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How do I get my confidence back?

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  • How do I get my confidence back?

    Long story short (if you're interested in the very long story, you can read all about it at ) I've completely lost my bottle. I had a very unsuitable horse who trashed my confidence. Sold him, bought older and safer horse who is very kind and wonderful.

    I'm unable to canter him. I block him through my seat and I tip forwards and I just think "this is how it ends" *eyeroll*

    I have cantered him a handful of times - mostly before we moved yards in November. Since then, I've gone back a few steps (again) and now I'm even struggling to find the confidence to trot! We had gotten to a point where we were competing in intro dressage tests online and were cantering in most schooling sessions. Moved, lost the canter. Had a week or 2 off from riding, lost the trot. Lost the plot, more like!! I can't understand how/why I've taken so many steps backwards.

    How has anybody else gotten over bumps along the road with their confidence? Are there any exercises I can do when I'm riding which might give me more confidence? I've been having lessons but money isn't exactly flowing and I want to be able to school him on my own: in walk, trot and canter. I've done tempi changes and passage for heavens sake!! I KNOW I can do this. My brain tells me I can't and my body follows suit. It's really getting me down now. Please help

  • #2
    I think what you have is what's called unreasonable fear aka irrational fear = fear of something that is unlikely to cause harm = your (good) riding skills and the reliability of your new horse go out the window; your brain believes you're going to get hurt no matter what, and thus you avoid even trotting -- you talk yourself into the worst case scenario (the bad ending) rather than the good ending (success) which comes from believing your skill and your reliable horse will see you through = you're minimizing the rational: I can do this because I'm capable and my horse is capable, and exagerating the irrational: I'm a terrible rider and my horse is unsuitable, or I'm a good rider and my horse is a good horse but something bad is going to happen anyway -- neither of which is true, right?

    There's a great book called Brain Training for Riders. The author talks about unreasonable fear in various riding situations and offers exercises to re-train your brain and get back confidence. Worth reading!


    • Original Poster

      Originally posted by danacat View Post
      I think what you have is what's called unreasonable fear aka irrational fear = fear of something that is unlikely to cause harm = your (good) riding skills and the reliability of your new horse go out the window; your brain believes you're going to get hurt no matter what, and thus you avoid even trotting -- you talk yourself into the worst case scenario (the bad ending) rather than the good ending (success) which comes from believing your skill and your reliable horse will see you through = you're minimizing the rational: I can do this because I'm capable and my horse is capable, and exagerating the irrational: I'm a terrible rider and my horse is unsuitable, or I'm a good rider and my horse is a good horse but something bad is going to happen anyway -- neither of which is true, right?

      There's a great book called Brain Training for Riders. The author talks about unreasonable fear in various riding situations and offers exercises to re-train your brain and get back confidence. Worth reading!
      Thank you!! I've never been able to put into words how the situation feels as well as you just have! I think I need to consciously be thinking more about the success rather than the "what ifs." I'll have a look for that book on Amazon. Thank you!


      • #4
        Having struggled with fear issues myself the biggest thing I have to add is don't beat yourself up about taking steps backwards. While the fear my now fall into the unreasonable status, it comes from a very reasonable place. You have very valid reasons for feeling this way and your brain is trying to keep you safe. It may be over reacting slightly, but it means well.

        If a horse were recovering from a major and prolonged trauma you would forgive it some backsliding as it worked through it's issues. You would understand that it will take time and babysteps, babysteps that sometimes go in the wrong direction, to get to the end goal. You should be just as understanding with yourself. Courage isn't a lack of fear but a willingness to push on despite fear, and you have been swinging your leg over your horse despite being afraid. That is a win.

        There are several books out there on the market, or you may want to consider speaking with a therapist. I am assuming you are in Europe based on some of the terminology you use, and that your national health programs would cover therapy. I may be wrong. It helped me through some of my sticking points. They can help you figure out what in your ride is triggering the fear and give you some exercises to help you through it.
        For the horse color genetics junky


        • #5
          You go back to where you are comfortable and make small steps forward. It takes time and patience. I have been there with jumping. Went all the way back to trotting crossrails on saintly ponies and it took over a year to get back to where I had been before. If you are only comfortable walking, then walk until you are bored. Then add in a few trot steps. Build that up. Then just a canter stride or two. Add to it. If you feel like your horse is contributing to the fear even though the new one sounds quiet and sensible, see if you can borrow or take lessons on something smaller and dead quiet. Don't beat yourself up over it.


