Getting Back To It

Tag: Equestrian performance psychology

Have you had a break from riding and are re-starting or looking to re-start soon?

There may be many reasons for your break. Perhaps you’ve recently had a baby or maybe you used to ride a lot in the past and life then took you down a different path for some time but now you have the urge to ride again. Perhaps you’ve had a break because you had no horse to ride for a while and there were no other opportunities available for you.

Whatever your reason I hope that you feel excited about re-starting this wonderful sport and are looking forwards to having many new experiences on horseback.

There will, undoubtedly, be some riders who simply get back on and ride away without giving it a second thought but, I suspect, there are many more who experience some feelings of anxiety and self doubt at this stage of their riding life and this is perfectly natural. So if that’s what you’re experiencing then you’re most definitely not alone.

There are two main things that I would like to focus on in this article. Firstly your past experience and secondly looking at where you are right now as you begin riding again.

When you’re thinking of riding again it’s common to think and feel that you’ve lost your previous skills both mental skills and technical riding skills. However, this really isn’t the case. All of your past riding experience is still there, much of what you do will be almost instinctive due to muscle memory and having developed an unconscious ability to know what to do on and with a horse. Of course you may feel pretty rusty and have lost some physical strength and balance but that will return pretty quickly once you get going. Do give yourself credit for all that you have done in the past, it may be a bit hidden at the moment but when you scratch the surface you’ll find that it’s still there.

One of the most useful things to do at this stage is to work out where you are now i.e. today or the day that you get back on a horse. Looking at your strengths and challenges is a useful exercise and I suggest that you write these down as this will help you to clarify where you are now and what you need to work on.

For example your strengths might be the you have many years of experience, a nice horse and a supportive family. Your challenges may be limited free time and a lack of physical fitness. So you can see what will help you and what you need to work on in the short to medium term.

Giving yourself credit for all of your previous riding and deciding where you are right now will help you to avoid the feeling of “I can’t do it any more” or “But I used to be able to do it”.

Our lives are dynamic and constantly changing and that is part of the fun of life. With a bit of hard work I’m sure that you’ll be enjoying your riding again very soon.




Tag: Equestrian performance psychology

I’m publishing this post on 1st September 2021 and it’s an absolutely beautiful day here at Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland HQ.

I am wondering how those of you reading this regard the changing seasons and the beginnings of a new month? I know how I think and feel about the new season but I’ve been working with people for a long time so I also know that not all of you will think or feel the same way that I do.

An important lesson learned early in the career of any professional who works with people, particularly in any kind of therapeutic role, is to never assume that you know what somebody else is thinking and how they are feeling.

One of the many things I love about my job is the detective work of discovering how a client thinks and feels about their riding and their life and how these thoughts and feelings then affect their behaviour and their enjoyment of all of the things which they choose to do in life.

I wonder how YOU think and feel about the transition from Summer to Autumn?

Personally speaking, I have always felt a huge sense of excitement at the beginning of September and this goes back to school days and the start of a new academic year. I see September as more of an important beginning than January in many ways, with its sense of anticipation for meeting new people and learning new things. How about YOU?

The change of a season can be a useful time to evaluate your progress in working towards your goals. How has your Summer been? Which aspects of your riding have gone well and what are you proud of? Perhaps things have exceeded your hopes and expectations and perhaps they haven’t.

Has the mental side of your riding experience matched the technical riding experience? Most riders are very much a “work in progress” regarding their mindset and mental resilience and perhaps this is something which you can plan to work on over the coming months?

No doubt there will have been many learning opportunities from everything you have experienced over the Summer months, some mistakes will have been made and how are you going to learn from those?

How are you going to put those learnings into practice gong forwards so that goals already achieved aren’t seen as an end point but rather as a stepping stone along your riding journey. EFFECTIVE goal setting is always a motivating exercise rather than the opposite.

So as we approach the Autumn season I wonder how YOU are feeling and what your plans are. I would love to hear from you and am here to help you with confidence and performance mindset so that you can make the most of the opportunities which come your way.

The first hints of Autumn on a beautiful day



Tag: Equestrian performance psychology

I had a teacher at school who regularly gave this advice pre-exams. He said that when looking at a paper we should choose the questions first that we thought we could do best at and then to give them our very best efforts. That way, he suggested, we would gain our best marks for those questions. Then we could tackle the questions we were less certain of and do the best we could possibly do on those ones.

After the exam was over we were advised to look at the areas where we had received most marks and study those where we hadn’t done so well so that we could then learn from our mistakes and do better next time.

