 

Katie’s questions for me and my replies:

 Jane riding Charlie at Kilgraston Equestrian

1. Tell me more about what you offer at Riding Confidence Scotland

Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland started in 2004 in response to an awareness that many riders had confidence issues which were spoiling their enjoyment of this wonderful sport.

I had been studying hypnotherapy and psychotherapy and realised that what I was learning could be applied to these riders.

The core of my business is 1:1 sessions with clients where we can work together to find out what is going on and how best to help the rider sort it out by using her mind in a helpful rather than an unhelpful way.

Hypnosis is often used to back up the things we talk about and help the rider make the changes needed at an unconscious level.

I help the rider to develop a “tool box” of ideas to use in different situations which will help them to achieve their goals and overcome anxiety. These riders may be novices or very experienced competitors. Anxiety can arise at any stage of life and experience.

I also do talks to all sorts of different groups: Pony Clubs, Riding Clubs, Yards and at camps etc. Working with riding coaches or trainers I run workshops and clinics where we can combine my psychological approach with ridden work and this is a growing area of my business.

Also on offer are phone or Skype/faceTime sessions for people who live too far away to travel and these are becoming increasingly popular.

2.What is your own riding experience ?

 I first learned to ride when I lived in Germany as a child. Riding, what I now realise, were dressage school masters though I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing at the time!! I gave up after too many experiences on “Rex the Rearer!”

Then I just rode occasionally for years until starting again as an adult.

I bought my first horse with some money I got unexpectedly, a Highland Pony mare and fell in love with this versatile breed, going on to breed a foal from her and buy another youngster. So I have owned and ridden Highlands now for over 20 years. The two I have now are both retired unsound and will spend the rest of their lives with me here at home.

After thinking I had given up riding I started to get the itch again and now ride regularly at an equestrian centre which offers great teaching on lovely well schooled horses. To be honest I feel like I am finally learning to ride properly and I am loving it.

3. What things / themes do you find at the most common fears in riders ?

All riders are different and come with their own experiences and challenges. However, the vast majority of them come with anxiety in one form or another.

Perhaps the most common fears are being affected by a previous negative experience and/or imagining that “something” bad will happen that they won’t be able to deal with. Both of these result in the rider often becoming stuck their comfort zone, perhaps even avoiding riding at all and definitely not enjoying themselves as much as they could.

I like nothing better than a rider telling me, with a huge smile on their face, that thy have done something on horseback that they thought they would never do again such as jumping over a certain height or going for a hack on their own.

4.If you could offer just 1 tip to riders to improve their confidence and mindset what would this be ?

I think my top tip is to learn to ride “in the moment”.

If you remember that if your horse is going in the direction of your choice at the pace of your choice at any moment in time then everything is OK then you have a great skill to help you in any situation.

This means that you aren’t focused on the past or on an imagined future but on what is happening right now.

5. How can riders manage competition fear ?

Competition fear can come from many directions such as the fear of being out of your comfort zone, the fear of being judged, the fear of not being perfect or the fear of getting hurt.

If a rider makes sure they are well prepared for what thy are asking themselves to do they will be more comfortable getting out and about.

Though perhaps the most important thing is to accept that being anxious sometimes is perfectly normal in a competitive situation. When a rider puts a lot of pressure on herself that she mustn’t be anxious then it can make the anxiety much worse. If she accepts it, learns to re-frame it as excitement and use it to prepare her to get out there and have some fun then things can seem much better pretty quickly.

After asking each other questions we both then gave separate replies to those we had received via social media.  So here are the questions followed by each of our answers.

 

1 – Ellie from Facebook “Heart going like the absolute clappers when getting on after my bad accident, improving but still get the shakes if I don’t do it regularly.”

Jane’s Answer:

Hi Ellie,

thanks for your question.

You tell us that you’ve had a bad accident and I’m glad that you have recovered and are riding again though you are continuing to struggle with some ongoing anxiety.

This isn’t surprising at all after an accident but there are definitely lots of ways to help you.

There is an excellent technique called a re-wind which I use frequently following trauma and it can be extremely useful. It is a way of separating emotion from memory and allowing you to learn what you need to from what happened but it no longer having a negative effect on you in the here and now. This is best done 1:1 so you would need to find someone who is qualified in this technique and close enough for you to see.

In the meantime accepting that it’s OK to feel some nervousness can lessen the power of the anxiety and help you begin to have some control over it. Remember that the symptoms of anxiety aren’t a predictor of anything bad happening they are simply sensations brought on by the normal reaction to perceived threat. So when you experience them try reminding yourself that it is only a feeling and perfectly understandable.

If you can learn to ride “in the moment” then this will help you to avoid thinking about the past and trying to predict the future and combine this with some breathing exercises and physical relaxation.

The most simple breathing technique is to make your out breath twice as long as your in breath – this is extremely easy to do and very calming. I like to breath in to the count of 3 and out to the count of 6 but it’s best to find your own rhythm.

Give it a try and see how you get on. Best wishes Jane.

