Confident rider

But what if you’re not?

‘Just be confident’ was the title that had run through my awareness yesterday.  I was musing over how many times I’ve heard or read in articles that to be successful with horses you need to be calm and confident.

But what happens when you are not?

Even though I was often told to be confident and I that would be fine, there were many times when I simply wasn’t.  Even if the person helping me was kind and helpful , if I didn’t FEEL confident, being told to ‘just be confident’ didn’t work.

…but what if you’re not?

I remember going cross country at Ston Easton Horse Trials in the British Eventing Novice Section, many years ago, on my homebred mare Dusky’s Spirit.  The third fence was rails into a wood followed by a couple of strides and then three huge steps which dropped down a steep hill to the water combination at the bottom.  When I walked the course I felt sick and terrified.  But, I adopted the ‘just kick on and be confident’ attitude and hoped for the best.  We did it – I won’t say that it was text book or looked pretty, but we did it!  We jumped a clear round, although I was so excited to complete the course successfully that after jumping the last fence I forgot where the finish line was and knocked over the finish flag! (but that’s another story)

However, one year later I returned to the same event and in the course was the same combination of jumps. I felt just as sick, just as terrified.  Even though I’d pushed myself through the fear the year before I hadn’t overcome my fear – and this time my nerves got the better of me and despite smoothly jumping down the steps I pulled Dusky up too sharply and we had a run out at the water combination.

Some might say that was successful, but I didn’t feel it – because I knew that I would still feel sick and terrified if I was faced with that combination again.

In my early teaching career I began to realise that, for some people, encouragement and support to be confident worked.  However, I also came across the ones who, like me, being cajoled, coerced, supported and nurtured to be confident, in situations in which they didn’t feel it, simply DID NOT WORK!  And so how did I help them? Well, I began the process of giving to these clients what I really wanted and needed myself, in situations when I didn’t feel calm and confident.

I have to admit that there was another part of me which was saying “just tell them to get on with it, and once they do it they’ll be fine”.

And so what did I really need when I didn’t FEEL confident?  I wanted to be HEARD.  I wanted to accept my feelings as they were and to be accepted if I couldn’t say that I was confident in that moment. For those people, like me, that ‘fake it until you make it’ does not work, being heard is the first step to being naturally confident.

How did I realise this?

Well to continue the story in my example, I was lucky enough to get a place on a cross country schooling clinic with Rodney Powell on the BE course at Ston Easton, on the Monday after the event.  I told him about my fears, and he heard me. Wow! – we spent several hours breaking the combination down into pieces i.e. jump down one step, then two and finally all three.  We jumped into the wood and halted before continuing down the three steps. At the water combination we walked in and out of the water, jumped in and out of the water and then put the whole combination together.  By the end of the day I had jumped the whole combination happily and confidently many times.

What did I learn from this? Firstly, I learnt the value of being heard.  It’s then possible to ask for what you want.  Then the person helping or supporting you can use their experience to find ways of helping you to achieve what you want.  Of course, one of the obvious messages from this account is to break things down into small, achievable steps, before putting the whole thing together, rather than jumping in the deep end and frightening both you and your horse!

And so I began to really listen to the clients who shared their lack of confidence.  Sometimes it was a lack of confidence in the horse or pony that they were riding, sometimes it was in their ability to achieve the goal set before them and sometimes it was the fear of making a mistake or perhaps of being laughed at.

I became more and more skilled at listening to my clients, hearing their wants and needs and moving with them towards the success that they were seeking.  Some clients actually wanted to change to another horse or pony, some asked to have a lesson in trot and not to canter that day and some asked to put the jump down a hole if I had put it too high for them.

What was interesting is that many clients had the ability to achieve their goals and they looked confident despite their desire to adjust their goals.  It was then that it dawned on me how I might have beenperceived by my trainers over the years.  I saw many clients with the ability to achieve the goal in front ofthem, but not the confidence.  As a teacher or trainer that can be frustrating.  The temptation to push theclient to achieve the goal, so that they know they can do it and then be able to do it again, is huge.

But, as I had proved by my own experience, being pushed (or even, as in my example, pushing myself) to achieve something that I wasn’t confident about, didn’t’ make me any more confident the following year.

What I soon learned was that once my clients realised that they could ask for what they wanted they could define their own goals and they would approach their own goals with more enthusiasm and energy.  It’s at this point that they would positively invite support, encouragement and even some ‘pushing’.  Training the British Pentathletes in their Show Jumping discipline in 2000 confirmed for me how hard people will actually work towards a goal, once it is something that they are truly aligned with.

During the past few years, through my training with Eponaquest I’ve found an even more beneficial way of helping people who lack confidence in their horses and their ability.  Now I’m able to help the client access the true feeling or emotion that they are experiencing when they don’t feel confident and also to recognise the information behind it.

For example, is the feeling fear, an external threat to their safety, in which case it’s a call to bring them to safety.  Or does it feel like fear, but is actually vulnerability.  It’s not an external threat but rather a little voice in their head that’s stopping them from reaching their potential, in which case it can be helped by working through the mental block.

Or is it frustration, a call to try something different or ask for help?

If you resonate with my story then you may find these notes helpful…

Next time you are told to ‘just be confident’ and yet you really don’t feel it try the following:

  • Accept it
  • Notice what you are really feeling and what it’s trying to tell you
  • Find someone that will hear you or listen to you
  • Ask for what you want
  • Take a step in that direction
  • And then notice how you feel?
  • Probably the initial feelings will be the lack of the fear, vulnerability or frustration, something like relief.
  • With practice, however, you will reach the natural confidence that you’ve been yearning.
  • I look forward to hearing your stories.
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