No equestrian stays involved with the sport very long without becoming fearful of something. But fear need not rob anyone of enjoying the ride. Here are some practical strategies for staying joyful in the saddle.
- Plan Your Ride
Determine exactly how long you want to stay in the saddle and what you want to accomplish while you’re there. “Choose how you’ll begin your ride and what you will work on,” recommends Joan Carroll-Cronin, BFA, MSW, LICSW, RLP, a certified mentor in sports psychology for equestrian athletes and an equestrian herself. “Then bring your whole self to it.”
- Start Slowly
For some anxious riders, riding at a walk is a good place to start. But push just beyond that comfort zone into the next fastest gait—at least for a few steps. “Take a challenge rather than avoiding it,” Carroll-Cronin recommends.
- Be Flexible
Having a plan is good, but stay flexible. Keep fear in check by amending plans to make the most of your own skill level.”Change the priorities—just for today,” Carroll-Cronin says. “The point is to build a bank of positive memories.”
- Just Say, “Whoa!”
Break fear by stopping negative thoughts in their tracks. “Choose a word like ‘whoa’ and say it to yourself whenever you find yourself becoming anxious and losing control,” Carroll-Cronin says.
- Stay in the Moment
Becoming fearful doesn’t mean you can mentally check out. Stay calm, stay in charge and keep going. “It’s how the mind and the body connect,” says Carroll-Cronin.
Whether they realize it or not, some riders hold their breath when they become anxious in the saddle. Instead, neutralize nervousness by breathing deeply. “Focus on your breathing to relax,” says Carroll-Cronin.
- Have a Good Laugh
Equestrians should be happiest when they ride, so it makes sense to push back fear by laughing out loud. “Even a fake laugh is good for the body,” Carroll-Cronin says.
- Imagine Success
Visualizing your success helps build confidence, so actively picture yourself riding well. “See yourself from the ground, from the roof of the barn, everywhere outside of yourself,” says Carroll-Cronin.