I guess this was my first experience of really building on my strengths and working on my challenges and I often thank that teacher for his useful advice which I still remember after all these years.

woman in red long sleeve writing on chalk board
In my school days we still used blackboards! (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com)

This little exercise is something which I often suggest to my clients. One of the most important things I can do with someone who comes to me for help with their riding, whether they are a nervous novice or an experienced competitor, is to help them to identify their strengths and their challenges.

They may perhaps have years of experience (strength) riding many different horses but still have a lack of self belief (challenge) that they can be successful in their chosen discipline. They may be new to riding (challenge)and about to set out on their first journey into horse ownership but have lots of support (strength). Or maybe they have a strong ability to stay focused when schooling at home (strength) but struggle to maintain this when under pressure (challenge).

Each of you reading this will have aspects of life and riding which you find more straightforward and others with which you struggle. Strengths and challenges can be both physical and mental and, of course, it’s the psychological side of riding where my expertise lies. I can relate to the physical challenges but I’m not a technical riding coach so would never claim to be an expert (I am happy to help you to find an appropriate coach though, as I have many contacts in the equestrian world who are amazing riding coaches).

A frequent response when we first start to look at this exercise is “Oh….I don’t think I have ANY strengths!”. My job, in this situation is to dig a bit deeper and to help you to identify the areas of your life where you do show mental strength and resilience and to then work out how you can apply these to your riding. For example, do you have aspects of your work life which help you and which you can bring over to your riding? Sometimes, a starting point is to think of the things which you enjoy doing most and it is quite likely that that is where your strengths lie.

For example you may be a rider who is struggling to feel confident enough to hack out on your own but you love simply spending time with your horse – you can consider that time as a strength and then look at ways to use that time effectively to seek out the help you need to fulfil your goal of hacking out happily.

Or maybe you absolutely love the cross country phase of eventing but see the show jumping as a major challenge (This is SO common amongst the riders I work with!). Perhaps you’re telling yourself that the XC is fun and enjoyable and then constantly repeating to yourself that you “always” mess up the SJ! Where can you make some changes in your self talk, and therefore your self belief, which will assist you in the phase you’re finding so much more difficult?

Those of you who’ve met me will know that I’m a great fan of a nice notebook. So after reading this why not get yourself a notebook (or whatever you like making notes on/in) and start by making some lists of your strengths and challenges. This simple exercise will help you to be able to build on those strengths and perhaps see those challenges change from something you worry about to something which you can work towards overcoming.

I have plenty of other exercises we can do together if you choose to seek my help so please do just shout if you’d like a chat about how we can work together.


Tag: Equestrian performance psychology

Looking back at some of my older posts I came across one where I stated that one of my aims was to get riders to drop the “I only….” and “I just….” phrases when they are talking about the things they do with their horses. I think it’s worth re-visiting this as I am sadly still hearing this phrase a bit too often when I meet riders for the first time. Hopefully once I’ve worked with them, one of the things they learn is to stop justifying the things they choose to do on horseback and instead to celebrate their achievements whilst continuing to enjoy the process of learning.

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.

I’m a happy owner of two retired highland ponies.

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


Tag: Equestrian performance psychology

I’ve had a lot of new followers recently so perhaps it’s time to share a bit more about myself and my background and what brought led me to starting Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland. 

I get asked fairly frequently about my own personal riding and horse owning experience so here we go. Here’s “My Horsey Life”.

My beautiful retired girls Luna and Gigha
Photo: Joanne Boyle Photography

I first started learning to ride when we lived in Germany and I was about 9 or 10. We were taught by the ever so slightly scary Herr Hase on what, I now realise, were dressage schoolmasters. We did all sorts with them but, I have to say, there wasn’t a lot of time for fun. No opportunities for charging around or heading out for hacks. It was all schooling in the indoor and, only very occasionally outdoor, arenas. I rode there for a few years but gave up after one too many experiences on Rex the Rearer.

I then rode occasionally on holidays and when opportunities arose but nothing regular.


I remember a conversation soon after my husband and I met. We were talking about what we would like to be in a position to own one day. He said he’d love a LandRover and I said I’d love a horse. I often think about the conversation and am so glad that both our dreams came true.

When we moved to Dollar in the early 90’s I decided to start riding regularly again and within a couple of years I bought my first Highland mare Judy. I was very inexperienced but we had a lot of fun together, hacking out and doing some showing.

