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Relaxation techniques for rider

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  • Relaxation techniques for rider

    Not sure if this is the right forum, but since I will hopefully be eventing next summer, it's my best guess.

    Looking for tips on relaxation when you get nervous. I am incredibly lucky to have found a fantastic instructor who lets me ride a few of her horses but the one I ride most frequently (and love) has a tendency to get a little anxious on occasion, which makes me a little anxious, which, in turn, makes him more anxious (can you see where this is heading?. Most of the time, the horse and I are great together, but occasionally we get ourselves in a bit of a cycle. My instructor has given me great advice on helping to calm myself down but I am hoping to hear words of wisdom from more riders in hopes that I might find a technique that really works for me.

    How do you make yourself relax when you are a little scared/anxious? How do you make yourself relax when your horse is a little scared or anxious? Do you sing songs, do yoga breaths, imagery? Do you talk to yourself or your horse?

    Basically how do you MAKE yourself get over yourself in moments of fear or anxiety. I understand the concept of HOW to, I think, but I can't seem to successfully make myself do it yet.

    FYI- I am an adult re-rider, lots of time on horseback as a kid but not a lot of progression past beginner/advanced beginner skills, due to on again/off again riding. Now back on horseback for the past 3-4 months, 4-5x a week, most weeks.

  • #2

    Rising trot works for me, singing to the tempo (Paul Simon's Kodachrome works for me, as well as "This old man" ) and concentrating how my seatbones land in the saddle. Then we just steadily trot large uncomplicated figures, quarterlines, long and short diagonals, progressing to more demanding figures, serpentines, half circles, then figure eights.

    I also use Sally Swift's concept of soft eyes. I an conscious of my horse's ears but other than that I want to be mindful of my surroundings, it's a beautiful day, etc. not internalizing my ride.
    I wasn't always a Smurf
    Penmerryl Sophie RIDSH
    "I ain't as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was"
    The ignore list is my friend. It takes 2 to argue.


    • #3
      what carolprudm said!

      Right away, I thought, SOFT EYES! I find that this relaxes my neck and I try to carry that softness all the way down my spine. It's useful in many things besides riding, too!


      • Original Poster

        Thank you, good thoughts.

        I should add, what different techniques do you use when you are on the ground and feeling a little anxious?


        • #5
          I've gotten over severe confidence issues with the help of Jane Savoie's books, It's not about the Ribbons and That winning feeling. She also has a confident rider program that came out after my issues were mostly resolved and a group on Facebook

          Anyway, with the help of the books I came up with my rather long mantra that I use when I get anxious about riding.

          "I am a strong and confident rider.
          I am always relaxed and centered.
          My ears shoulders hips and heels are always aligned
          Sophie is always relaxed, attentive and willingly accepts the bit"
          If things start to go south when I'm riding I think "center"
          You want to come up with a thought that exists(even if it doesn't) It has to be "I am" not "I will" or even worse "I won't"

          Ever had to hit nails with a hammer? If you think "Don't hit my thumb" guess what you're gonna hit. Better to concentrate on "Hit the nail"
          I wasn't always a Smurf
          Penmerryl Sophie RIDSH
          "I ain't as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was"
          The ignore list is my friend. It takes 2 to argue.


          • #6
            OP, you don't mention which age group you belong to. My answer depends on it.

            1. If below 21, (or above for that matter) look up, take a lovely deep breath and smile when things get tense. Feel the oxygen flow from your lungs into your limbs as you exhale, and think about your horse's tension as being amusing.

            2. If above 21, think about the glass of wine you get to have after your ride.
            They don't call me frugal for nothing.
            Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.


            • Original Poster

              lol frugalannie, believe me I do think about the glass of wine after, of course for me it's after I get home, cook dinner for the family, put the toddler to bed and do my grad school work lol!

              carolprudm, Thank you. My instructor also suggested the Jane Savoie book it's not about the ribbons, I will look into her program.


              • #8
                I was going to say a good stiff drink. Early morning dressage time? Irish coffee. Actually, one of our riders got quite parched in show jumping warm up at an event that we were all partying at. The only thing any of us rail birds had was alcohol, so someone handed him their Mike's Hard Lemonade, which he chugged (not quite realizing what it was). Had the best show jump round of his life!

                Otherwise, I typically just find a few deep, calming, yoga type breaths will help settle me. If I'm VERY nervous (like the night before a BIG thing or I have to wait all day for a big thing) I try to visualize every step of what I'll do during the big thing- where I'll kick, where I'll half halt, the lines I want, etc. That helps. The other thing that helps is NOT dwelling on your nerves. Watch a movie or stupid TV, read something fluffy and easy, play a video game (Pippa Funnell does this before xc at big three days).


                • #9
                  On the ground? Do you mean handling the horse? I would say give yourself some space to do "in hand" work. Even just "walk nice, halt" a few times...personal space....I'm only anxious when I feel he's not tuned in to me and sometimes he needs to get the "wiggles" out. I had one lesson on the greenie where I was just not doin good...not feeling brave at all. Really had a hard time even finishing the lesson. Next lesson, did great, no problems. What was the difference? First one, I was physically exhausted before I even started. My confidence and focus were gone. Made me realize I am just not going to do well when I am overtired.