Katie says – It can be extremely difficult to overcome confidence when it stems from a bad accident.  This is because the part of our brain called the “amygdala” senses perceived or actual danger, it makes a split second decision and begins flight response. This amygdala or primitive brain be triggered when you are about to do the same activity e.g riding that happened when you had an accident. When this primitive brain kicks in another part of you brain the cortex is shut down therefore making it hard for you to think clearly problem solve and concentrate.

Some tools that can help overcome this can be undertaking a thinking / speaking activity when your start to do something that may make you anxious e.g when getting on. The type of activity could be counting out-loud, reciting song lyrics. This will help prevent your primitive brain from taking over because your intellectual thinking brain is in control.

Other techniques that may help could be lessons, mindfulness, focussing on the fact that you rode many other times this week or month with no issue and celebrating your successes.

I also found it’s important to not focus on or give yourself a hard time about rides where it hasn’t gone so well and just move onto the next time without dwelling.


2 – Clare from Facebook “I still have confidence issues with Crown and avoid riding him as always picture him bolting off with me which stems from an accident I had riding him. I’m like a nervous wreck and would love to know if there is any way to over come this ? 

Jane’s Answer

Hi Clare

Thanks for your question. From what you tell us it sounds as though your imagination is definitely not helping you and there are some great ways that you can turn this around so that you can begin to think in a more helpful way.

Learning some visualisation techniques will help you to mentally rehearse riding in a more positive way. If you begin by using a word like “STOP” when you get these negative images and then imagining a bright white light then that will break the imagined scene of bolting. Then replace with images of riding as you would wish to ride. If you use all of your senses then this can be so real that you genuinely feel you are on horseback and is very powerful.

Combine this with calming breathing techniques as described to Ellie so that when you’re ready to ride you have a much more helpful mindset.

I would suggest it might be good to have someone with you to help and to just stretch out of your comfort zone in small steps as you regain comfort and confidence with your riding.

Let us know how you get on.

Katie says – it can be really difficult to get over fears when they come from a bad experience.

I would suggest getting some lessons with a really confidence giving instructor who is sympathetic who can boost you up.

It may also help to watch someone else ride Crown so you can see how he is being and made a plan about how to go from there.

Goal setting and breaking things down into steps can be extremely useful – set really small goals that are realistic and so that each time you feel you are achieving something. For example your first ride could involve simply getting on and riding a circle in walk only. The next ride could be two laps in walk etc.

Visualisation may also help you prepare for a ride thinking of positive thoughts and focussing on how you will feel during the ride and afterwards.

3. Dan from Twitter “Hey, confidence questions… I have a relatively green horse, and in the past we have had a couple of big moments and a very painful (but innocuous looking) fall. I want to progress but am crippled with self doubt. Any tips?

Jane’s Answer

Hi Dan

Thanks for your question.

Your doubts are understandable following your falls and now that you’re riding an inexperienced horse.

One difficult question I always ask people is whether they have the skills and experience to ride the horse they have at the moment.

Presuming that is the case then there are ways to help you to move forward.

Remember that you believe what you tell yourself and therefore you might begin by identifying what you are saying to yourself about your riding and start to look at how you can change that. So, perhaps you are telling yourself that you aren’t good enough and could change that to something like “I have the experience to ride this horse and am prepared to seek the help I need to regain my confidence and gradually regain comfort on horseback so that i can enjoy riding.”

Learning to ride “in the moment” is extremely useful so that you aren’t recalling the past or predicting the future but simple focussing on what your horse is doing at any moment in time. Just gradually stretch out of your comfort zone and avoid putting yourself in situations which you aren’t ready for yet.

An empathetic coach will be able to help you with this.

Let us know how things progress for you.

Katie says – Self doubt can be extremely difficult to deal with.

It may be useful to write down your doubts and then write a positive response to these to show yourself that these doubts are not founded in reality.

Are you having lessons with a sympathetic instructor you can relate to ? This can really help remove self doubt by having positive reinforcement about what you think you are not doing well. If this isn’t possible or as well as – could a friend watch you ride and help you counteract these thoughts as they pop up?

Reading about positive mindset may also be of use to you to help you train yourself to approach things with a positive viewpoint.

In addition goal setting to help you move towards constructive incremental small achievements – by accomplishing these each time this will counteract doubts you have about yourself.

4 – Rebecca from Facebook “ I always picture terrible things happening and it stops me from riding. I do have a horse that bucks but apart from that she has given me no reason for nerves. Very frustrating.”

Jane’s Answer

Hi Rebecca

Thanks for your question.

You might be able to see from Clare’s question that you aren’t alone in having an imagination which isn’t helpful. We call this “awfulising” or “catastrophising” where your imagination is thinking of a negative outcome where things go badly wrong. No wonder you are worried about riding.

If you check back to my answer to Clare then the visualisation exercise I described to her can apply to you.

I wonder if there is a reason why your horse is bucking? It’s always important to rule out any physical causes for unwanted behaviour and please do get this checked out if you haven’t already done that.

