Recording of Facebook Live Session
Fear. It has a lot to answer for in the horse world. Its presence has derailed many a horsey dream and can manifest in a variety of ways. For some, the effects can be more subtle. A lingering lack of motivation for one. Or it might be that you find yourself putting off what you know you actually want to do in favour of the playing it safe, and consequently, you find yourself getting on and doing the same thing day in and day out.
For others though, the effects of fear are much more overt and obvious. In these cases, the feelings can range from an ongoing sense of dread to feelings of overwhelming panic and helplessness.
The truth of the matter is that regardless of your experience level and discipline, most of us have experienced fear to some degree at some time or another in our riding. And although the experience of fear is not one that we want to encourage, the key to moving through fear and past it is not to think that we have to eradicate fear altogether but rather take the information that it is offering us and utilize it to our best advantage.
If you are currently in a situation where you are experiencing a riding challenge or finding that you have lost your mojo as a result of accident, injury or upset, take heart. Fear is a very normal and not altogether unwanted emotion. That said, the presence or experience of fear need not hold us back from getting out there and doing what it is that we want to do with our horses. What we need is a solid plan of action that sees us incrementally expanding the outer reaches of our comfort zone in a manner that is attainable and progressive, and that can only happen when we have a clear plan of action for how we are going to move forward. Just wishing it away is not going to get us very far.
Let’s look at some key elements you need to consider when creating a strategy for dealing with fear in your riding.
The first thing that I want to know when I am working with riders who have fear based concerns is what specifically is it that they are afraid of or concerned about. Gaining clarity around what specifically you are feeling fear around is really important in figuring out how to move forward.
Sweeping generalisations and blanket statements often lead to feelings of overwhelm, and magnifies the challenge to the point where it can seem insurmountable. Instead, move out of “big picture” territory and focus on the details by asking yourself, what is it specifically that I am afraid of?
Is the fear warranted?
Now we are dealing with specifics, the next thing I want to ascertain is whether the fear warranted. Just like any other emotion, fear is an important emotional messenger and one that we definitely don’t want to ignore.
If you are experiencing a behavioral issue with your horse or are in a situation where you feel that the safety of one or both of you is compromised then I consider the fear to be both valid and necessary. In this instance, it is not a case of “manning up” and riding through it but of understanding the underlying reasons and motivations for the behavior that you are dealing with and arming yourself with the intelligent means to safely and empathetically deal with the situation.
Some key questions to consider here are:
Do I feel safe in the current situation that I am finding myself in?
Do I feel like I have the necessary skills to deal with what I am being presented with, or to see this challenge through to a successful conclusion for both my horse and myself?
If the answer to any of those is no, then this important information that will feed into our strategy moving forward.
When in doubt, put the safety of yourself and your horse above all else.
Break it down
The next step is to grab a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. The first column is going to be for your horse and the second column is for you, the rider. As we are in a partnership with a powerful, conscious creature with his own feelings and motivations, it’s important that our strategy includes not only the elements of how to successfully manage ourselves, but the emotional and physical needs of our horses also.
In light of the current challenge that you are facing, I would like you to consider the emotional health and capacity of your horse. Do you feel as though your horse has the emotional capacity to deal with what it is that is being asked of him? Or is his level of anxiety and apprehension in relation to your chosen task a contributing factor to your own fears and uneasiness?
The same needs to be considered on a physical level. Am I asking my horse to do something that is outside of his current range of capability or skill base? Do I need to consider his comfort in terms of tack fitting or nutritional health? Am I being clear and consistent in my direction to him and fair in my expectations?
Your answers in either direction will allow you to plan your next move. If your horse is showing anxiety and concern in response to your requests, or has yet to develop the physical competency to comply happily and successfully, then this is something that needs to be considered and factored in to your training together.
If you are unsure how to cope with what you are being presented with yourself, reach out for help. Cultivate a feeling of internal resourcefulness that allows you to feel that even if you currently don’t have the answers, you will continue to educate yourself and seek assistance from those who do.
Skillset or Mindset?
Now to consider ourselves exclusively as riders in the context of the situation.
Confidence, which is a mindset, and competence, which is a skillset, are often lumped together in the same pile, but they are actually two very separate entities. Whilst confidence is a state and something that we can train ourselves to activate at will, competence is related to a lack of knowing, and is usually time dependent. For instance, if I am looking to master a certain skill, then I will need to ensure I actually perform that skill on a regular basis before I become competent at it. My body needs time to develop the motor skills and the neural pathways necessary in order for me to be able to achieve that as a fluid and familiar action.
When it comes to analysing ourselves, we want to isolate these two parts and ask ourselves:
Do I feel like I can efficiency and effectively deal with what I am currently being faced with in the saddle or is it “all in my head”?
The first part of the question speaks directly to our skillset and competence, and the second to our mindset or confidence.
It may be the case that you believe you have the skills and yet your internal feeling is that you are unable to cope. In this case, we need to focus explicitly on the mental skills required in order for you to be able to successful manage your mindset so that you can comfortably and successfully deal with what you are being presented with.
As a side note, what I hear regularly from riders is the belief that a feeling of confidence will be synonymous with the feeling that they can deal with anything that comes their way and will ultimately have all the answers. Instead, think of confidence as an internal resourcefulness; confidence will give you the fortitude so that even if you don’t know exactly how to manage the situation that you find yourself in, you are able to search for solutions that allow you to keep moving progressively forward, combined with the belief that what you desire is possible for you.
Making Your Plan
At this stage, what you have are four very distinct areas that you can use to inform your strategy. They are:
- The emotional health and wellbeing of your horse
- The physical health and wellbeing of your horse
- Your skillset and competency level as a rider
- Your confidence level and “feelings” around your ability to cope with the situation.
Now that you have a clear idea of your strengths and the areas that you need to focus on, you can start to make a plan. Take things step by step and break it down so you have clear steps and action points to follow through on.
Despite the breadth and depth of feeling that fear creates, refuse to use it as your excuse to keep returning back to the last place you felt like things were in your control. Instead, accept its presence, define your strategy and commit to inching your way in the direction you desire; after all, the only way to get fear to step aside is to move towards it.