Over the 2 years I have had my mare there have been quite a few bad experiences for both of us. She used to be very jumpy to handle so things as simple as putting the reins over her head would cause her to panic. This sensitive panic switch applies to her whole existence.
She is now a very different pony and is generally quite chilled. The main exception is when I’m stressed which she is very sensitive to.
I am now getting back into riding her post having my baby. But I find that with everything I do with her I am expecting a resurgence of her old behaviours. How can I move past all the bad memories and start appreciating how and who she is right now?
What a great question – I hope that reading some of the earlier blog posts has already helped you come up with some ideas about how to move forwards.
First, it is not unusual for confidence issues to flare up post –baby – something about being a mother triggers that “can’t afford to get hurt now” button in the unconscious, and the priority becomes staying safe. As I mentioned in the first post on this blog, fear and unconfidence is often just our unconscious stopping us from doing things to “keep us safe” – although as you have found, it sometimes insists on doing this even though we are older, wiser and can be trusted!
I am going to share a story with you that will highlight one particular technique that can be used effectively to deal with this type of situation.
I used to be scared of riding in wide open spaces. I would be so nervous I couldn’t get on my horse. So I used a good friend of mine as a confidence booster and together we went and played on a large open area. It was great fun and by the end of the day I was feeling very confident. I decided to leave my horse at her house and come back again the next day when she was out at work and ride out on that big area by myself.
The next morning I got up, and took a while to find the clothes I wanted – but I wasn’t at all nervous. I couldn’t find the car keys – and had trouble getting them in the ignition, but I wasn’t at all nervous (do you begin to see where this is going?). I drove down to my friend’s house and tacked up my horse: funny how all the buckles were really stiff and wouldn’t do up properly. I had to redo them several times. But even now I was sure I wasn’t nervous. I was humming to myself as I led my horse out onto the wide open space. As we walked out into the open – my legs GAVE WAY under me and I collapsed in a heap on the ground.
OK – now I had to admit – I was nervous. My unconscious had been sending me signals since I first got up – and I had ignored them. In the end, the only way my unconscious could get me to pay attention and keep me safe (ie stop me from getting on that horse!) was to literally take my legs away from me!
I had to laugh as I lay on the ground, realising how much in denial I had been. And I am supposed to know about this stuff!
So what did I do about it?
- The first thing I did was finally acknowledge that I was scared. I wasn’t just unconfident, I was terrified. I wasn’t sure WHAT I was terrified of, this was something instinctive and almost primeval. A fear that would not let me walk was not something I could ignore anymore. In fact I called my friend on my mobile and told her what had happened. She was actually relieved as usually I appear so confident it was good for her to hear I had fear issues too.
- The next thing I did was try and work out what I was so scared of – what was the WORST thing that could happen? Now this may seem counterintuitive – so many people tell you to visualise the positive and not to focus on the negative things. The trouble is, if your brain is screaming at you to pay attention to the danger, then you really HAVE to take a good look at the danger before your brain will let you even begin to take any positive outcomes seriously. Those negative thoughts do not go away – they are just suppressed but they are still knocking on the lid trying to get out and WILL get out just when you least need them to!
- I decided that the worst that could happen was my horse would bolt off in this huge open space with me helpless on top. I would be out of control. Now part of me laughed at this (if you knew my horse you would realise that the furthest she would bolt would be to the next clump of grass) BUT I had to take this seriously to move forward. Regardless of what seemed to be common sense, I was scared of this happening. So I had to find a way to prove to my brain that this was NOT going to happen before it would let me get on in a calm and confident way.
- So now I knew the worst that could happen – I could start developing strategies – and combine this with the WHAT IF? Process.
first I identified my desired outcome: I needed strategies so I could not even get INTO the situation that my horse would bolt.
- I started coming up with options. For each option I ran a WHAT IF? Test. Here’s how it went:
option 1: play with my horse online to make sure she is calm
WHAT IF she is not calm? – I DON’T GET ON
WHAT IF she IS calm? Then I can get on.next option: sit on my horse
WHAT IF? She walks off or doesn’t stand calmly? THEN I GET OFF! And go back to option 1
WHAT IF? She stands calmly? Then I can ask her to move
next option: ask my horse to bend and respond to the rein, and disengage
WHAT IF? She is braced and not soft – then I get off, OR stay there until she IS soft and responsive
WHAT IF? She is soft and responsive – then I can ask her to walk off on a loose rein
next option: ask my horse to walk off around the area on a loose rein, calmly
WHAT IF? She rushes, is not calm, trots, or doesn’t move…GO BACK TO PREVIOUS ACTIVITY – or GET OFF and start again, depending how bad it is
WHAT IF? She walks off calmly on a loose rein – then we can head off around the area and enjoy the ride, and maybe think about when my confidence score is under 5, moving up the gaits
- I did one last WHAT IF? Test…WHAT IF at ANY time my confidence score went over 5?
simple – I would GET OFF and start again!
By following this process all the way through as I lay there on the ground, I was able to reassure my unconscious that I DID know what I was doing, the it COULD trust me – AND I was developing strategies that would keep me safe in any situation I could imagine.
The key thing is that what I HAD to do next — was actually do all this — I had to STICK to the contract — if I did one thing and felt so confident that I skipped steps and went straight to cantering — then while I might have a good session that day, the next time I tried to negoatiate with my uncosncious and persuade it to trust me — why should it believe me??
A friend of mine did this — felt SO good she went ahaed and cantered even though she had promised herself she would only trot that day — and then found she was too scared to ride at all for a week…
What you are actually doing is negotiating a contract with your unconscious, and as with any contract its important to stick to the deal you have made. Each time you stick to the contract, your unconscious will learn that you CAN be trusted to take care of yourself — your conscious mind is trustworthy — and as you prove you can be trusted to take care of yourself, your unconscious has to worry less, does not need to cause you to fee UNconfident — and so lets go of the fear and anxiety — leaving you to get on with being confident and happy!
Now there are MANY ways of handling confidence, but when part of me KNOWS that my horse is ok, and another part still worries – then I find either using the approach I outline in the March “Confidence Kidnappers” post, or this WHAT IF exercise work REALLY well
Let us know how it goes!
Yours, in confidence