Falls happen to everyone in just about every sport. Whether you are a professional rider like Georgina Bloomberg or an amateur who got into riding only a couple of months ago, setbacks are normal during all stages of equestrian sports. A bad fall can leave you scarred for months, even if there was no injury. However, there comes a time when we must push ourselves to overcome our fears and move forwards. Although this may seem like a daunting task, we have compiled a step-by-step guide on how you can start your journey back to confidence.
1- Find out the Reason for the Fall
Although thinking too much about your fall is counterproductive, it is important to trace back and understand why this challenge occurred. Think about the moments right before the fall to find the cause. Did you come to the jump with poor canter rhythm, and thus mess up the distance? Did you lose your balance, causing your horse to be unbalanced? Finding out the reason is helpful because that’s how you can understand what you can do to prevent the mistake from occurring. If you are finding that you are missing distances consistently to jumps, work on distances using poles and practice keeping a consistent canter rhythm. If you lack balance, work on your seat (with no stirrup work or bareback riding) until it is difficult to shake even with the biggest buck.
2- Identify the Root of the Reason
Let’s say that your horse constantly slows down at the sight of the fence even if you develop a good rhythm beforehand and keep it in the corner (this type of problem is called ‘going behind the leg.’) Although a whip and spur may help in some cases, it is important to identify the root of the cause before moving forwards, especially if the problem persists/happens consistently. Is your horse scared of something on the other side? Maybe your horse had a bad experience with you or a previous rider while jumping (e.g., the rider accidentally pulled the horse in the mouth when landing). Perhaps the lack of willingness to go forwards is due to pain, either internal (such as ulcers) or external (such as an ill-fitting saddle). The key to success here is good observation, trial, and error, and working with professionals.
3- Seek Professional Help
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have professional help right by their side, but if the reason for your fall is not understandable or too dangerous for you to handle on your own, there is little choice. Other than the obvious musts (farriers and veterinarians), it is also wise to seek a trainer’s help. A trainer’s work is literally to professionally identify the problems, and even the best riders in the world seek help from other professionals from time to time. Take Lillie Keenan as an example, she has her partner, Darragh Kenny, train her horses when she needs the extra hand. In addition, there are some problems which are too dangerous for the average person to handle, and it is better to realize this early rather than late. You may be a good rider, but if your horse is consistently getting out of your control, it is rational to feel fear and want help from a more experienced rider. Professional help may also come in handy outside of the barn in the form of a sport psychologist. These people work with your brain to help you find a way to best cope with your fears.
4- Go Back to the Basics
This is where the riding (or groundwork, if you still feel shaky just being around horses) starts. The best way to start back up is with a confident school master who understands what needs to be done and can handle plenty of mistakes. If you only feel confident walking, just walk and work on various exercises such as halts and serpentines. However, try to push yourself by taking two or three steps of trot. Understand the problem, set your goal, and work slowly towards it. This is where the help of an experienced trainer can be useful, as they are able to push you while also keeping you safe. Realize that confidence building will take time and the idea is to push yourself on a daily basis, one step at a time, rather than doing everything in one session.
5- Work on Yourself
This goes back to point number five and the idea of working with a psychologist. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to seek that type of professional help. Therefore, make it your mission to work on yourself during your alone time. That way, when high pressure or triggering moments come along, you can control your brain and your body. The best way to work on yourself is through meditation. There are different forms of meditation, this includes but is not limited to: breathing exercises, yoga, journaling, etc. You can start with a simple guided meditation on YouTube or on a free app like Insight Timer. The best part is that you can tailor the experience to yourself and if you want to start off with something more old school, go for journaling. An example of a journaling prompt which builds confidence is the question: “what do I have the goods for?” List twenty things which you are good at when it comes to horses and sport.
6- Realize When to Stop
You can be the bravest person in the world but even then, there should be a limit. If you are a novice who rides once a week and have a four-year-old off the track Thoroughbred, a little professional help will likely help you unless you can get that on pretty much a daily basis. Training horses takes time and even the best riders seek help from other professionals. It takes courage to realize when you are over or under faced with a certain equine, and although it can be a humbling task, it is something you must do to enjoy the sport to the maximum. If you do go down that route of working with an equine that is above your ability, you must have time, patience, and be open-minded enough to seek out professional help/alternatives.
Confidence is key to success in equestrian sport, but just about every rider has experienced a moment which has shattered their confidence. It’s not the moment that makes you, but the way you deal with it. Start by finding the reason for your fall and then getting to the root of this reason. Proceed by making sure you have the right professional help early on while putting an emphasis on your basics. Take the time to work on yourself, while also understanding when you should stop. Sometimes, you will need to fake confidence till you makes it. So, whether you are out competing in the Grand Prix ring at WEC Ocala or are hitting the trails with a few friends, it’s important to know your abilities while also thinking positive.
Ihearthorses. “5 Ways to Regain Confidence after Falling off a Horse.” I Heart Horses, IHeartHorses Inc., 29 May 2020, ihearthorses.com/5-ways-to-regain-confidence-after-a-falling-off-a-horse/.
The Everyday Equestrian. “9 Ways to Get Your Riding Confidence Back after Falling Off Your Horse.” The Everyday Equestrian, The Everyday Equestrian, 31 July 2021, www.theeverydayequestrian.co.uk/9-ways-to-get-your-riding-confidence-back-after-falling-off-your-horse/.