Falling Off . My approach to rebuilding rider confidence. Part 2

After a fall, the traditional prescription is to get back in the saddle. “Seven falls make a rider!”. Horse stops at a fence ? “Throw your heart over and your horse’ll go too!”  As a young rider on a regular refuser, that adage didn’t inspire confidence in me! Despite approaching a fence with my jaw set and the power of positive thinking,  I still couldn’t tell you WHY my horse was stopping in the first place.

As a coach, I’d tell my twenty year old self to take a step back after a fall and analyze what went wrong. What were the steps that led to the incident? Did the horse spook or trip? Were there any warning signs? Could it have been prevented?

So after a fall, or equally scary incident, what now?

I have a special interest in helping riders rebuild their confidence- I’ve been there! And I believe that Knowledge inspires confidence.

By explaining the HOWS (technical skills) and the WHYs (the science of horse behavior and learning) my students have the tools and understanding to rebuild their own pace. They enjoy the process as much as the result!

Taking measured risks

The process of learning any sport is one of taking measured risks. Shaping is the system by which we teach a simple skill as a component in building more complex movements. Once I’ve got the knack of something, can I do it over here? Can I do it with a lighter aid? Can I do it a little faster? Can I do it in the midst of distractions? In riding, not only must I discern when I’m ready to stretch to the next level but also when my horse is ready for the challenge. The timing may not coincide.

Targeting trouble spots

Before pushing to any next level-cantering, jumping, changing leads or taking your horse off- property, is there any area of resistance in your horse?

Usually, the problem can be traced to a weakness in your tool kit or resistance in your horse’s responses in these categories -pace, path, package or position. A summary from last month:

  • Pace- How’s your speed control? Does your horse accelerate and slow reliably? Lengthening and shortening his stride on cue, without hesitation? How are your brakes?
  • Path- Are your lateral aids tuned up? Leg yielding, bending, turns on the forehand and haunches?
  • Package- Is your horse supple, rounding and softening to your hand and leg? Or bracing instead, against the bit?
  • Position- are you secure in the tack? Independently able to use your aids so that your leg, rein and seat aids don’t clash, sending mixed messages to your horse?

Stepping back to the familiar.

Were you pushing beyond your comfort level before the fall? Sometimes fear is masked by the adrenaline of the moment and revisits us in flashbacks the days following the event. I find it helpful to return the rider to the point on the staircase where they feel secure – even if it’s walking on the longe line for the next few lessons. Gradually, we’ll stretch to the next step, returning to the familiar to finish the session on a confident note.

Don’t be pressured.

Don’t push past your comfort level because of peer pressure or even the pressure of your instructor. An upcoming show deadline can compel us to advance, despite that inner caution signal. Don’t ignore how you’re feeling!

  The slow and steady method of becoming an accomplished rider systematically, skill by skill may not appeal to all goal-oriented equestrians! Consider, like the Tortoise and the Hare, that slower is often faster in the long run!