          • #6
            furlong47 has the solution that worked for me. When I bought my new horse 3 years ago, despite the fact that he was beautifully trained and I'm a reasonably good rider, I was afraid to ride/walk/trot/canter him --so as furlong47 said, I went back to where I was comfortable. We did ground work --with our tack/boots on. We practiced all the stuff we'd do mounted using voice commands and long lines/lunge rope. Eventually, we worked on standing quietly at the mounting block and it just seemed right to mount. I did. Got off. Mounted, got off, mounted. And then we took a few steps. We worked on flexing, relaxing, stretching, walking, backing, turning ---and soon we were walking fence lines and every dressage test I knew. It wasn't long before we added trotted steps ---and eventually cantered strides. Ground poles, and then low jumps. After 3 years --we are doing well ---were riding first flight --but last Sunday I took a fall (not horse's fault --lost a stirrup over a fence and slid off.) ---but I'm hurt --bruised ribs. Thinking I'll have to go back to flat work for awhile to get my confidence up again ---oh, and just so you know (very proud) --after I fell, I got back on and took the fence again. But as I said, I'm hurt ---it hurts to canter (pain) --so not sure I'll hunt this week.


            • #7
              I know you said money is tight and you want to be able to school on your own, but I think lessons with a good instructor, who can also give you lunge lessons, might be a good place to start as well.

              It's different when someone else has control of the horse; you're free to work on your position and your problems.


              • #8
                The successful tactic that has helped me overcome pretty major riding anxiety (in my case, it was jumping) was finding my comfort zone and just staying there until I was totally bored of it. It could be as simple as grooming your horse on the ground, or keeping the mounted work to a walk, or in my case, jumping nothing bigger than cross rails. Eventually my brain acknowledged that nothing bad was going to happen, because nothing had, and I started seeking more of a challenge.

                It can't be rushed, and it can feel very discouraging, but every person is so different in how they face fear, rational or not; so take your time. If you feel safe at the walk, stay there until you start craving something more. At that point, make a specific plan such as "we will trot only the short side of the arena", or even "we will trot 3 steps". Having a specific plan helps set boundaries and teaches your brain that you are in control and therefore safe, etc. Once the plan is executed, return to your comfort zone and spend enough time there to settle any adrenaline that may come from working in "new" territory and use it to congratulate yourself at trying something new. Feel free to stay in the comfort zone as long as you like... Until you start craving The Next Step again.

                Eventually your brain and instincts will reprogram to acknowledge that you are in control, you are competent, and bad things will not always happen when you stretch yourself. My own journey took years and years, and it is infinitely difficult not to compare yourself to other riders who may be progressing far faster than you feel you should be... But I've come to realize, it doesn't actually matter my riding "level" compared to others'. I intend to spend my entire life improving and, most importantly, enjoying my horsemanship, so why do I need to be in a rush to "get there"?

                I do wish you the best and am rooting for you!


                • #9
                  Check out this site. You may want to read her book.

                  I went through this about 12 years ago. It's real. It happens, I get that. Mine was similar in that I had a horse I shouldn't have been riding at that particular time in my life. I had two falls, and I lost confidence. It took a saintly QH to start getting it all back. At first I didn't want to canter him, either. But eventually I did, and once I did, I was able to really start gaining in my riding. I've eventually gotten back to where I used to be in my riding, but it was a process!

                  Do you have someone who can ride your horse before you ride, just so you can see that he's being well behaved and he CAN easily canter with a rider. Sometimes that helped my confidence knowing someone else just did it.

                  Also, how is your fitness level? When I lost some fitness and gained some weight, that is when I had my two falls. I've since realized that being fit helps a great deal in confidence simply because I ride better. Maybe try some rider specific exercises.

                  Good luck. You'll get there if you keep trying.

                  My hopeful road to the 2020 RRP TB Makeover:


                  • #10
                    I went through this and am still working through this sometimes. Without riding regularly, I got out of shape and what little I knew about riding flew out the window, causing me to be fearful whenever I would ask for anything more than a walk! I read the book "Riding Fear Free" which was helpful and notes some of the strategies already mentioned here.

