Sometimes it is useful to go right back to basics in order to ensure that you have the fundamental skills which will help you to do the things which you choose to do on horseback and in life.
What is confidence? There are many different definitions but one of my favourites is that “CONFIDENCE IS A QUIET INNER BELIEF THAT YOU ARE CAPABLE”. Confidence is very much a belief – a belief that you have what it takes to do the things that you are setting out to do, that you can handle the situations you put yourself in, that you can cope with the vast majority of unexpected occurrences.
So what are the characteristics of a confident rider?
Well you can’t always tell by watching a rider whether they are confident or not and there are riders at all levels and in all equestrian disciplines with varying degrees of confidence. A rider’s confidence may vary enormously at different times of their lives or when riding different horses so it’s best not to make too many assumptions but generally a confident rider will have most of the following characteristics.
- Rides willingly
- Prepared to push out of comfort zone
- Tends to say yes to new opportunities
- Rides in all sorts of different situations
- Rides alone or in company without issue
- Accepts challenges and prepared to work hard to fulfil goals
- Generally uses positive language to describe their horse and their riding
- Finds opportunities for learning even when things are challenging
- Accepts praise with grace and doesn’t require constant reassurance
- Avoids unhelpful comparisons with others
- Will generally appear to be physically comfortable even when they are a novice or inexperienced rider
- Will say ‘No” for genuine reasons rather than as an excuse
- Confident riders come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and ride all sorts of different horses
What can you do to help yourself to grow in confidence?
If we accept that confidence is, as I said above, a belief that you are capable then by working on what you believe about yourself, and about your riding, you will grow in confidence.
Mind your language!
Start to recognise the words and language that you are using so that you can check that you are using supportive and encouraging phrases rather than critical and unhelpful ones. Are you using phrases like “I can’t….”, “It’s too hard”, “I’m no good at….”, “I always do…..”, “I’m terrified of…..”? If you recognise these phrases then it’s time to start to make some changes.
By expressing these negative and unhelpful phrases – either internally or out loud – then you are setting yourself up to believe that these things are true when there may be little or no actual evidence to support these thoughts.
A simple but effective way to learn to challenge these unhelpful thoughts is to take a metaphorical step away from them by saying to yourself for example “I notice that I’m thinking that I can’t…..”, “I notice that I’m telling myself that I’m no good at….” , “I notice that I said that it’s too hard…”. This allows you to break the unhelpful chain of thought and begin to replace those thoughts with more helpful ones.
Set small and achievable challenges
If you are setting yourself up for failure by repeatedly giving yourself challenges that you aren’t ready for yet, then you are likely to sap your confidence levels.
A far more helpful way to boost your confidence is to set yourself small and achievable challenges which push you a little but out of your comfort zone with just the right amount of a stretch.
For example, each time you ride include a couple of things which you are learning or which get your adrenaline going just a little bit.
This approach will help you to grow in the belief that you CAN learn new things and you ARE CAPABLE of handling the physical sensations associated with your natural stress hormones. This growing belief will add to your overall enjoyment of riding as well as helping you to learn and make progress towards any longer term aims or goals.
Use your strengths to overcome your challenges
Even when your self belief is fragile there will have been times in your life when you have handled tricky situations and learned new things.
Spend some time reflecting on past learnings and on the attributes that you used to help you. These are your strengths.
Think ( and ideally write down) what these strengths are and on how you can use them to help you with your riding challenges. This exercise will help you to grow in self belief and therefore in the confidence that you are looking for.
Practice Practice Practice
Practice applying these ideas frequently, and in all sorts of situations, so that your belief grows and your confidence soars and remember that confident riders will also feel nervous at times and that is nothing to worry about.