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Do nervous/timid riders "make it" ?

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  • #41
    For those who know me, they will laugh at the understatement of me saying I get nervous at shows. Being nervous doesn't necessarily mean you are scared. It can be, but it can also equate to anxiety about wanting to do well, just wanting to get on and get it done...whatever! I think it is helpful to know what causes your nerves, so that you can help yourself manage and utilize them.

    With that said, I am able to manage it, and when I can wrap my head around it and do so, it turns out to be productive and sometimes advantageous for me. If I remember to talk to myself (in my head) periodically around the course, I found it slows my mind down and gets me thinking about what I need to do. I think the nerves gives me that extra adrenaline and focus that allow me to think more sharply. I have found if I forget to "talk to myself," my nerves make me rush everything.

    The whole talking to yourself even works before, during and after the event. Sometimes, you just have to remind yourself to breathe...literally!
    Originally posted by rustbreeches
    [George Morris] doesn't always drink beer, but when he does, he prefers Dos Equis


    • #42
      I got over/past my fears on my old gelding. He was fast and tricky, but short enough and the falls weren't bad. And I just knew him so well, we made a good team.

      My mare is a different story... She's TALL and POWERFUL. I'm very comfortable on the flat, but we're working on jumping.

      When we go to the show, I was always fine if I just went in, told myself "eff it, I trust him and we'll just go for it." And we did. I just focused on what was ahead of me with laser vision. And not going over was not an option.

      There are normal nerves that you can use to focus or that you can conquer. Then there are nerves that cause you to underperform or be dangerous. The latter sounds like a good reason to see a sports psychologist. I would not ignore it if it's that bad. (I'm thinking of someone I know who gets so nervous at the jumps, she pulls her horse out and has taught him to stop. And he's not a stopper by nature at all. Not good.)
      Born under a rock and owned by beasts!


      • #43
        At shows, I am most nervous leading up to getting on. I am somewhat nervous during warmup, but that is mostly my hatred of crowded schooling areas. I am back to pre-ride levels of nerves at the in gate. As soon as I get in the ring, my nerves are almost completely gone. I am not quite sure why this is how things go - I generally ride better at shows than at home - but since I know it happens, during my nervous times I remind myself I will feel better when it counts.

        I think it is partly because once I am in the ring, I am able to think more about the big picture than at home where I am always (though frequently fruitlessly) aiming for perfection. At shows, I go back to pace, rhythm and my line/track, and the basics carry me through.

        At home, though, I still get nervous jumping. This is partly from years of riding a dirty stopper, partly personality, and partly that we are moving up and being challenged. Again, once on course I am fine, but in the lead up I think of all the bad things that could happen (ranging from the somewhat possible to completely fantastical). If I am really hesitating, I talk with my trainer about my fears, we both acknowledge how ridiculous they are, and off I go. Sometimes just hearing the words come out of my mouth helps me to let go of the thought.

        I am one that never rushes, but I do love pulling to the chip, so for me, I think about having a really legit canter to jump out of. I spend most of my mental energy on the quality of the canter and that fixes the quality of the jumps.


        • #44
          Butterflies/nerves are a GOOD thing, they make you AWARE. There are many good SP books (on amazon) and a good one is: http://www.amazon.com/Schooling-Prob...rds=NLP+riding as well. As far as falling off, it will happen; hopefully you are being taught how to fall (first lessons of pony club). There should rarely be take off problems IF the rider is taught HOW to PROGRESSIVELY approach a fence.

          To me, it's a choice everyday to 'speak to yourself'. And there is NO time for nerves when riding because the timing of aids/times/etc.
          I.D.E.A. yoda


          • #45
            Originally posted by BostonHJ View Post
            I think about having a really legit canter to jump out of. I spend most of my mental energy on the quality of the canter and that fixes the quality of the jumps.
            I think this bears repeating. Or maybe printing and hanging in my trailer. I am not a particularly nervous rider, but sometimes a horse show can get the best of me, and I need to remember that the canter is WAY more important than the jumps.


            • #46
              It's ok to be afraid...

              Truth be told, the day you don't care is the day you will fall. A bit of nervousness keeps you sharp, focused, on edge. If you don't care, you get careless. So, make friends with your butterflies because it's not all that bad to have them in your stomach!
              Of course, all extremes are nocive, so your situation is a bit on the too much side....

