Like so many people, my confidence took a tumble as I got older and had kids. I can’t really pinpoint a particular cause but it’s something that crept up on me over time. But weirdly, my desire to compete didn’t diminish at the same rate. In fact, I’d say I’m more ambitious than ever about getting out there and seeing how far we can go in the dressage arena. So, I have this strange conflict - a serious lack of confidence vs a strong competitive urge. This combined with my young, spooky horse, means I have my work cut out when it comes to keeping my nerves in check - some might argue that’s a recipe for a very stressful life.
Spookiness is a something you expect with a young horse. But we’ve had some pretty impressive reactions to seemingly innocent objects over the last couple of years. The type of spooks that leave you like a cartoon character hanging in mid-air while the horse disappears to the other side of the arena! At times I doubted whether I should carry on, and considered sending him to a professional to give him the confidence he needs. But, with the help of very encouraging and positive trainers, I kept going and bit by bit we are making positive strides.
We started competing in April and have made steady progress getting past bins, giant champagne bottles, flappy flags and other monsters (sorry to anyone who has been in our path as we’ve been reversing and a huge thanks to kind souls who have towed us past things). The latest problem is flower pots, which made an appearance at our most recent outing to Keysoe and are sure to be there for the Regionals in a couple of weeks. It can be hard at times trying to be the ‘grown up’ in these kinds of situations when you are nervous yourself. I’m having to learn how to keep those nerves at bay and give the right signals to my horse, something which feels unnatural and difficult. A fab coach once said to me “fake it ‘til you make it” – which rings in my ears every time I’m faced with a moment where the horse wants to run for the hills and I’d rather get off and go for a large glass of wine. No matter how you feel, at that point your horse is looking to you for the right answers, so it’s important to try and at least pretend you are totally cool and be clear about what you want them to do.
Everyone deals with confidence issues in different ways. For some, being thrown in at the deep end and coming out unscathed is what they need. That’s not what works for me. I find taking small steps at a time allow me to build my confidence gradually. Each achievement is a positive step forwards and the more we build, the better I feel about taking on something new. The most important thing for me has been consistent and regular lessons with supportive trainers who have given me a greater sense of self-belief. I have to keep at it though, if I leave it too long between lessons I can feel doubt creeping back in.
One thing is for sure, if you lack confidence you are not alone, but there is plenty of help out there. There are all sorts of resources available – such as videos on positive mindset, blogs from other riders, books, Facebook groups, skype calls with sports psychologists and courses specifically about boosting your confidence with your horse. Don’t be afraid to try things out, and if they don’t work for you, try something else. It’s about finding the thing which resonates with you most, and that can take time to discover.
In the meantime, as the Regionals draw ever closer, I’ve been practising spook-busting at home, filling the arena with banners, flowers, upturned buckets and shrubbery – anything I can find to create a similar environment. I’ve even put a speaker in the corner of the arena with some loud music playing. So far so good, but we’ll see what happens when we meet the real thing in a couple of weeks. I’m trying to arm myself with as many tools as possible to go into that arena like I’m meant to be there and I’ll be doing my very best to ‘fake it’ down that centre line.