Judy was the first of three Highland mares I’ve owned. I have her daughter Luna who was born here in millennium year plus another mare, Gigha, who I bought as a two year old from her breeder. Somehow I managed to produce two nicely mannered ponies with very little experience of riding and handling youngsters. I honestly think I got away with it because they both have inherently nice natures. Again I did some showing plus lots of hacking and fun rides with these two until they retired. Re-reading this paragraph I note that I’m doing something that I would pick up on in a client’s use of language – minimising my own skill! So I have to say that there MUST have been more than a little positive input from me to produce these two wonderful ponies!

Luna and Gigha are still with me. Neither of them is sound enough to be ridden now but they will spend the rest of their lives here simply enjoying each other’s company and living a good life.

Over the years I’ve been on some great riding adventures including up and down mountains in Italy, mountain exploring deep in the Andes and riding across the Rajasthan on very skinny Marwari horses on a fundraiser for The Brooke.


I was quite far out of my comfort zone riding such fast and skinny horses in India!
This was a lot of fun – riding deep in the Argentinian Andes. (NB I would normally wear a helmet but in this instance none were available and I REALLY wanted to ride!)


So now, whilst I own two horses, I don’t have anything of my own to ride. For a while I thought I might give up on the riding but then I started to miss it too much. I asked around and found a wonderful riding school with excellent horses and I now have regular lessons from great coaches.

If I’m very honest I feel like I’m finally learning to ride properly and I’m loving developing new skills and confidence on horseback. I plan to continue riding, and having fun on horseback indefinitely and look forward to many more adventures.

You can ALWAYS have fun on a Highland Pony.

Tag: Equestrian performance psychology

One of the techniques which I use a lot in my work with clients, and which I teach clients to use for themselves, is visualisation. And one of the many uses of this skill is confidence boosting which has the result of boosting a client’s resilience. Does this sound good?

In hypnosis, or in general conversation, I will ask a client to re-live a super positive past experience, one where they have exhibited mental strength and problem solving abilities, and to really immerse themselves, using all of their senses, in that strong memory. Then, drawing all of that strength and self belief from the past experience into themselves, I ask them to imagine a future situation (which they might perhaps find challenging) and to note how much easier it is to mentally rehearse that future experience with all of their powerful positivity. With practice, this is a hugely useful tool for riders and can be applied to any area of life such as other sports, work or any activity.

I was recently listening to the BBC Sounds podcast All in the Mind and one of the things it was looking at was a research project from the University of Zurich looking at this very thing. The project shows that “Reflecting on Your Own Capabilities Boosts Resilience and looks at how developing a belief that that we have some power and control over a situation helps us to grow in what they term “Self Efficacy”.

So if we learn to recall times when we have shown this skill of self efficacy we learn to be able to tackle new challenging situations more effectively because we truly understand that we can do this. “A self-efficacious person is convinced that they can draw on their own powers to overcome difficult and challenging situations. It doesn’t matter whether this is actually the case, as Kleim explains: “Without believing in your own capabilities, you wouldn’t take on any challenges in the first place.” Self-efficacious people have stronger problem-solving abilities and a higher level of persistence. They also show changes in brain activation in regions linked to emotional regulation.”

How about giving this a go for yourself?

Find somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed for a short while (phone off!)

Allow your mind to take you back to a super positive past experience (it doesn’t have to be a riding memory but that would be extra helpful ). It’s important that this memory is one where you have solved problems and overcome challenges in a positive way, rather than just any old happy memory. Allow that memory to grow and strengthen – where were you? Who were you with? What were you wearing? What was the weather like? What can you hear? Perhaps even what can you smell? What personal strengths did you draw on?

Allow the pleasure of that positive past experience, and the self belief associated with it, to grow and develop and draw it into your very being.

Then look forward to your new situation and see how you can handle it so much more easily because you’re using all of that power and self belief from the past. Perhaps start by imagining a mildly challenging situation and then once you’re familiar with the technique you can use it any time you need it.

The University of Zurich study showed that “Our study shows that recalling self-efficacious autobiographical events can be used as a tool both in everyday life and in clinical settings to boost personal resilience,” 

If you’d like some help and support to learn how to use this and apply it to your own life and riding, so that you too can become more resilient, then just drop me a DM.

Recalling a time when you have used personal strengths to overcome challenges is very powerful.


Tag: Equestrian performance psychology

Developing the resilience to handle challenges, overcome disappointments and learn from both good and bad experiences will help all riders fulfil their goals and generally enjoy their riding more. Being resilient gives us the strength needed to be able to move forwards and not be defined by any setbacks. Resilience is empowering and helps us to grown in self belief.

Working on the seven “C’s” of resilience will help you to strengthen what you already have and what you have already learned from all the experiences which have brought to this point in your life.

