The importance of confidence on the ground

When I remember competing as a child, my primary emotion is one of anxiety. Even now I can feel my heart race, my stomach chewing over on itself, and my mouth sticky with fear. I was a nervous child, an anxious competitor and my horse was bargy on the ground. My anxiety around competitions would kick in the day before, as I contemplated the day ahead. Every part of the day was a source of anxiety from the grooming, the plaiting, the loading, the tacking up, the mounting, to the actual test. Such was the behaviour of my horse that the entire day became a mountain to overcome. My mother would on occasion trail round the show ground until she found a strong man to help with my horse.

As an adult, I now look back on that scenario with slight disbelief. No-one ever suggested that I could improve my horse’s behaviour on the ground, my trainers were focused on my ridden results, my mother simply accepted that that was how the horse behaved, and as a child I didn’t realise that I could strongly influence his behaviour. As an adult, I would take young horses to shows and spend most the day teaching them to stand quietly in the car park, the collecting ring, and only once I had taught them that lesson in however many trips it took, would I ever compete them.

In hindsight, there was so much we could have done. Just following some the basic tips such as teaching him to stand at the end of a 12ft line quietly, would probably have solved the problem. Or asking an instructor or professional for help. Confidence on the ground would have helped me with my anxiety turning the show days into ones filled with fun rather than panic.

Feeling confident on the ground gives one a “safe place” to return to. If you are scared on the ground as well as while mounted, the only position of safety is when the day is over and experiencing that level of anxiety for a whole day has a severe impact on your adrenal system. If you are already at the limit of your capabilities for processing your adrenalin, you are then going to struggle when your levels are topped up by standard competition nerves.

By teaching our horses to behave on the ground and by increasing our own confidence on the ground, we build a better foundation for our ridden work. If we are confident on the ground, and we become worried whilst riding, we can always dismount and regain our confidence, but if we are fearful on the ground, how can we expect to be confident on our horse? All good things are built on good foundations, from houses to horses…. make sure the foundations of your relationship with your horse are good, so that you can turn your anxiety into anticipation and your panic into pleasure.

Nervous? Do more groundwork!

When I remember competing as a child, my primary emotion is one of anxiety. Even now I can feel my heart race, my stomach chewing over on itself, and my mouth sticky with fear. I was a nervous child, an anxious competitor and my horse was bargy on the ground. My anxiety around competitions would kick in the day before, as I contemplated the day ahead. Every part of the day was a source of anxiety from the grooming, the plaiting, the loading, the tacking up, the mounting, to the actual test. Such was the behaviour of my horse that the entire day became a mountain to overcome. My mother would on occasion trail round the show ground until she found a strong man to help with my horse.

As an adult, I now look back on that scenario with slight disbelief. No-one ever suggested that I could improve my horse’s behaviour on the ground, my trainers were focused on my ridden results, my mother simply accepted that that was how the horse behaved, and as a child I didn’t realise that I could strongly influence his behaviour. As an adult, I would take young horses to shows and spend most the day teaching them to stand quietly in the car park, the collecting ring, and only once I had taught them that lesson in however many trips it took, would I ever compete them.

In hindsight, there was so much we could have done. Teaching him to stand at the end of a 12ft line quietly, would probably have massively helped the problem. Or asking an instructor or professional for help. Confidence on the ground would have helped me with my anxiety turning the show days into ones filled with fun rather than panic.

Feeling confident on the ground gives one a “safe place” to return to. If you are scared on the ground as well as while mounted, the only position of safety is when the day is over, and experiencing that level of anxiety for a whole day has a severe impact on your adrenal system. If you are already at the limit of your capabilities for processing your adrenalin, you are then going to struggle when your levels are topped up by standard competition nerves.

By teaching our horses to behave on the ground and by increasing our own confidence on the ground, we build a better foundation for our ridden work. If we are confident on the ground, and we become worried whilst riding, we can always dismount and regain our confidence, but if we are fearful on the ground, how can we expect to be confident on our horse? All good things are built on good foundations, from houses to horses…. make sure the foundations of your relationship with your horse are good, so that you can turn your anxiety into anticipation and your panic into pleasure.

Are you having a bad day?

Everyone has a bad day every so often, and then every so often you have a terrible day when you feel like you have slithered all the way down the longest snake on the snakes and ladders board, right back to the bottom…

Sounds familiar? Don’t despair! First take a few deep breaths. When we are anxious we breath more shallowly and take in less oxygen, our brains interpret this a stress and then we become more anxious. So breathe – I know its hard but it really does help, you can do it anywhere, you can do it discretely, its free and you can do it by yourself.

