Julie wrote to me about a situation that I know is not at all uncommon; she had a series of “bad experiences” jumping, a bit of a break (in her case a few years) and now she is finding on her return that her mojo and jumping confidence has totally left the building. Gah!
Here’s what she has to say….
I’m wanting some help over coming my fear around jumping. I am an experienced rider and although never overly brave, I would happily jump around metre courses. However, I had a couple of bad experiences and a break from jumping (a few years) and when I have come back to it I find that even the tiniest fence is terrifying.
My thought process the whole time is what will go wrong, such as the horse will stop and I will go over its head rather than thinking about what will go right. As a result I avoid jumping. I really want to get back into it and to be competitive again. What can I do?
The situation that you are describing is not an uncommon one, although in saying that it doesn’t make it any less frustrating or upsetting. In regards to the bad experiences you describe, here’s a slightly different look at it which will help you make sense of how your mind has stored the experience…
Whenever we experience a strong emotional reaction that is linked to a specific event the two essentially become interlinked or anchored to each other. Our minds do this as a short cut mechanism to prevent us from repeating harmful or dangerous experiences unnecessarily. Regardless of the actual outcome of the experience, your mind has interpreted it as threatening to your emotional or physical security (it goes all homeland security on you), and simplistically speaking has stored the experience in the hard drive of your subconscious mind.
If you think of the mind like a computer, in order for us to access specific files, we need to provide the right triggers. In this case, jumping for you if the trigger for the file to be reopened, and as a consequence you experience a negative reaction- your mind is simply trying to prevent you reliving the same experience again. It has your best interest at heart! Given that you have had a significant period away from jumping and left on a “bad note”, your mind has had many opportunities to revisit the file and play the movie of your experience over and over again, reinforcing the emotions. The time lapse between has also ensured that no other experiences have been provided to challenge or undermine its validity.
There are three main objectives that I would like to work with here. The first is to reprogram your association with jumping from one that is negative, to one that associates it with pleasure and fun. Instead of thinking about what it is costing you, or how bad it feels to jump, I want you to switch it around and think about what it is costing you not to jump. Get as emotional as you can. We want to switch the “pain point” around. For example, not jumping might mean that you aren’t able to achieve the goals that you set out for yourself, that you rob yourself of an exciting and pleasurable experience with your horse. Think about everything you are going to miss out on by not jumping and give yourself some leverage.
The second is to create the future in advance. Sit down and write out your vision for your ideal jumping round or training session. You don’t have to think too far ahead- this might just involve you happily popping over a couple of small jumps in the arena. Introduce as many of the senses are possible. What do you see in your mind’s eye? What’s going on around you? How do you feel as you go over the jumps? What are you saying to yourself? What is your internal dialogue as you successfully complete the rounds? Once you have created a picture, live the scenario out in your imagination for a few minutes a day. Visualisation is one of the most powerful tools to affect subconscious change that we have at our disposal. Marinate in the vision you have created for yourself and begin to live a different jumping reality in your mind.
Finally, work to incrementally increase your comfort zone. Look to bank a series of successful rides that you mind can draw confidence and reassurance from. There is no height requirement; start off with poles on the ground if you need too! Remember, your current situation is not a determinant of your future reality; you are just looking to put the stepping-stones in place to build up to jumping bigger heights.
Think of the point you are at now as point 0 and where you want to be is point 100. Between these two points are a myriad of others; what points could you introduce that would allow you to gradually build up your jumping confidence? Recognise that feelings of discomfort will always be present when you are extending the parameters of your comfort zone; feelings of terror mean you have gone too far. Look to move forward only as far as you can easily step back. Over time, your comfort zone will begin to expand and your jumping confidence and capacity can only increase as a result.
I have no doubt with a few tweaks and turns, you will be back to rocking it out in the ring.
Best of luck!