              I'll tell you my story: I have an 18h mare (and I'm only 5ft) who is 6 now, but when she was green broke, she was a handful. Here's proof:

              It was a tough year and, at times, shook my confidence, not because she was bad, but because she is so huge that a simple, playful hop can catapult you on a treetop. It was tough holding on with her size and bascule. I began to ride her defensively, holding on to her mouth, ruining her jump. Here's a year later so you can tell the difference:

              I stopped jumping her (I continued to flat her) for a year and gave her to a pro, while I continued to show my other horse. Unfortunately, the pro broke his collar bone just before the nationals and he told me to jump her. At first I was very nervous/frightened, but I decided to channel all that into determination. Every time I felt I couldn't do it or it was too tough, I told myself "The hell it is! Let's do this!". We ended qualifying for the 4'3" finals, doing very well and I had barely started re-jumping her two weeks before.

              All this is to say that nervousness or fright is not a bad thing if you channel that in the right direction. Be sure that every. single. rider. is nervous at a point. They are just like you. The only difference is that they face that fear and focus on a positive outcome. As I always say, courageous are those who confront their fears and conquer them. Those who fear nothing are reckless.

              Keep going strong and good luck!
              Last edited by faraway46; Jan. 13, 2013, 12:46 PM.
              Over what hill? Where? When? I don\'t remember any hill....



              • #47
                When I first started riding as a kid I was a HUGE weeny. I would get nervous then panic and just freeze. I was the ultimate passive rider. After a year or so I started to learn to ride through it. It wasn't until I started riding in the jumpers that I really started to control my nerves. Now as a professional I still get nervous or excited but I have developed a mental "switch". I can be in a cold sweat at the gate, walk in the arena and then just turn all my emotions completely off. From that moment on, it's just business. This allows me to think clearly, analyze what's going on and react appropriately. It keeps me from getting frustrated when I ride greenies (which is 90% of the time) and helps me through any rough spots on course.

                One of the other big things I try to do is to imagine my ride from a spectators point of view rather than the riders point of view. I have problems with thinking too negatively but when I imagine what it *actually* looks like vs how I perceive it, I am much more positive. Video taping myself has helped a lot. It reinforces that I don't ride as badly as I feel I do.


                • #48
                  I can totally relate to this post. I bought a green mare not realizing what I was getting into until it was too late lol. I went from jumping a 3'6 course fearlessly to falling off at 2'6 jumps because she is a stopper, no fun!

                  Because of this my confidence took a turn for the worse but boy, did that horse teach me how to ride! haha we finally moved up to the AAs recently!!! But, i felt like I was going to puke right before i went in no less haha

                  What helped my confidence the most was to think of it as having fun! Think about it- we are paying loads of money to show and be able to ride- enjoy it! Totally easier said than done of course but it helped me appreciate it a little more and not to take it so seriously, which takes the pressure off! Another thing i did was count the strides to EVERY jump. From trot poles to 3' oxers because it takes your mind off of everything and makes you focus on the present. Some times I even smile through my courses and even sing!

                  I also started listneing to these hypnosis types by Laura King for the equestrian. Call me crazy but I think they worked! lol If you google her it will come up. It is supposed to boost your confidence and take away the fears in your subconcious mind! Rescue Remedy also worked wonders.


                  • #49
                    Originally posted by UrbanHunterAntics View Post
                    The horse I last leased was a dirty stopper... it really made my confidence nosedive.

                    He was excellent in all other aspects, perfect angel on a loose rein down to the buckle in the pleasure classes. He might not have been happy jumping, now that I think of it, or even had issues with back problems.

                    All things aside, it's just really done damage to my coping skills as a rider..
                    This caught my eye. I'd categorize myself as a nervous/timid rider. When learning to ride, I spent a lot of time on tried-and-true old school horses to try to get over that. I've since moved on, but whenever I start to get tangled up in anxiety over something, my trainer will put me on an easier horse to practice until I get it. Sometimes it's just a matter of reminding myself that I'm capable of doing something. If there is an opportunity at your barn, you should ride a horse that's a steady eddy over jumps for a little while just to remind yourself what you are capable of doing. Then move back to your horse (or a different one) and try again.