On a positive note it sounds as though you are coping with the bucking so I guess you have a strong seat and core which is helping you to do that?

A useful confidence building exercise is to do a short analysis at the end of a ride. Look at what went well and be pleased about that. Look at what challenged you and why so that you can learn from mistakes and finish on a reminder of what went well. I hazard a guess that in the majority of rides there is more good than bad?

In the meantime do think about some lessons or coaching from a suitably qualified person who will help you identify what’s going on and why.

Let us know how things progress.

Katie says – Having pictures in your mind of terrible things can be really debilitating.

You say that your horse has not given you any reason for this but she does buck. Is this a worry for you on some level ? Assuming you have ruled out all physical / tack issues for the bucking – do you know when she is likely to do this? Can you push her through this ?

I found that instead of allowing myself to picture bad things that could happen I thought about all the rides I’ve done where nothing bad happened, in fact good things happened. I then would visualise what the ride I was going to do that day would look like to help me turn my thoughts prior to riding into positive ones.

It may be useful to start with small steps / ride for a short period of time or do the thing you enjoy best when riding in order to help push those negative pictures out of the way.

5 – Paula from Facebook “I absolutely love XC but totally poo myself and feel sick because I don’t feel very good at jumping. My horse can jump but I don’t think I help him because I’m nervous. When I do actually do it I’m buzzing.”

Jane’s Answer:

Hi Paula

Thanks for your question.

The symptoms you describe are very common and a result of the hormone cocktail surging around your body as it perceives a potentially challenging situation. Recognising and understanding what’s going on can often help relieve the symptoms.

Make sure you give you self plenty of time to warm up so that you aren’t rushing at the last minute and adding to the stress. having someone with you to help can be useful too as long as they are a calming influence and aren’t winding you up!

You say that you get a huge buzz from eventing so when you are warming up do remind yourself of how amazing you’re going to feel afterwards and focus on that rather than convincing yourself that you’re terrified and something bad is going to happen.

I wonder why you feel that you aren’t good at jumping? What’s the evidence for that? Is it due to lack of experience or lack of technique or is it just something that you are telling yourself? Whatever the reason you can change this by practising until your technique improves or having some coaching. We all have to learn and progress at different rates and it’s important to make sure we aren’t comparing ourselves constantly to others who we perceive as being “better” than us.

So have a think about what’s actually going on with your jumping and find where the areas for improvement are, set some goals and work towards the coming season and look forward to experiencing that buzz again before too long.

Do let us know how you get on.

Katie says – Although you say you feel conflicting feelings about XC it sounds like overall the feelings are really positive.

It is normal to have some fear and anxiety when competing as this helps us have a competitive edge and its human nature to want to do well.

You say you feel you don’t help him – are you having lessons to help you with this ? Does your instructor agree with you ? It may be that you are being too hard on yourself ? Could you have some XC lessons to help build up your confidence and reiterate to yourself what you are doing well.

That feeling you get of buzzing at the end sounds amazing – can you focus on that feeling before you go round and this will help you change your mindset before hand into a positive one.

6 – Louise from Facebook “I feel sick every time I ride my big lad following a fall. I talk myself out of riding him x”

Jane’s Answer

Hi Louise,

Thanks for your question.

It’s perfectly understandable that you have concerns riding after having had an accident and as you will see from the answers to some of the other questions you definitely aren’t alone in this feeling.

If you look at my answer to Ellie’s question you will see that I talk about a technique which I frequently use called a re-wind. This might be something that you would also benefit from and you might like to investigate if there is anyone in your area who can help you with this.

Also the sickness you’re feeling is another common symptom and is simply a result of all those hormones in your body working on overdrive! If you’re interested to find out more about the Neuro-psychology of anxiety then I have a blog planned on the subject for later in the year.

If your anxiety is causing you to avoid riding your horse but you really want to ride then I suggest that you plan some easily achievable goals, recruit help from a coach or a trusted friend and work on a gradual desensitisation from where you are now to being able to enjoy riding once more.

Taking things at your own pace and starting with less challenging goals. Your comfort zone will expand and things you are worried about doing now will once again become enjoyable.

Let us know how you get on.

Katie says – It can be difficult when anxiety makes you feel sick but it is understandable that this can happen after a bad fall.

It may be helpful to plan your riding and set goals for yourself for a ride and keep the first few rides short and positive so you can replace the negative thoughts. This could involve literally getting on riding a lap and getting off again so it’s building positive reinforcement of good riding experiences and increase this a little every time.

Visualising a positive ride and how it will feel can help develop a more positive mindset.

When you get on your horse it may help to focus on the here and now and immediately give yourself a distraction from the fears.

Perhaps go for a hack with a friend and talk about a tv series or how your week has been to take your focus away from negative feelings.

When you have had a good ride no matter how small this may seem celebrate this achievement, think about how it made you feel during and afterwards and aim to create this same feeling and mindset each time you ride.

 

Katie and I hope you’ve enjoyed this Q&A post and would love to receive any feedback you may have. Thanks for taking the time to read this.