Confidence Tricks–Top Horse Tips For Apprehensive Riders

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Are you an apprehensive rider? Well take heart... you’re not alone! Top Horse has put together some tips to improve your riding enjoyment.

1. Talk to yourself

It doesn’t have to make much sense...mutter things like “...heels down, shoulders back, hands soft....” Sing your favourite songs, recite poems. Pray if you’re so inclined. Focus on the sensation of your seat in the saddle moving in rhythm to the horse’s movement. Breathe deeply, mentally tell yourself ‘RELAX’ in time to your horse’s movement while consciously releasing any tension in your body. Sometimes nerves cause us to become tense without realising and this will communicate itself to your horse, who may also become tense and edgy.

2. Have lessons

Well, you KNEW this one was going to be mentioned! But it makes can never stop learning when it comes to horses. Even top dressage riders have regular instruction; it helps iron out any bad habits and reinforces everything you’ve learned. A good instructor will also be able to advise you about any problems you’re having with your horse. Trainer and instructor, Sandi Simons recognised many riders suffered from a lack of confidence in the saddle, so started her Confidence Clinics which are now so popular she now holds them almost every week throughout Australia!

3. Have lessons on the lunge

Why? When someone is lunging you, THEY are in control which leaves you free to concentrate on developing a secure, independent seat. You’ll use and strengthen muscles you didn’t know you had and if the lunge lesson also includes simple vaulting exercises, develop your sense of balance and rhythm. Lunge lessons are invaluable for nervous riders as someone else is in control of your horse and the situation in general, which in turn will boost your riding confidence.

4. Time to quit?

Sadly, sometimes you have to recognise that it’s time to give up on a particular horse no matter how much you love him or her. The horses may have been purchased as quiet to begin with but remember that an owner/rider should be the leader and their horse the follower or as one well-known trainer put it, “Every time you think your horse is ‘testing’ you about your leader/follower relationship, there’s probably been another four times he also tested you but you didn’t even know about it.” Due to inexperience on your part, your horse may have ‘tested’ you, decided he’s going to take over as leader and starts getting away with bad behaviour that gets progressively worse. Don’t try to push past your fear (which is a natural reaction after all!) and press on, you might get injured. It’s better to give up and ask a more experienced rider to take over before you decide to give up on riding altogether. Maybe you should sell your horse–you’re not doing either of you any favours by continuing.

5. Ride in an enclosed area

Ride in an enclosed area if possible. An indoor school or dressage arena is ideal but not all riders have access to these, so even a small paddock will do. Make sure there aren’t any other horses loose in there or they could stir your horse up which is dangerous! Check the area has no hiding spots where ‘horse monsters’ might lurk; things like flapping tin and plastic bags can trigger the ‘flight or fight’ response where your horse will run like heck and ask questions later! If riding in an enclosed area makes you feel more secure, you will be more relaxed and this will transmit through to your horse.

6. Progress at your own pace

Don’t let anyone bully you into trying something you’re not happy about. If you don’t want to ride on the road, try that high jump or go for a gallop ...then politely but firmly decline. You need to progress at your own pace, in your own time. A bad experience or mishap could set your confidence back several notches. We’ve all got our own riding comfort zones.

7. Watch out on windy days

Windy days often equal nervous horses. The horse’s eyes are positioned on the side of his wide head which helps them see to the rear and side...and any predators that might try to sneak up! Constantly moving trees and bushes on windy days represent lots of movement to the horse, who may presume potential predators lurking everywhere! This will make him very wary and jumpy which is a scarey situation for riders lacking confidence. Not all horses are like this but if your horse seems jumpy and frisky on windy days, give riding a miss until the weather calms down again.

8. Check your horse’s diet

Is your horse getting too much heating food that’s causing him to fizz up? Sometimes a simple change of diet can do wonders.

Is your horse getting too much heating food that’s causing him to fizz up? Sometimes a simple change of diet can do wonders.

Also check things like the fit of your horse’s gear as any discomfort could cause him to play up. Does your saddle fit properly? Make sure the girth isn’t chafing. Have your horse’s teeth checked...they may have sharp edges that need filing down. Would you like to sit through a day at school with a toothache? Well your horse doesn’t like being forced to endure schooling sessions with sharp teeth digging into his gums. What would you do if you were in the horse’s position? We’d play up too...bolt, shake our heads around...whatever it took to get rid of the pain!

9. Go riding with friends

It’s always nicer to have someone to chat with and just be there in case anything happens. You never might be so busy yakking you forget to be nervous! Let your friends know you’re not a confident rider...if they’re genuine friends they’ll be sympathetic and only too glad to offer their support. All the better if they are more experienced than you and can give you some helpful tips (without coming across as bossy or know-it-alls we hope). Horses are herd animals so going for rides with other horses will also help your horse to be more settled.

10. Form a support group

Lots of riders lack confidence...visit any horsey internet forum and you’ll often find heaps of posts from people just like you. Heck, horses are big, strong animals and it’s only natural be be scared of them sometimes! Don’t be ashamed, you’re not alone! Maybe you can form an email support group to help and encourage one another, to share your ups and downs and just make horsey friends in general.

11. Learn!

Go to a training school/days, if you can’t take part, then at least go to watch. Carlos Tabernaberri holds clinics Australia-wide and can offer advice about the relationship you have with your horse. Carlos has a knack of understanding horses, so can shed some light on the problems you might be having. Horses don’t just act on a whim, pretty much everything they do is based on their survival instinct and if you can understand and work with that, you’re on the path to comprehending these equine brutes we love so much! Learn from a trainer’s years of experience and knowledge, they will have techniques you can apply at home.

12. Watch your mood

Don’t ride if you’re angry or upset as horses are very sensitive and will sense your mood, which might cause them to play up. Don’t think you can hide your mood from your horse either! They are a LOT more attuned to it than we realise!

So remember…you’re NOT alone, help IS out there!

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