                    It's good to be challenged now and then, but my best rides are generally always on the horses whose personalities complement rather than clash with my own. If you have some horsey options, try to find the horse that will complement your strengths and won't take advantage of your weaknesses. It will make you feel more confident and probably ease your anxiety as well. I know it works for me! My best horse partner is a mare who is confident and forward, but very honest - her forward nature and sense of purpose is enough of a challenge to keep me busy, but her honesty means she doesn't do anything to truly freak me out, like spooking or dirty stops.


                    • #50
                      faraway46 that was an awesome story!!!! glad your doing well with your horse now!
                      yes i thinkg nervous timid riders can make it if they have the right confidence building experiences and they are willing to put in the time to develop that confidence.
                      first off you need the right horse. one that you feel comfortable on. if you are afraid of your horse, you are not going to succeed. doesnt mean you have to get rid of your horse, but you have to find ways to make more confidence building rides. maybe enlisting a pro rider.
                      then you need the right trainer. one that will push you to develop but not push you too hard so you will have bad experiences.
                      and remember confidence comes and goes with your experiences.
                      i bought a young horse and was very confident when i got him. we quickly learned together and i was in the 2.6ft ring 7 months after starting to jump him myself. things went very well!
                      then i broke my leg walking my dog and slipping on ice. it was a very bad fracture and i ended up with a big rod in my leg which didnt help my confidence. when i started jumping again 8 months later i was not the same rider. and somehow my horse was different too. he started overjumping the jumps and jumped me off several times. jumping sky high over low jumps. i was now scared. so i got a pro rider on him. and very quickly i wasnt afraid to jump him as long as the pro rider jumped him first! now i am mostly jumping him myself and my confidence is building, but that is because i am working with a very good trainer who is excellent at spotting the problems and pointing out to me what is wrong and how to fix them. i am less worried because now i know why my horse was overjumping. and i concentrate on working to fix everything. it went from scary to have a lesson to so much fun to have a lesson because i trust the trainer and know that she has the skills to guide me correctly. this can make a huge difference in confidence. yes i wish i was learning a little faster, but i am having alot of fun, so in the end that is what matters.
                      if you are really nervous, focus on the horse and the trainer and really believe in those two things and try to focus less on the past bad experiences or the perceived future bad experiences.


                      • #51
                        I've ridden off and on for most of my life, including working as a groom for Spruce Meadows for about a year. In addition to working the competing horses, we were required to take group lessons 5 days a week with 2 of those days jumping. I remember the fences in those classes and I should probably have been nervous, but I was young and I wouldn't have dared voice my nerves to the riding master.

                        Many years later, I'm an adult and I've been riding more or less full time (several days a week) and showing in the Hunters for the last three years. The first year was on a leased horse (Oldenburg, 15.3) that put the fear of God into me despite being able to jump the moon. The last two years have been on my own horses (QH, 15.3) that could barely jump a cavaletti, and now I have a 17.3 Warmblood that's just started jumping in July and is already doing 2'9" oxers.

                        For me, after the Oldenburg I had to take a huge step back and ride safe, reliable horse over very low jumps. I needed to know that all my fears were not going to come true, so I could concentrate on the individual tasks like keeping a pace, balancing in the corner, finding distance etc.

                        The advice my trainer gave me was concentrate on enough of the small things that I don't have time to think about the things that make me anxious. It's been great advice, so much so that I am happy and confident on my current horse, even when he refuses at the last minute, particularly in the second and third elements. In out first couple of shows I had to ride through the refusal, circle around, make him jump the fence without a bunch of fuss.

                        If I had to do this after the Oldenburg, I would have been a terrified mess. However, having taken a step back and built up some positive experiences, I've become braver and got my nerves back under control.

                        Anyway, just my two cents ...


                        • #52
                          I know one BNR who is a nervous wreck before any GP and she has done quite well for many years. She has a couple routines she needs/likes to do before the class that help her to feel better but other than that I'm not sure how she channels that nervous energy.
                          I'd rather be riding!


