I’m not going to lie, I know fear.
The other day, I was riding again after not sitting on a horse for more than a year. After 15 minutes of feeling really good about being in the saddle again, my horse tripped, and within a split second, I was on the ground. This experience triggered my fear of falling off big time and I could feel my fight or flight system raging through my body. I got back on but was terrified I would fall again. And then it struck me. It is not the falling, itself, that scares me the most. It is the fact that I have no control over it whatsoever.
After some reflection, I’ve put together a few strategies that I’ll be working on (and you can too!) to conquer my own fear in the saddle and eventually, ditch it for good.
1. Work with a mental coach or therapist.
Fear is one of the most powerful emotions we can experience and it has helped us to survive for thousands of years. However, when riding a horse, fear can really stand in the way of your ability to be in the moment and stay relaxed and in control. As fear is governed by our fight or flight system (check out: “Five Exercises to Help You Deal With Horse Show Anxiety”), it is not easy to overrule. Although breathing exercises and a positive mindset can help, they may not be powerful enough. If that is the case, the best way to process the memories that have caused the fear in the first place is to work with a coach or therapist using techniques such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
And, yes, even though I am a coach myself and work on these topics with my clients, I, too, keep learning every day and want to be coached regularly in order to keep improving myself.
2. Use EFT to get rid of negative experiences.
EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique and is rather easy to use yourself. When working with a coach or therapist, make sure he or she teaches you how to use it, so that every time the fear comes up, you have a powerful tool you can use to deal with and get rid of unhelpful emotions.
3. Let your inner confidence grow.
Once you have dealt with the negative experiences and changed your unhelpful, automatic responses into more helpful ones, you can work on restoring your confidence. We often feel like we either have confidence, or we don’t, depending on the circumstances and who is around us. But I believe we always have some confidence inside of us, we just need to tap into it and let it grow by giving it more attention. A great way to do this is by going back to the a memory of a time when you felt very confident. Take a moment to really go back to that moment, feel what you felt then, see what you saw, and hear what you heard. Once you are back in that memory, feel that same confidence again and let it grow within your body, expanding until it fills up every cell.
4. Train with someone you trust.
An important element for getting over fear is feeling safe when you’re on the horse. Although being pushed outside of your comfort zone by a trainer can work well for some riders, it might not work for you (or at least not right now). Being able to take the time and have the space that you need to get over your fear is important, so make sure you are surrounded by people you trust and who allow you to be yourself.
5. Deeply connect before you get on.
What I have noticed in my own riding is that when fear kicks in, I immediately get in my head and start overthinking or doubting myself. Ironically, this only takes me further away from the solution: to stay connected with my horse and keep feeling what’s going on underneath me. So let’s make it a habit, scared or not, to always take a moment to deeply connect with your horse when you get on. Be in the moment for a few minutes and completely focus on every little movement underneath you. You can also connect by imagining that you are both in a bubble together, becoming one. Or, start by taking a deep breath, then focusing in on your confidence (see #3) and allowing that confidence to spread to your horse as well. There are so many different ways to connect, find out what works for you and use it every day!
With a background in the show jumping sport, Annette Paterakis is a performance coach, specialized in mental coaching equestrians. She is passionate about working with riders to help them better understand the mind and to provide the framework for creating the right conditions to reach peak performance.
For more information on Paterakis, please visit her website at www.annettepaterakis.com.
-Photo credit: Shannon Brinkman.
- Unleash Your Inner Jedi: How to Visualize Your Way to Success in the Ring [NF Style]
- Seven Ways to Become More Deliberate in Your Training [NF Style]
- All Mind Games posts [NF Style]