COMPETENCE
The belief that you can and will handle a situation effectively. That you have the skills and experience necessary to do what you are asking yourself to do. Of course skills can always be improved and refined and this is why most riders who wish to progress in the sport continue to have coaching. Competence can also apply to mindset skills.

CONFIDENCE
Having confidence comes from that deep belief in your own abilities and is closely aligned with competence. Confidence isn’t a fixed attribute and there will be times when it’s stronger than others but developing an overall belief in yourself will help you to grow in confidence and to enjoy yourself more.

CONNECTION
Developing close ties with family, friends, coaches, equestrian professionals and “your team” will help you to develop a real sense of community and support. Surrounding yourself with people who care about you and have your best interests at heart helps you to have that support system in place which is so important for resilience.

CHARACTER
We are all different and learning to accept that is part of maturing as a person. Being true to your own values and set of moral principles is important for all of us, as is demonstrating a caring attitude towards others. I believe that we all have a responsibility to show kindness and care towards others and that this helps us to feel better about ourselves which, of course, is part of being resilient.

CONTRIBUTION
We all have a contribution to make in life, great or small. We are all important and have a role to play in whatever form that takes.

COPING
Learning to cope effectively with stress helps you to become better able to cope with life’s challenges. Learning to be able to tolerate the temporary discomfort of stressful situations will help us all to perform at our best, whatever “performance” means to each of us.

CONTROL
Realising that we have control over our decisions and taking full responsibility for them helps us to grow and develop as riders and as human beings. We can control what we learn from experiences and take the responsibility to apply that learning in the future. This builds and strengthens resilience.

WHICH “C” IS YOUR STRONGEST AND WHICH NEEDS SOME ATTENTION?

Stand tall and proud and you will bloom


Tag: Equestrian performance psychology

2020 has certainly been a challenging year hasn’t it? I don’t want to dwell on those challenges though because there have been many good things during this year and I choose to focus on these.

For Horse riding with Confidence Scotland the year began with some lovely new people getting in touch with a view to collaborating for talks, workshops and clinics and I hope that these ideas will be able to come to fruition in 2021, as lockdown has meant that they didn’t all happen this year. I always enjoy meeting and chatting with other equestrian professionals about how we can combine our skills and experience for the benefit of horse riders.

When lockdown kicked in I, like so many people, had to embrace online working and this has proved to be a great success for many clients. In fact, despite the pandemic, I have had more new clients this year than I had in 2019. I’ve enjoyed working with riders at all levels helping them to overcome confidence issues and develop a stronger mindset for performance and competition.

I have managed to get to a couple of camps with Equiteam Confidence Camps when we have been allowed to get together. These are always hugely enjoyable and the team are great fun to work with so I thank them for their continuing support of the work I do.

With life being a bit quieter during the first lockdown period I enrolled to do the Centre 10 APEC foundation course. This is a course in applied psychology for equestrian coaches and I was able to join because of my experience working with riders. I loved the 12 weeks of learning so much that as soon as it finished I signed up for the advanced course with them and I’m about half way through that as I write here today.

I have done many courses over the years in various aspects of psychology, psychotherapy and counselling but this is the first time I’ve found something specifically for the equestrian world. I have been hugely impressed with the ideas and the quality of teaching and materials so I am loving this new learning.

I have also used the extra time when things have been quiet socially to do some more writing of blogs and have been a regular contributor the the Horse & Rider magazine “Ask the Experts” column which has been fun.

My sponsored riders Jodie Neill (Eventing) and Jodie Campbell (Dressage and Showing) have done what they’ve been able throughout the year and both have continued to be a great support for the work I do. Towards the end of the Summer Natalia Mallon joined the team and I’ve enjoyed getting to know her and supporting her in re-finding her confidence and love of show jumping.

We have exciting plans for 2021 with a new online opportunity for riders to get their mindset boosted to set themselves up to make the most of 2021. This will run as a membership group on Facebook throughout February and if you would like to join in then just follow this link

In the Autumn I worked with Joanne Boyle Photography who took some lovely pictures for me to use on my website and social media. You will see her photos on many of my posts. Here is one of my favourites.

On a personal note, once again, there has been sadness in my family. My lovely Mum passed away at the start of the year. We had lost Dad in 2018 and then my mother-in-law in 2019 so we still do feel a bit raw. Mum had some happy times in her care home after Dad died but became increasingly frail and dependent until she slipped away in January.
Mum was a teacher and therefore it seems fitting that in the year of her passing I have done so much learning. I dedicate all of this new learning to her.

Mum (with the plaits) never rode a horse but she had fun at the beach on this donkey ride with her sister!