How to bombproof your horse…

We have all been there. Peacefully hacking along, enjoying the view, when suddenly your horse launches itself sideways, leaving your heart thumping, and your nerves trembling. Spooking is one of the main reasons why people do not hack their horses out, but it is possible to help your horse build in confidence and reduce the possibility of spooking.

First though we have to accept that horses are flight creatures. Their survival depends on their ability to flee when in danger, the problem comes that they can’t differentiate between actual danger, for example a lion, and perceived danger for example a crisp packet in a hedge. However, with training, we can help them.

Begin with working with your horse on the ground in a safe environment, such as an arena. Make sure that your horse is listening and responsive to you on the ground. There is no point in expecting him to listen to you when he is scared, if he is incapable of doing so when he feels safe! Start with something small, such a bucket, make sure that your horse will walk quietly past the object at a distance before beginning to move closer towards it. Only once he is happy with this should you begin to increase the difficulty of what you are asking of him.

If there is something in particular that your horse is fearful of on your hack, break this down into small, manageable steps. Does he spook when passing a farm? Are their flapping plastic bags and tractors? Work on each item separately. Begin with a small plastic bag, tied to the fence, again ask him to walk past at a distance. Gradually reduce the distance between the horse and the scary object, always praising him for the correct response. Once you can lead him safely past these objects, change the environment. Set up obstacles in a field and repeat the process in this different location.

Once you are feeling confident in the field, you can progress to leading him on a hack. Again, build up slowly. Don’t head straight off to the most scary hack, but rather build in stages so that you and him can grow in confidence. Only once you can do this should you progress to hacking him out.

If when hacking you become nervous or fearful of something, find somewhere safe to dismount and lead him past. The horse has not won if you dismount. In time he will become more confident, as he watches you walk calmly past, rather than feeling you getting nervous on his back.

Horses are incredibly trusting, they put their faith in us that we will protect them. If he trusts you, he will believe you when you ask him to walk past the scary plastic bag. By carefully putting the building blocks in place and helping him to overcome his fears in small, bite-sized chunks, you can turn your anxiety into enjoyment, and your fear into pleasure. While we cannot control the environment around us, we can work to give us and our horses the tools to help control our responses to whatever we come across.

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…

Five tips for confidence…

Confidence seems somewhat elusive to those who doubt themselves. We have all been there, looking round thinking of all the things that could go wrong and all the ways we could fail, until we render ourselves completely incapable of doing anything!

But confidence is just another skill, and you can learn to do anything. So here are five tips to help you build your confidence.

  • Be positive. Spending your time thinking “what if my horse spooks?” will not help your confidence. Instead visualise a positive outcome. Rather than visualising your horse spooking, visualise yourself trotting confidently around the corner.
  • Small steps. If you become nervous in certain situations, break down the situation into bite size chunks. Are you nervous at a show? Break down the day into pieces. Are you nervous of loading your horse, or getting on in a strange place, or maybe even finding your way somewhere you haven’t been before. Once you have broken the day down, you will be able to identify what is causing the nervousness and then work with that area.
  • Be kind. Don’t be self-critical, be kind to yourself. Remind yourself how far you have come, praise yourself for every step, even if it is simply that you were a little less scared than yesterday, remember to praise yourself!
  • Set yourself up to succeed. Don’t over face yourself. If you enter a class above your ability and don’t do very well, you will enter into a negative mind-set about it. Why not enter a class below your ability, then you will have a rewarding experience before you start to push yourself.
  • When we are nervous, our muscles tighten and we don’t breathe properly. Our brain requires oxygen to function, you cannot think when you are scared!! Take a deep breathe, and another, and another, and off you go!

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.