Once you have breathed, tell yourself it is okay to have a bad day. You are not a robot you don’t function the same from day to day, we are affected by the world around us, and our triggers. We are constantly in motion, and evolving.

Remind yourself how far you have come, don’t focus on today, imagine a graph, steadily rising, this is simply a blip, not a trend.

Reduce your expectations for today. So, you had planned with your new found confidence to go on a longer hack by yourself today, but that was going to be a challenge so today is not a good day to do that. Why not lead your horse round that hack instead? Or do some groundwork or give them a massage? This is not failure, it is adjusting to the circumstances, it is sensible.

Be kind, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t say things to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else. Look after yourself, chocolate, hot bath, early night, good book, whatever you need.

And then tomorrow, you will wake up and the world will look different, feel different and you will wonder why yesterday seemed so tricky, and then you will carry on with your day…

Confidence – it comes and goes…

By Lizzie Hopkinson

Confidence is one of those strangely elusive things, that if you look too closely at it may vanish. Some people seem to find it effortlessly easy, while others find it a harder skill to master. Sometimes you think you have it sorted and suddenly it deserts you, leaving you floundering around.

Everyone has days like that, you are not alone. Often we can be trundling along quite happily, and suddenly we hit an “anxiety pocket” and just like that we are floundering.

There are ways to tackle this. Firstly remember to breathe! Long slow breathing is proven to calm us down and reduce our bodies stress response. Secondly, ground yourself. Grounding is a technique whereby you focus on your body and how to relates to the earth. You can read more about this here: https://scottjeffrey.com/grounding-techniques/

Reduce your expectations. So if your final goal is to be able to hack your horse by yourself, and you have previously been hacking with a friend, but you have suddenly hit an “anxiety pocket” then take a step back. You can ride in the school for a few days, you can take your horse for a walk in hand. You can spend some time doing groundwork, or simply massage him instead. After a few days, the anxiety may have passed and you will be able to carry on towards your goal.

If you push yourself too hard in the anxiety you can make the problem worse. But remember you know yourself best of all, people respond in different ways and need different types of support. So if your confidence suddenly takes a dive, work out what will help you. Most of us respond well to increased support, so see if your partner or friend can come with to ride.

Whatever the cause of your confidence dip it will bounce back, just remember to be kind to yourself.

Getting started

By guest blogger Sue Palmer

Recently I received an email from a lovely lady asking for help with her horse.  She bought him just a month ago, and everything was going great, but over the past week he’s misbehaving in his ridden work.  The lady suffers from anxiety, and she’s really worried that she’s going to ruin her lovely pony.  I reassured her that actually, it’s very difficult to do that.

 

There’s so much advice on the internet and on the yard that it can be difficult to decide who or what to listen to.  Science says one thing, the book you just read says another, your coach says something different, and the person who owns the horse in the next stable says another thing altogether.  Where do you start?  One suggestion is to start by avoiding analysis paralysis 🙂  If you’re like me, you’ll know someone who has literally given up and sold or retired their horse because they just don’t know what to do.

 

Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.” Wikipedia July 2018

 

Here are a couple of articles, if you like reading around a subject (one of my favourite things to do!), please note I have no links with any of these sites and am not specifically recommending them, I just picked them from a google search:

https://www.success.com/stop-overthinking-it-9-ways-to-make-decisions-with-confidence/

https://personalexcellence.co/blog/analysis-paralysis/

https://psychologenie.com/what-is-analysis-paralysis-how-to-overcome-it

 

Sometimes I find the best thing is just to get going.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  But when it comes to my horses (or my child, or my work, for that matter), I often feel as though I’ve only got one chance, and I’ve got to get it right.  It seems like ‘right now’ is the only time this opportunity will ever come up, or if I don’t make the correct decision ‘this time’, then it’ll be a downwards spiral from then on.  This feeling is rarely accurate, and looking back, it seems that we usually have a second and third shot at things if needed.  If it takes so long to train a horse to do something we do want him to do, why do we think he will learn something we don’t want him to do so quickly?!

 

My latest project is to familiarise myself with the science that already exists on pain related performance and behaviour in horses, and to share that knowledge with you as I learn through my blog at www.patreon.com/thehorsephysio. I struggle with always being able to see ‘both sides of the fence’, and having some science to support a decision definitely helps me. The science I’ll be sharing is from peer reviewed published papers, but I’ll also be sharing anecdotal evidence through blogs and case studies. I’d love for you to come on over to the site and take a look, plus of course feel free to share if you know others who might be interested 🙂

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