The Road Back to Riding

A practical guide to building confidence and having fun

You’re middle-aged and you’ve decided you want to ride.

It may be for the first time, or it may be after years out of the saddle. You may have watched the kids for the last number of years—and got the bug from being around the barn. Or, you have some unfinished business in riding and you feel it’s just time to get back to it.

Whatever your reason, if you’re committed to the idea of riding, there’s much to consider. So, let’s look at what that might be and provide you with some ideas on how to enjoy your riding, build confidence over time and get the most from the experience.

What’s your plan?

What is it you actually want to accomplish in riding and what’s reasonable based on how much time you’ll commit and how adventurous you’re feeling?

A plan outlining your goals and detailed steps on how you’ll accomplish them can give you a feeling of security. Buy yourself a small journal to write down three goals you’d like accomplish in the first year and develop the detailed steps that will ensure you accomplish them.

The journal can also include reflections from your training and show performances during the year. If you know where you are going and have the steps in place to get there, it will build your confidence.

Choosing your partner

You are only half of this riding equation, so spend some time deciding what kind of a partner you want and how that partner will help you satisfy your riding needs. Talk to coaches and industry experts to get the right fit. Finding a partner that provides a relationship of trust and security will give you confidence and be a big factor in your enjoyment of the sport.

Address your fears  

What is it you might be afraid of in your new riding adventure?

Well…it could be many things from the real, tangible fear of falling off or getting hurt, to less tangible fears of failure, not reaching expectations, or a rather lengthy list of reasons that can cause those uncomfortable feelings and take the enjoyment out of your riding.

The fear of getting hurt in equestrian is real—falling off is a worry—and it’s something you’ll need to meet head on. You’ve already partially addressed it finding the right partner.

A few other ideas that can diffuse fear and build your confidence are working on your technical abilities with a compatible coach, achieving the balance and control needed to stay in the saddle. A coach can also help to soften the blow by helping you learn emergency dismounts—so you’re ready for any situation.

And, safety equipment can give you some peace of mind. Helmets, chest protectors, safety stirrups and boots won’t prevent a fall, but will make you feel more safe.

And then of course there’s the dreaded “what ifs.” We create fear in our minds by projecting out that something negative may happen and that makes you anxious in the moment telling yourself things like “I can’t do it” or “I don’t want to do this.”

An example might be…you take some lessons, work hard on your riding, enter your first class, arrive at the show ring, everyone is watching and the voice inside you starts acting up…

“What if I look silly in front of everyone?”

“What if I fall off?”

“What if the jumps are too big?”

“What if I let down my coach who has worked hard to help me?”

This creates the anxious feeling, and depending on the intensity of the feeling, it can be a real distraction…and sometimes even overwhelming.

The thing is that although you believe these things might happen, they almost always never do—and that’s important for you to remember.

If you have negative riding experiences from the past, these little gremlins can also create feelings of fear. Negative memories can be brought forward to cause the anxious feelings and also distract you from today’s performance. Experiences in the past are real and a part of you. Support your confidence by putting emphasis on all of the great, positive experiences from the past and leave the negative ones where they belong—behind you!

So your goal is to stay in the moment. Letting your mind drift forward or back will be a distraction for you. The first step in staying in the moment is being aware when you’re drifting out of it. When you find yourself drifting forward or back in time, focus on a key task in the present and snap yourself back. If you are about to enter the show ring focus on a key, positive task at hand: “I want to create a great early rhythm approaching the first jump.”

While the future is where your goals are, the mind must stay focused in the present moment on key tasks to reach those goals.

What’s your purpose?

Finally, know your purpose for riding and be clear about it. This is a critical fundamental I work on with some of the world’s best athletes and athletes at all levels. You will be challenged often getting back on the horse and it will be humbling, but keeping your purpose at the centre of your riding is a factor in how much you will enjoy it.

Having a clear plan, the right partner, addressing your fears head on and having a clear purpose, you’ll be more ready for your new challenge, be more confident and have fun getting back in the saddle.

Who knows you might really surprise yourself!

About the Author

John Haime is President of New Edge Performance. A former professional athlete and current bestselling author of You are a Contender! Build Emotional Muscle to Perform Better and Achieve Morein business, sports and life, John understands how athletes think and feel…he’s been there—under the most intense pressures of amateur and professional sports. John coaches athletes in all sports and is trusted by some of the world’s leading athletes—professional and elite amateur. See www.johnhaime.com to learn more.