Three steps to overcoming riding nervousness–plus, a way to remember them when it matters most.
Fear can make you tense and defensive. That, in turn, can cause you to be rough with your horse. It’s as if you’re trying to bluff him into believing you’re not afraid. But you’re not fooling him; he’s just catching nervousness from you, because that’s what herd animals do.
What to do instead? These three things:
Look up in the direction you’re traveling, not down at your horse. This subtly reminds both of you that you’re actively in charge (rather than fixated on him).
Breathe deeply from your abdomen. Imagine filling a glass of water all the way to the top, then emptying it all the way back down to the bottom. Do it in rhythm with your horse’s strides. This will have a calming effect on both of you.
Sit back on your seat bones and get your nose behind the point of your belt buckle. Soften your lower back and all your joints, so you can follow your horse’s motion. Relaxed muscles promote a relaxed mind.
How to remember these three steps? Develop a mantra: Look, breathe, sit back, and ride. Memorize it, then use it to coach yourself back to focus and relaxation whenever you feel your nerves taking over.
This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.