Your horse riding confidence - can you get it back?Jun 30, 2021
Everyone who rides wants to be a confident rider, but this is a difficult goal for many. A loss of confidence has many implications regarding how well and safely you ride. Losing your confidence can happen suddenly and unexpectedly or over a long period of time.
First of all, make sure you understand this - almost every rider faces fear at one time or another, and many riders lose their confidence. It is not something to be ashamed of; in most cases, your confidence can be fully restored with the right mindset and help.
If you lose your confidence, it is important that you build it back up slowly but surely, and that you recognise that, like a building, your confidence needs secure foundations. If you try to build too fast, your confidence will crumble before it gets a chance to become fully established...
When you lose your horse riding confidence, why not just give up?
If you lose your confidence, other people may say, ''why not just give up?'' But for many riders, giving up is not an option, no matter how scary riding becomes. Many riders have what I call 'the horse gene'. If you have 'the horse gene' you will not give up riding (or the wish to ride) as it is a very important part of your life. So losing your confidence is extremely stressful as you either feel under pressure to ride, but you may be completely unable to, or you may still ride but no longer enjoy it.
You are not alone; most people lose their horseriding confidence at some point
This problem is more common than you might think! There are various situations that can lead to a loss of confidence and sometimes (many times in fact) it is a combination of several:
- Some riders have confidence issues when they return to riding after an interruption. For some people, this interruption is when they have children, but it may also be because a career took precedence for a few years. Having a family can also make people more cautious/careful as they now have more responsibilities and worry about the impact it will have on their family if they get injured.
- The older you get, the more you know. This can lead to a healthy respect for the power of horses. Sometimes it can lead to outright fear.
- Confidence issues can result from one or more bad experiences in the past, such as falls and resultant injuries. Even knowledge of other people’s falls/injuries can lead to a loss of confidence.
- You may have a horse that takes you out of your comfort zone. If you are 'over horsed' this may be valid - the horse may be outside your current skill level, either temporarily or permanently.
- Knowing that you are not as strong/balanced/supple etc. as you once were as you age. This can mean that you start to lose confidence in your own abilities.
- Some people are naturally more cautious than others. This means they tend to lose confidence more easily.
- Stress/anxiety in other areas of a person's life can 'spill over' into their riding life. This often results in a loss of confidence when doing things that previously were not a problem.
Whatever the reason you have lost your confidence it can usually be restored with the right help and support.
Even if you never regain the level of confidence that you might have had before you should still be able to enjoy riding again if that is what you want to do. In fact, I have often been amazed over the years by how determined (and successful) some people are despite having quite horrific past incidents (and sometimes injuries).
So addressing any confidence issues as soon as possible and learning how to preserve your confidence is essential for your sanity and your safety. Below are some steps that you can take to help get you back in the saddle and on your way.
How can you get your horse riding confidence back?
- Take small achievable steps. Many people make the mistake of trying to progress too quickly or taking risks. If you do too much too soon you might go backwards instead of forward. At the same time, accept that you will have good days and bad days. As long as you are generally moving in the right direction try to be happy with that.
- Confidence is very easy to lose and can be much harder to gain. So make sure that you keep control of any situations where there is a potential for things to get out of hand and do not allow yourself to be pushed too far, too fast, by (usually) well‑meaning (but often inexperienced) family members or friends.
- Always progress at your own speed. Don’t be rushed, but do respond positively to encouragement from experienced, knowledgeable horse people (who have an understanding attitude). By all means, have goals but do not 'beat yourself up' if you are finding them difficult to reach. It may be that they are not practical and you need to break them down into more achievable steps.
- Aim to spend more time with positive helpful people and avoid spending time with negative critical people. Keeping the right company goes a long way to helping to regain your confidence.
- Accept that you may never again be as 'brave' as you were when you were a child or teenager. But realise that when you are young much of this 'bravery' comes from a lack of experience. That is what is meant by the saying 'ignorance is bliss'. With age comes experience; use this experience wisely, and you should be able to enjoy riding again.
- Once you feel that you have your confidence back aim to ride as regularly as possible. Long gaps will tend to diminish your confidence again. Even once or twice a week on a regular basis is good enough if that is all that you have time for.