                          • #53
                            Nervous, yes. Especially if you learn or are trained to use your nerves for good. But timid? Probably not. You need to be confident and strong in the ring, despite your nerves. I read timid (per Websters) as a lack of determination and shutting down in the face of adversity. Those are not good traits for when the youknowwhat hits the fan in the ring, or when the horse needs a confident ride.


                            • Original Poster

                              Originally posted by BLBGP View Post
                              Nervous, yes. Especially if you learn or are trained to use your nerves for good. But timid? Probably not. You need to be confident and strong in the ring, despite your nerves. I read timid (per Websters) as a lack of determination and shutting down in the face of adversity. Those are not good traits for when the youknowwhat hits the fan in the ring, or when the horse needs a confident ride.
                              This is very true! Though I've yet to be "trained" to use my nerves to my advantage... my trainer's current mantra for me is to "TRUST THE MARE!" I have extraordinary trust issues.
                              "You either go to the hospital or you get back on! Hospital or on!"


                              • #55
                                I think my reply will end up being a completely redundant of most of what has been posted already, but as a topic near and dear to my heart, I will reply anyway. I truly believe that sometimes hearing/or reading the same thing in a different way is the key to making it click.

                                First of all, I think that fear in riding has 2 main causes, though certainly they overlap and intertwine. The first is an actual fear for life and safety....not entirely unfounded since we strap ourselves onto the backs of extremely large, sometimes volatile animals. It definitely makes sense that adding jumps to the picture would increase this sort of fear. It is what is attacking those of you who had nasty falls and dirty stoppers. It is the "what if?" thinking. I don't believe being a pro or not dictates whether this tyle of fear exists in you. Some people seem simply devoid of it - they often cause gasps from the crowd. I think most riders have a bit of it...but just enough to give them healthy respect for a dangerous sport, not enough to dictate every little move they make doing it. If those "what if?" thoughts are constant, they will start to become a self fulfilling prophecy, because it will manifest as tension in you and then the horse.

                                Admit that there are dangers. But instead of saying it as "what if my horse trips?" "what if we crash the oxer?" etc, etc. say, "yes, my horse could trip, we might crash through that jump...BUT the chances are....". When you recognize the true probability (be realistic, not pessimistic), then you can make the decision to live with those chances and move on without constant nagging fear of each one. While this may sound easier said than done, if you are out there living a life, you are already doing this in areas outside of riding. Now, anxious riders may certainly be more prone to anxieties and phobias in other areas of life, but nonetheless most of them can eat their breakfast knowing there is some small chance of contamination, drive or commute to work in spite of the possibility of a crash, walk through a park not thinking about whether a tree branch might fall on them..... And the best part of accepting a reasonable risk for riding is that you do it for something fun and that you love...way better than the reward of just, say, getting in to your office for the day.

                                Now, if after evaluating the risks that way, you still feel the chance of danger is too high to accept, then change something until it feels ok with you. Stop riding that dirty stopper. If you feel much better in a safety vest, wear it. If your horse really will run away in a big field, jump inside. Eventually as you can do these things without anything bad happening, or (for perhaps an even bigger confidence boost) for them to happen and no harm come to you, you will be able to expand your "bubble of risk".

                                The other part of "fear" in riding, is actually performance anxiety and perfectionism. I think that this is actually a bigger part of the nerves for many riders than the mortal fear I talked about above - most certainly it is for me. How many riders do you know that will circle when they don't get a perfect distance while schooling at home? When asked, they will probably say they were "afraid of missing", but the fear is of not being or feeling perfect, not falling off at the jump. This is where I think you do not find pros having the same levels of issues as the ammys....if they have perfectionist tendencies they are able to channel them into the appropriate goals - such as a quality canter, good response time from the horse, riding forward to jumps, etc., whereas the scared ammy tends to pick the wrong focus for their perfectionism...ie. "the perfect distance", "picture perfect position".....they want the perfect results and lose the steps, while the confident riders can look at perfecting one step at a time and the big picture tends to sort itself out. Tomorrow when you ride, try this....don't think about what you need to "fix" in you and your horse....instead try to aim your perfecting at some other thing, maybe one you haven't even thought of in a while.