                    What I found really works for me was getting in regular lessons with a really good trainer. She isn't necessarily versed in working with fearful riders, but her basic concept (with horses and with people!) is to keep them busy, thus giving the brain something besides the fear to concentrate on. This ranges from simply working on getting a good working walk where the front is light but the hind is reaching under, to serpentines and crossing the diagonal at a trot. I've been riding with her now for a year, and I'm back to doing w/t/c. What has truly helped is that she is teaching me the correct way to ride, so that I feel secure, in control, and can troubleshoot when things start to go awry. Practicing these tools so that they become automatic instead of sitting and being overcome by fear has helped tremendously. When I start to feel the canter get heavy and fast, it doesn't hurt that she immediately tells me that I'm okay and reminds me what to do to bring it back .

                    Having that person on the ground coaching me through it all has truly been the key for me. I know I wouldn't be back in the saddle and doing what I am now without taking that step for lessons.


                    • #11
                      Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, am now back in the middle of it again (though with jumping, not flat work, both times). For me, the answer has always been take it back to the beginning, as far as I need to, until I get bored.

                      When I was a kid, I crashed my horse through a jump (I knew before I tried to go over it that it was a bad idea but felt pressured by the person I was riding with to try, and, lo and behold, it was a bad idea, so lesson learned on that one). We were both physically fine - I mean, we fell, but it was a SJ fence, so it came down with us and there was no permanent damage - but it made me absolutely terrified to jump anything else.

                      My trainer's solution, after I told her what happened due to being too scared to jump during my next lesson? Take it back to poles. She told me that the next time I rode, she wanted me to set a course of poles, and that I should ride it without changing anything til I got bored. Once I was bored, then I could set little cross-rails. Once I got bored with those, I could make them a little bigger. Once those got boring, make them small verticals, and just keep upping them until we were back at our normal schooling height. Like other posters have mentioned, it was about convincing my brain that that worst-case scenario wasn't the most likely one and that I could do all of those things and be just fine.

                      Given that I was twelve? at the time (maybe thirteen), it only took one slightly long ride for me to speed through all of that. Now that I'm an adult, it can take months, and that's fine. I had a lot of confidence issues coming out of my last training situation, but I've been forced to do a lot of walk/trot work for the last ~eight months since my horse is only three (four in May) and has a sticky stifle that we've been very focused on strengthening. Taking the time to do those things has actually upped my confidence a lot because it's reminded me that my foundational skills in the saddle are actually a lot stronger than I frequently convince myself they are, and it's made me start craving the things that have most recently made me very nervous (and, better yet, I'm going to be forced to keep things slow for a long time because he's not ready yet to do those things that I'm now wanting to do, which should only continue helping).

                      It's okay to stay at the walk until you're bored and ready to trot. It's okay to stay at the trot until you're bored and ready to canter. You can take as much time as you need to get yourself to the point where you're bored and ready to do that next thing. My training philosophy with my horse, especially while he's so young, is "We'll do [x thing] whenever he tells me he's ready for it" (and, perhaps most importantly, when I feel I'm ready for it too). It's more than alright for us to take that approach with ourselves too.

                      Also, when it comes to work out of the saddle, I find that just getting moving (even if it's just a short walk) and making sure that I stretch regularly helps a lot, especially whenever I can't ride for a little while for whatever reason. What I can do in the saddle on any given day is directly influenced by how "stuck" I feel - like, sometimes my right leg feels like it's jammed into a particular position and I can't get independent movement from my seat and leg - and oftentimes that "stuck" feeling (and subsequent feeling of lack of security in the saddle, or inability to direct my horse, or whatever else) is a consequence of me not making sure that I'm properly loosened up before I get on. It seems like a small thing, but I've found that it can make a world of difference in how comfortable and secure I feel in the saddle from one day to the next.

                      Best of luck with this - it's definitely a hard thing to go through, but just be patient with yourself. We all have our own timelines and that's more than okay!


                      • #12
                        At one level, the issue is that you unconscious mind is arguing with your conscious mind. Either conventional therapy, or hypnotherapy can help with that.

                        chief feeder and mucker for Music, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now). Spy is gone. April 15, 1982 to Jan 10, 2019.


