Shaking, sick, sweaty palms, heart racing? Extreme anxiety can cause all of these and can prevent us doing things that we love, including riding. But nervousness is a much needed natural function that keeps us safe from danger by altering us to potential threats. When you think about it, sitting on a horse is a risk that we are taking, so your body informing you that you could be danger is only doing its best to protect you. The adrenalin released when you are nervous was designed to help our ancient ancestors run away from beasts – perfect for them, not so helpful for us.
However for many people nervousness can reduce all pleasure in relation to their horses. Some people even stop riding as they cannot see a way past their nervousness. So here are a few ways to help you deal with your nervousness and hopefully bring back some enjoyment around your horses.
Firstly, being nervous is not a sign of weakness, it is simply a normal human reaction. Do not compare yourself to others, we are all different. If you keep your horse on a yard surrounded by people who are very brave and are forever telling stories about how they fell off 12 times and then used a branch as a splint to ride their horse home…they are probably lying, and don’t appear to learn from experience! If possible find yourself people to ride with who are empathetic towards your nervousness, don’t hack out with people who are dismissive of your emotions, but rather people who are confident and happy to go at your speed.
Secondly, you don’t have to ride to enjoy spending time with your horse. There are endless hours of enjoyment to be had simply grooming them, or massaging them. Take a look at our massage book and DVD. You could walk your horse out in hand, or consider playing horse agility with them. Whatever you enjoy, there is no requisite that says you have to ride your horse.
Thirdly, if you do want to ride, break down your fears into manageable goals. If your main fear is hacking out, break that down into pieces. Are you happy mounting? Are you confident in the arena? If it is only a small section of the hack that is worrying you, just dismount for that part. For more tips on confidence out hacking, why not take a look at our book on the subject.
Remember to praise yourself. We naturally push ourselves and in doing so often forget how far we have come. If you have managed to reduce your anxiety quicker than usual after getting on, that is an accomplishment! It doesn’t matter if the rider in the next door stable managed to jump 6 foot, you managed to negotiate your brain – that is a much bigger achievement.
Always breathe. The moment we become nervous, we begin to breathe more shallowly, causing our body to take in less oxygen which makes it harder for us to focus. Practise breathing exercises when you are not nervous, so that they become second nature.
Remember you are not alone, and you are doing brilliantly!
For more information and top tips visit www.thehorsephysio.co.uk and sign up to our newsletter. Sue Palmer is a Chartered Physiotherapist, an Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Associate and a BHSAI.