- The more you ride (as long as you continue to have positive experiences), the better your riding ability will become and the better you will feel. This puts you on a generally upwards spiral rather than the downwards spiral that occurs when you are not having positive experiences - leading to wanting to ride less and so on.
- At the same time try not to put pressure on yourself if you cannot ride as regularly as you would like. These days there are far more pressures on everyone, timewise, than ever before, especially if you have family and/or work pressures. You can only do what is realistic for you.
Your horse can help or hinder you when aiming to get your confidence back
Stick to riding a well-trained, quiet horse (at least until your confidence fully returns). Aim to acquire an educated, sensible mount on a temporary or permanent basis to build your confidence. A good 'school master' or 'school mistress' can be very hard to find, but they may be the key to regaining your confidence, and they are literally worth their weight in gold.
If your own horse frightens you, you may have to consider re‑homing him or her. Another alternative, if you have the space and budget, is to not ride this particular horse while you ride a quieter horse and gain your confidence back. You may feel you will get along fine with your horse once your confidence returns. You could still be working with them on the ground (doing groundwork) which will pay off later when you begin to ride this particular horse again.
- You may decide not to ride this horse again but still want to keep the horse. Horses do not have to be ridden! So, that is fine too. Don't be pushed into thinking that you have to ride a horse that you own.
- If you are passing a 'problematic' horse on to someone else, do the right thing and be totally honest about why you are looking for a new home for the horse. It is in no one's interest (yours, the horse's, or the potential new owner) to not be truthful about why you are looking to place your horse in a new home.
- Be realistic about what sort of horse you should ride/own. Pretty much everyone starts out imagining themselves riding an exquisitely beautiful but temperamental, snorting 'beast'. For some people, reality kicks in much sooner than others and they accept that with age comes experience. They learn to value different things and so understand that the most valuable horses are not usually the ones that appear to 'breathe fire' and have looks 'to die for' but are the ones that are a pleasure to be around for other reasons.
- Make sure that your horse is being fed and managed correctly (i.e. not being given too much high-energy feed and not over confined with too little exercise). A horse with too much energy from incorrect feeding/over confinement can be dangerous (plus this is a welfare issue for the horse).
- Horses that are not working hard (and this is most of them) should be fed a low-energy, but high-fibre diet (no grains or hard feed, lots of low-energy hay if pasture is unavailable or is unsuitable) and only supplemented with high-energy supplements if their workload warrants it. They should be turned out as much as possible (24/7 preferably) with other horses so that they can live and behave 'like a horse'.
Your instructor/helper can help you to get your horse riding confidence back
Try to find a sympathetic instructor who specialises in restoring confidence in riders. You may be fortunate enough to find an instructor who also has school horses. Instructors that specialise in confidence restoration are quite rare, but they do exist so keep asking around. They may not actually describe themselves as such even though they have skills in these areas so you may need to 'read between the lines' in order to find them.
If you do not have an instructor, or between lessons, you will feel better if you have someone who can help you by being there when you ride. This person must be sympathetic; otherwise they will do more harm than good!
Can you be too confident when horse riding?
Believe it or not, it is possible to be over-confident. In fact, this is how people often lose their confidence in the first place.
As already mentioned, ' ignorance is bliss'; many people get into dangerous situations with horses simply because they have no understanding (through inexperience) of how horses really think, feel, and behave.
When you are first 'getting into horses' it is easy to think that horses are just like humans (but bigger and hairier!). In fact, horses have their own very complex set of behaviours, needs etc. that you should take time to learn about in order to keep yourself safe and your horse healthy (physically and mentally). It is not fair to horses to disregard what is really important to them and replace this with what humans think is important to them.
Improve your horse riding skills
Work to improve your position and balance! This is one of the fastest ways to restore your confidence by making you feel safer and more secure as soon as possible! Learning how to ride 'more confidently' by improving how you sit makes a huge difference.
Learning about how to keep the lower legs ‘engaged’ underneath you, improving the stability of your lower legs, and improving your position and balance are at the heart of The Horse Rider’s Mechanic books and Horse Rider's Mechanic online course
How can you learn more about rider biomechanics?
Sign up for this FREE 23-page PDF checklist 10 Common Position and Balance Checks for Riders. Start learning how to be the best rider you can be.