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Building a rider’s confidence

A few years ago, a friend of mine broke her wrist when she was bucked off her horse.The experience scared her but after her wrist healed she began thinking about riding again. However, she kept making excuses because she had lost her confidence to get back on her horse.Gaining confidence is a cognitive process, rather than an emotional one. But overcoming fear is difficult because it taps into one’s powerful sense of self-preservation.Confident riders have an overall appearance of balance and remain centered in the saddle, moving fluidly with their horse. They do not tip from side to side, front to back or bounce up and down uncontrollably. They have an upright posture and are relaxed and flexible, using hand, seat and leg aids quietly. They do not have body stiffness or rigidity. Confident riders feel calm and in control of themselves, their horse and where they are going. They are focused on themselves and their horse and are aware of their surroundings. They ride with assuredness and assertiveness.Riders who are not confident usually lean forward in the saddle. They tend to grip with their legs in an effort to hold on, usually cueing the horse to go faster, which can create a runaway horse. Many riders lacking confidence will hold the reins too tight to try to keep the horse under control and to balance themselves – this creates pressure in the horses’ mouth. Some horses will toss or push their heads down to lengthen the reins and release the pressure. They also might speed up to escape the bit. Anxious riders might hold their breath, breathe shallow or be afraid of transitioning to faster gaits. Many riders never progress because they fear falling or having an out-of-control horse. They might experience an increased heart beat, perspiration, the jitters or butterflies in their stomach. They also might fear trying new things – going out of their comfort zone.Confidence can be created or improved by taking riding lessons from a qualified and patient instructor who focuses on the rider and the horse as individuals and as a suitable pair. I have seen peoples’ confidence ruined by instructors who pushed too fast or didn’t allow the time to properly develop balance and other riding skills. Some instructors belittle riders for not progressing faster, which is emotionally crippling. An instructor’s teaching style should mesh with a riders’ learning style.The horse and the rider will affect each other and having awareness of horse behavior and self behavior can help limit miscommunication that can lead to riding disasters and ruined confidence. Trying something more difficult before one is ready can break confidence. Practice riding techniques at your skill level until you’ve mastered that technique. For example, learn to ride a slower trot competently before progressing to a collected or extended trot.Some people do not have confidence merely because they have never developed it. Conversely, some riders – usually beginners who have not had any harmful riding experiences – are over-confident and do not realize the hazards associated with riding. Between the extremes of excessive fear and over-confidence is a healthy respect where the recognition of risk doesn’t limit them. Building and maintaining confidence is a continuous process for all riders.Send questions or comments to

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