                                Besides trying to be perfect for the sake of being perfect, we as riders are also stuck trying to be perfect for the sake of our horses. I am not sure I actually have good advice in this regard, as the fear I am ruining horses is one of the biggest mountains I am climbing. I am recognizing the relationship between thinking about failure and achieving it, so instead trying to realize I may not be as bad as I think I am, and may even have the odd strong point. I don't think the pros suffer this fear in general (otherwise why would they be training horses for a living), but I bet a bunch of them had it earlier in their life, but gained confidence and experience.

                                The other biggest "performance anxiety" problem for me is having to ride in front of other people. I hate that this bothers me, given that it has no actual bearing on my riding (except of course that the nerves it causes completely screws it up). I have tried just telling myself that nobody is watching or nobody cares, but I know that is totally untrue, given I have been the one watching (and silently critiquing, or listening to others critique). Sadly, horse people can be a judgemental group, and the thought of being scorned (even just in a persons mind) reallh gets to me. Sometimes I can pretend no one is there or tune them out and be ok, sometimes it is not so successful, and I end up with a miserable ride. I am all ears if someone has suggestions for this.

                                Finally, there is the performance anxiety of the actual performance....ie. what gets done in the show ring. Thankfully, this is the least worrisome for me personally, as I don't show much, and when I do, it is for experience and exposure, not results. For those of you where the ring is the problem, try replacing your lofty old goal with a non-results, non-perfectionist new goal....eg. "one rhythm" rather than "8 perfect distances" or "smoothest jumpoff" rather than "fastest". Try to remember that you do the sport for fun, so have it, and realize its not the end of the world not to win. This is the one place where amateur hobbyists actually have a lot less to worry about than the pro...after all their winnings, owners happiness, and ability to sell horses is what gets them their paycheque. But they don't dwell on this while standing at the in gate....they recognize their best chance of collecting that pay cheque is to focus on the riding!

                                So in summary to directly answer the original question about whether anyone has succeeded at high levels of this sport with some significant anxiety about it.....yes, they do. I don't ask them how their palms and stomachs are, but I can see it on their faces. Some are just up and comers, who are maybe learning to get over it about 5' the same way the masses are working on the same mental hurdles at 3'. Some have already learned to deal with it well and channel it into great performance. Some have managed to deal with it to a point where it is restricting a portion of their raw talent....but their raw talent at perhaps 80% capacity is still simply far better than many mere mortals. Or they "make it" on a skill set that better suits their comfort zone (eg. teaching, young horse specialists). I do think that total lack of anxiety is a big part of some riders success, but that others can show right alongside them with some controlled nerves.


                                • #56
                                  Originally posted by pinkeqs View Post
                                  Are there any good books out there on sports psychology?
                                  my favorite is "heads up" by Janet Edgette. google her and you will find her site and the book


                                  • #57
                                    Originally posted by Pally View Post

                                    Tomorrow when you ride, try this....don't think about what you need to "fix" in you and your horse....instead try to aim your perfecting at some other thing, maybe one you haven't even thought of in a while.
                                    I like this very much. All of my anxiety is perfectionism, and I HATE that, as a rerider who is only now really learning to jump, I'm not IMMEDIATELY perfect. I stand in my stirrups,and the more anxious I get about not doing that and doing it right, the worse I do it! Every now and again when I manage to drag my brain away from that and concentrate on something else - like the elusive good canter - my position is LEAGUES better.

                                    But convincing myself that the way to fix the problem is to (sorta) ignore it...! Evil brain!


                                    • #58
                                      Glad to know that I'm not alone here!
                                      I'm known at the barn for having horrible show nerves but the moment I walk into the ring they magically disappear and my body seems to go into autopilot. Which of course makes my riding much better .
                                      We had a sport psychologist host a clinic at the barn and one of the things she suggested to combat those nerves during the course was to visualize the ride and determine check points throughout the course beforehand. Then at each checkpoint, take a deep breath and add a reminder phrase like "eyes up" or "soft elbows."

                                      At Home:
                                      I'm a hot mess. I rely on my trainer quite a bit to help build my confidence. If I am asked if I want a fence up- naturally I'm going to say no. But if my trainer puts it up and says go do it- then I do.
                                      I also have a hard time focusing with a lot of "noise" so I ask my trainer to just say short key phrases as we're jumping a course- shoulders back, count, chin up, etc. I find that it helps me make small adjustments without taking my attention away from the task at hand.