Confidence Crisis? By Amanda Kirtland-Page

It’s surprisingly common for riders to struggle with their confidence or find it disappearing altogether at certain times in their lives. There are all sorts of reasons this can happen, from having an accident or a series of little accidents or ‘near misses’, time off from riding, starting a family or perhaps seeing someone else fall off. Unfortunately, once your confidence has taken a battering, the consequences can be virtually impossible to just ‘shake off’ as the feeling of anxiety comes from deep inside us. If you are taking up riding later in life, as thrilling as it can be, you may find you feel more anxious than the younger ‘first timers’.


For some, anxiety starts to set in when we are just thinking of getting on a horse, or hacking out or jumping. For others, the feeling starts affecting them when they are actually on their horse and are about to go into a competition arena, start on a x-country course or approach a fence, perhaps that’s a little bigger than usual.


You either start to avoid riding and convince yourself of reasons not to do it that day, or when you do ride, you struggle with lots of unwanted feelings and you find you can’t actually enjoy your ride or you ‘freeze’ when you really need to be giving the horse confidence itself.


Where has your confidence gone? What has happened? Why are you feeling these feelings and how come you can’t just ‘sort yourself out’? Unfortunately, the answers are not always as straight forward as we would like and it is really all down of course to what is going on in your conscious and subconscious mind.


Once our subconscious mind has decided that you could be hurt attempting whatever it is you want to do, it floods your system with hormones in preparation for ‘flight or fight’ and the effects are felt immediately from actual physical symptoms to feeling anxiety and fear. These effects can drain all your confidence away very quickly. The feeling of fear is there to help protect us and so we need to find a way to make sure we will be safe so our subconscious does not need to go on high alert.


There are a number of ways to help yourself to increase your confidence.


One of the first things I tell riders is to make an action plan for themselves. First and foremost, look at what you want to do, how you are going to achieve it, and when that will happen. This will give you a way to measure where you are going, all the steps you need to take to get there and all the improvements you make. Small steps (even if you have to start at a lower level), help to boost your confidence. This is especially good for those that feel just getting on a horse or doing fairly simple things, a challenge.


Next is making sure you have a good trainer that understands what is happening. This is absolutely vital. You need to trust that person will not tell you to do something above what you are capable of, but will push you a little in the right areas at the right times, so your confidence grows.


Everything at this point has to be about safety and feeling in control, which of course, includes the horse or pony you are riding. This is a tough one. I know owners avoid this if they can for emotional reasons, but you need to just step back and consider if the horse you have at the time really is the right one for you. If the horse is unsafe, or beyond your ability to ride, you need to think long and hard about spending so much time and money on something that clearly is not suitable. If you ride someone else’s horse, or you are at a riding school, the situation is far easier to rectify.


The simplest things can make a big difference. One of the main things to remember is to take long deep breaths. This is vital to reducing your feelings of anxiety. Many riders forget to do this, or don’t really understand the importance of taking time for this. Fill your lungs and slowly exhale. Do this whenever you feel anxious.


If you feel relatively confident on your horse generally, but find you suddenly loose that confidence when faced with, say, a bigger jump, a drop jump, going into a competition arena or if your horse has a little buck when you set foot in a field, then this also applies to you.


An particularly powerful and successful way to enable your subconscious to take on suggestions of feeling confident, calm and in control when riding (or other times in your life), is to use hypnosis. It is extremely safe and has been approved for use by the British Medical Association since 1955 and the American Medical Association since 1958. It’s absolutely nothing like stage hypnosis! It can significantly boost your confidence in all areas of your life as well as on your horse. You can buy a readymade recording for the specific activity you take part in, have one made up for you or seek a hypnotherapist who will work with you.


One of the simplest but effective ways is to buy a self-hypnosis recording specific to the activity or problem you are having. Make sure though that it has been made by someone who understands the problem from a rider’s point of view and has ridden, and preferably done the activity themselves Another way is to get yourself a simple book and make up a script for yourself. Using all positive statements, you can put something together that is very personal to you and reflects what you actually want to happen. Write it out and read it a few times to yourself and then go through it in your mind when you are relaxing, say at bedtime.


The alternative is working with a hypnotherapist. This will ensure all areas (including those perhaps you may not be aware of) are covered. In hypnosis you are in complete control and aware of your surroundings and can stop the session at any time. Your subconscious mind will only take on ideas and suggestions that will benefit you. Always work with someone who has had adequate training over a significant number of years and is registered with an approved hypnotherapy/psychotherapy association.


Apart from boosting your confidence, you can learn to ‘switch off’ or ‘turn down’ any internal negative dialogue. Many riders use hypnosis for good reason, it can be very effective!


Whatever methods you use to increase your confidence, remember, you must actually have the necessary skill and capability of riding that particular horse you have chosen. Always seek help when you need it.


Amanda represented Singapore in the Asian Horse Trials in the ‘70’s, rode in Pro/Am races both on the flat and over steeplechase courses and worked for Olympic rider, Bertie Hill backing and training young horses and teaching. In 1996, after a serious accident which meant she was unable to ride for a number of years, Amanda started training and working as a hypnotherapist, counsellor and performance coach. Deciding to get back into the saddle six years later after having children, Amanda suffered considerable confidence problems. Amanda used her hypnotherapy training to get back to riding and now competes regularly both in show jumping and with her youngster in Affiliated British Dressage.


Amanda started to help other riders with their confidence crisis. She offers self-hypnosis cds and downloads, workshops, talks and private consultations, specialising with horse riders who have lost their confidence. If you would like to contact Amanda, email


Written By Amanda Kirtland-Page From The Confidence Horse Rider


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