I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve been holding out on you.

There is one simple exercise that I uncovered a while ago and haven’t shared here. And it’s a really, really good one. This simple exercise is going to get your year off to a stress-free start.

The 5-4-3-2-1 relaxation technique I’m about to explain to you is a variation of one taught by psychologists, sleep experts, hypnotherapists and other health professionals. It’s deceptively easy, and you can use it any time those pesky ‘what ifs’ take up residence in your head. If you’re feeling worried about getting on your horse, you can do this exercise before saddling up. If it’s the first few minutes after mounting that stress you, this is perfect to try at the start of your ride. You can use it when you’re riding in a new area, or even if your nerves take over during a ride and you’re ready to get off.

Disclaimer: This exercise is not going to work if you’re riding an unsuitable horse for your level of ability or you’ve got some serious training issues that need addressing. Be honest with yourself about where your fears are coming from and please get some professional help if you feel unsafe on your horse.

Tip: If you’re lucky enough to have some eyes on the ground, get them to lead you through this exercise. It will work even quicker with someone to keep you focused.

5-4-3-2-1: Follow these steps

  • If you choose to do this exercise unmounted then find a comfortable spot next to your horse if possible. If you’re riding, then choose the pace you feel most confident at—at the halt is a fine place to start but there’s no reason why you couldn’t do it at a gallop too.

  • Look around and name something you see. Say it aloud: “I can see the arena gate.”

  • Let your eyes scan further, finding new items to point out until you’ve listed five: “I can see the cross rail, I can see the horse truck, I can see the palomino across the road, I can see a car driving down the road, I can see Mary’s got a new saddle blanket.”

  • Now name something you hear. “I hear my horse’s footfalls, I can hear a dog barking.”

  • Continue until you can list five things you can hear.

  • Move onto what you can feel. Say “I feel” and name five different things you can feel. “I can feel the reins in my hands, I can feel the wind blowing on my face.”

  • Finally, name five things you’re good at. Try and focus on horse related qualities. “I have nice, soft hands that follow the horse.”

Well done, you’ve just completed one cycle. Check in with your nerves. Are you still feeling rigid or shaky or have you actually started to relax your seatbones and mould into the saddle? I bet you forgot about some of those ‘what if’s’ for a moment, didn’t you?

"We cool right now, thanks for asking." (Flickr/visualpanic)


Time for sequence two. Repeat the steps above but this time focus on four things you can see, hear, feel and that you’re awesome at. Every time you work through these steps you’re grounding yourself to the present moment instead of getting carried away with your worries about what might happen.

Take a deep breath, relax your muscles and get set for round three. You guessed it, this time you’re going to list three things you can see, hear, feel and that you’re good at. Keep moving through the cycles until you’ve listed two things, and then one thing. If you start forgetting where you’re up to, don’t stress, just go with the flow.

(flickr.com/Jimmy McIntyre)

Just imagine this is your arena. (flickr/JimmyMcIntyre)

With every sequence you complete you’re spending more time with your horse where you’re not just waiting for something bad to happen. If at any time you’re feeling completely calm and confident, you can choose to finish this exercise and get on with your ride! And yes, if it bores you to tears, that’s actually awesome—it means your mind has slowed down and you’re ready to focus on all those reasons you love being on a horse.

The really great thing about this relaxation technique is that you can also shorten it for a quick way to bring yourself into the present and out of your head. If you’re short on time just turn it into an abbreviated exercise by following these steps:

5. Name five things you can see.

4. Name four things you can hear.

3. Name three things you can feel.

2. Name two things you can smell.

1. Name one thing you’re good at.

I really hope this fabulous technique gets you back into the here and now so that you can really enjoy your horse time. Remember, fear doesn’t exist in the present, it’s only in our memories of the past or our thoughts of the future. So, take the time to focus on this moment right now, just like your horse does.

Find more at confidentrider.com.au

About the Authorjade-confident-rider

Jade Salpietro is a communications specialist and amateur equestrian based in Western Australia. She chronicles her life in the saddle on her blog, Confident Rider, which she started as a resource for nervous equestrians like herself to overcome their fear and anxiety. Fear less, ride more.