                        • #13
                          I had a bad fall with torn rotator cuff some years back, and it devastated my confidence with my OTTB. What helped most was asking nothing more of us than we felt comfortable doing, as others have said above, until I was bored. Relieve yourself of the idea that the horse MUST do this that or the other thing. The horse is happy just to be a horse with you. We worked on voice commands with longeing, ground work, getting a beautiful walk.

                          Walter Zettl wrote that the walk is the most important and most neglected gait. (My Horses My Friends). Work on the walk - get a big back swing, use your core muscles, do it for as long as you like varying the pattern and the contact. My OTTB had the most beautiful stretchy walk and trot before I got nerve enough to canter again. I don't know why we are all obsessed with canter - like it is some litmus test of a Real Ride. It Is Not.

                          We are all in this for the joy of it, and for the love of the horse. Your joy will find you when you let it. Do not judge yourself harshly, ever. You are on a horse, which is such a dam great privilege and pleasure!


                          • #14
                            Books and emotional support are all find, but what you need is some instruction with a good instructor so you can "wet the blanket" intelligently. That will give you the knowledge you need to build your own confidence as well as the support you need while you practice and build that confidence. This need not necessarily be a multi-month project. A few, properly spaced (i.e., not too far apart) lessons might be a very good way to go.

                            This will require you to pay the instructor for their time and expertise. I know money can be tight, but a question: what is the deductible on your health insurance for an ambulance ride, an ER visit, and a night in your local hospital for observation/evaluation after a fall? It's expensive if yo don't hit your head; if you do that and concuss yourself add a neurological consult and an MRI and/or a CAT scan. Consider that a couple hundred spent on prevention can save you several thousand in cure.

                            there is a level of hazard in the equestrian sports that is not zero, even for just "ring riding."

                            Good luck in your program.

                            Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raa, Uma Paixo


                            • #15
                              So much good advice here already. I'm another BTDT — after coming off the fourth time on my previous horse, when I'd for years ridden bolters and spookers without being unseated, I was mentally paralyzed by the thought of cantering. Switched to a saint, still up in my own head and unable to break through the cognitive block. Here's what helped me, if any of it's useful.
                              • I stopped beating myself up about it (as others have said, negative self-talk just reinforces the distortion).
                              • I absolutely stopped cantering for awhile and focused on walking and trotting. There's so, so much you can do in just the walk gait!
                              • When we started cantering again, I asked my instructor to ride him a couple of times while I watched. This let me visually see what my new horse's canter looked like, and it helped to have her talk through what she was doing in response to the way he carried himself. Somehow, seeing him move under saddle with someone else helped me fully "get" that he is in fact a 14.2h, well-mannered pocket-rocket and not a half-wild megabeast.
                              • Our earliest canters were a handful of steps and then down to trot. Then a half circle. Then full. Eventually we got to the full arena, but only when I was ready to push my comfort edge a bit more.
                              • Not with this horse, but I've found that sometimes popping over a very low cross rail gets me riding the canter without THINKING about it, if that makes sense. We're just cantering, and it gets me past the "omg I have to ask and what if what if what if" anticipation that can mess me up.

                              I'm so happy this thread is here, because it can feel very lonely in this headspace. Clearly it's pretty common — and as thoroughbred21 said, we ride because we love to do it. So if cantering isn't your joy right now, it's ok! Gently ask yourself now and then if you feel up to giving it a try. When the time comes, you'll be ready. Lots of hugs.


                              • #16
                                First I'll say, we have all (or at least most of us) have been there at one time or another. I get frustrated and mad at myself about becoming nervous about doing something I know I can do.

                                Without going into all the chemistry behind it, you can literally rewire your brain through your posture. A fearful posture will most likely have a closed, rounded position, palms down while a more confident posture would be sitting tall, shoulders open and palms up. The next time you're on your horse at the walk, become aware of your posture and your state of mind. I'm guessing it will be more toward the former. Then, as you walk along, change your posture to the open position. Make a conscious effort to stretch tall, open your shoulders and turn your palms toward the sky. Think about rides that have gone well and stay with it until you begin to feel it. Staying in the open position for just 20 seconds can begin to switch your brain into a more confident state. I've used this prior to jumping rounds and am amazed how well it works. I used to go into the ring a bundle of nerves. Now I go in solid as a rock. My horse feels it and responds in the same manner. It creates a fantastic cycle of confidence building.
                                "Do what you can't do"


                                • #17
                                  Check out Confident Rider on Facebook. Really excellent support and advice.