                  • #10
                    Great tips

                    If you think about unhinging your jaw, your entire body (especially your hips) will soften and relax. Breathing is also crucial. A steady rhythmic breath in which you expand your lungs three-dimensionally forcing oxygen into the posterior/lateral aspects will keep your blood oxygenated and your muscles engaged but not overly tense.

                    In terms of the mental clutter, envision your ride comprehensively ("What do I hope to have achieved by the time I dismount?") then build the ride in sequential steps. Focus on executing the steps so you don't "get lost" in the worry, and definitely celebrate the "small victories." If you have a place in your regular riding where you are comfortable and relaxed (and effective), make sure you give yourself opportunities throughout your time in the tack to default there. It will clarify not only yours but also your horse's confidence.

                    Good luck!
                    When blood is the beverage of choice, the sharpest fangs feed first.


                    • #11
                      I like to mentally ride the entire course from a camera's eye view so to speak. I try to imagine what we'll look like over the length of the entire course as if someone is taking a video. Its the last thing I do before the start box.
                      A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.


                      • Original Poster

                        [QUOTE=Robby Johnson;6022973]If you think about unhinging your jaw, your entire body (especially your hips) will soften and relax. Breathing is also crucial. A steady rhythmic breath in which you expand your lungs three-dimensionally forcing oxygen into the posterior/lateral aspects will keep your blood oxygenated and your muscles engaged but not overly tense.


                        Thank you for this. The idea of unhinging my jaw is brilliant. I always think to myself- breathe, relax shoulders, but I forget to relax my jaw and so my upper body stays stiff and tense. I need a key word or phrase that means relax to me to chant when I feel stressed, thinking about unhinging my jaw might really help.


                        • #13
                          I agree on the unhinging your jaw. This has helped me out.

                          Something one of my professors taught me was to massage the area between your thumb and forefinger with your other thumb and forefinger. There are nerve ending there and it is something you can do that is small, but it definitely helped me when I first began giving big presentations and then teaching.


                          • #14
                            I was going to say laugh, but I think unhinging your jaw covers that.

                            I used to get really really worried about... WARM UP, because my horse was terrified of other horses coming at her. Get her in the dressage ring and she'd breath a sigh of relief, but warming up? Leap, buck, bolt - not so fun.

                            Driving to an event I had the radio on a classical station and da*n if the elegantly played music sounded like the texas whorehouse song and I could not stop giggling. I kept that silly tune in my head while riding and it really helped.


                            • #15
                              I had a lot of luck with singing when I felt myself tensing up. I actually made up a little song for my mare, and when I felt myself getting nervous I would start singing it. That cause my breathing to regulate, and my jaw to unhinge as well.

                              I also had a trainer who suggested what she called "night riding" - basically visualizing my rides before I went to sleep each night. Riding each step in my mind, and seeing a positive outcome.

                              And lastly, I LOVED Kelly Marks' book - Build Complete Confidence with Horses: Beat Fear and Excuses and Attain Your Riding Goals. Picked one up on Amazon for next to nothing, and it was well worth it!!!


                              • #16
                                Do you breathe with your diaphragm?

                                When you're inhaling, do your ribs move up, towards your chin? Or does your stomach move out?

                                Place your hand over your belly. Try to breathe using your diaphragm (so that there's NO movement in your chest). Practice this... for the rest of your life...


                                • #17
                                  Great tips, guys!

                                  I am not a complete wreck during dressage, but I certainly am before XC. I probably look like I just murdered someone...


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by reay6790 View Post
                                    I am not a complete wreck during dressage, but I certainly am before XC. I probably look like I just murdered someone...
                                    I feel like i murdered someone.

                                    I have a hollow feeling before XC warmup that goes fades as soon as I head towards the startbox.

                                    It's the wait that kills me.


                                    • Original Poster

                                      you guys are awesome. Thank you for all of the words of advice/stories of what makes you nervous.


                                      • #20
                                        I could have written the OP's first post. I'm very tense in the hand and the seat, but end up with a loose leg. Not good.

                                        My new trainer taught me a great trick for getting both the horse and I relaxed: riding like you're on a baby TB. She used to gallop racehorses, and adapts the position to a a very solid stance and it gets you off the horse's back, and OFF their mouths. Think about how jockeys ride - DEEP in the stirrups and "feet forwards", even contact both reins and hands in the neck, and posting forward out of the saddle. Ask nothing of the horse except going forwards (I also fiddle a lot when I'm tense it annoys the mare). I can trot like that for a while until I'm "over it", and am not winding up the horse. Works super well.

                                        Although I can hardly wait until I trot around a dressage warm-up like that...
                                        "Adulthood? You're playing with ponies. That is, like, every 9 year old girl's dream. Adulthood?? You're rocking the HELL out of grade 6, girl."