                                  • #18
                                    I had success with what others have suggested: a good trainer, focus on a exercise rather than riding itself, riding with good friends as support, and having a good horse. I also tried EMDR with a therapist which seemed to help a bit.


                                    • #19
                                      Disclaimer: I don't actually have Fear. I capitalize it, because it's a whole thing. My Sis has had it and overcame it. I get anxious, and that cripples my ride (think full body clench), but anxiety is a low nag, where Fear is a sharp stab.

                                      You know Fight Club's rule? Yeah, horses should have a Rule Number One: It's Supposed to Be Fun.

                                      You're frustrated by what you can't do. But what are you able to do? Is it bringing you pleasure? Groundwork (or just ground living; my mare's a bitch, but I adore time spent in her stall) is a great suggestion. Mucking stalls? My BOs have always appreciated helping hands, and don't underestimate the mental benefits of manual labour. Working for horse comfort is somehow calming for me.

                                      Is a dressage lesson on a schoolie a possibility? Even one great dressage lesson can give you weeks or even months of stuff to work on. Stuff you can work on (is best worked on!) in the walk. And the trot is the schooling gait. Since focusing more on our flatwork, an average ride for me and my mare (again, no fear, had a few awesome low-level trials this past season) is about 20 total min of walk, 20 of trot, and 1.5 min of canter. A walking lunge lesson on a steady horse can be huge, too! I did my first ever lunge lesson a little over a month ago, and "life-changing" is a stretch. But not by much.

                                      Hope you're able to keep enjoying horses! Find the fun part again, and let the rest go for a while.


                                      • #20
                                        I too am "been there done that."

                                        A friend and I were exploring a new trail, trotting along a smooth, flat section when my horse stumbled and went down on his knees. I managed to roll off and avoid breaking anything. I was lying there and I couldn't move my right arm at all. I had hyperextended the area from my spine past my shoulder blade. I had a variety of nerve injuries to the right brachial plexus which runs the shoulder and arm. It was in 2004 and I have permanent damage that affects range of motion. My deltoid and biceps are significantly impaired. The infraspinatus is gone forever. It was a relatively innocuous fall with catastrophic injuries. It affects my daily life and my riding. My horse knows he can pull his head to the left to avoid something and that I can't pull him back because I can't get my right hand down the rein.

                                        Fear is hard-wired in your brain. You can't ignore it. You need to deal with it at your own pace. There are lots of good suggestions in this thread. Basically you have find a comfortable spot to restart your riding. Don't let anyone bug you or egg you on or put you down. Figure out where your comfort level is and work from there. If you are only comfortable getting on your horse and standing for a few minutes that's fine. Get off. Next day you may do the same thing, or you may decide you want to go a couple of steps and then dismount. Don't push yourself beyond that spot just because you are "supposed" to WTC and jump because that's where you were. You will start to feel that you are making tiny improvements. Let them come at their own pace. I didn't ride for over a month after that injury. When I got back on I had to ride one-handed. I found someone to help and went on a lead line with kids until I was adapting to the limitations.

                                        There is a book called "Fear Free Riding." It is set up as a training program more than a philosophical discussion. The forward was written by Jody Lyons, second wife of trainer John Lyons. She was petrified of horses when they met. Years ago there was a very active discussion board on John's website. Whenever someone complained about a husband, for example, we would remind them that they can use the same training techniques they use with their horse. That is sort of what this book does.

                                        Another benefit of the book is that it has quite a bit of content focusing on instructors and coaches so that they understand their role. Very often they will put too much pressure on you trying to rush you back to where they think you should be.

                                        You can do this. Remember to love on your horse on the ground and on the horse. A lot of people think I trained my horse to do stuff he actually figured out on his own. He's a good boy and that's what I've been telling him for the past 19 years.
                                        Last edited by walktrot; Feb. 14, 2020, 05:08 PM.
                                        "With hardly any other living being can a human connect as closely over so many years as a rider can with her horse." Isabell Werth, Four Legs Move My Soul. 2019