I have had many questions that all boil down to something like this:
“I have done X and yet I am still scared of it”,
“I finally got on my horse and rode yesterday – I was thrilled – but today I am too scared to even tack her up, what’s going on?”
“I end every session by going over a small jump, and then stop to celebrate doing it – and yet I am JUST as nervous the next time – in fact, I think it’s getting WORSE, what can I do?”
Sometimes we are so focused on what we need to do, that when we get around to doing it, things go a bit like this:
“ok, I haven’t ridden yet but I feel REALLY good today: everything is going well, I am feeling confident, so today I will see if I can get on. OK, he lined up by the mounting block nicely – check. I put my foot in the stirrup and he didn’t move – check. I put my weight in the stirrup – check. I have stood up in the stirrup – check. I have swung my leg over and got on – check. I have done my safety checks – check. I have ridden for ten minutes – check. I can get off now – PHEW!!!”
Each time something works, we go right on to the NEXT thing.
That seems sensible – after all, if we can put our foot in the stirrup, then the next logical step is to put weight in that foot – once one step is “done” and “checked” then it seems obvious to go straight on to the next step – what could be wrong with that?
The main problem is as the questions above show – it doesn’t work! Doing something once and then going onto the next step – does NOT work, in fact it can make the confidence issue WORSE.
What we are forgetting when we do this checklist approach – is we are doing the whole checklist mechanically and we are not paying attention to how we are FEELING – and since confidence is all about how we feel, that is a critical omission!
I have talked before about how useful it is when working with our confidence to be able to MEASURE our confidence. The first articles on this blog go into the detail of how to assess your “unconfidence” on a scale of 0-10 where 0 is “I have no worries at all”; 5 is “that is on the edge of my comfort zone, I feel slightly stretched doing this” and 10 is “NO WAY!”.
And when we are building sustainable confidence, it is crucial to NEVER do anything that puts us above a five. Every time we go above 5, our unconscious realises we are stressing ourselves and will make us MORE nervous next time to keep us safe.
This doesn’t mean you never do anything above a five – what it means is you find ways of bringing those things that are currently above a five – down into your comfort zone so you CAN do them without upsetting your unconscious.
One way to bring things down further into your comfort zone is to use REPETITION.
If you put your foot in the stirrup, and it all goes well – take your foot out again – and ask yourself – how do I FEEL? If, when you take your foot out of the stirrup you go “phew! That worked!” – then you were probably above a five. So instead of going on to the next step, CONSOLIDATE this step first.
Repeat the movement.
At LEAST 10 times!
Yes, that’s right – I said at LEAST ten times!
Do this and see what happens: your “Phew, it worked!” turns into “Yes, that’s ok” to “gosh this is boring…HOW many times?” – and THAT is when you know this task is right bang in your comfort zone now. You will probably notice your HORSE relaxing too….you are working on THEIR comfort zone at the same time.
You will also notice in yourself that your BODY gets more relaxed. Tension you didn’t even realise you had, will dissipate as you do the move more times. In fact – I often use repetition to find out how I REALLY feel about something.
I was asked to ride a student’s horse recently, and thought I felt fine. This horse has the reputation of being a stiff, challenging ride however, and I had the instinct that perhaps I might have some inner tensions about riding her. Looking at her, she certainly had some tensions about the whole situation. I had done groundwork which had gone well, but at the block, well I think we were both a bit tense. I mounted – then decided to practice what I preach and over the next ten minutes I got on and off, from both sides, about ten times. What I noticed was that my legs relaxed, my breathing softened – and the horse started blowing out, relaxing and softening her muscles.
By the time I was in the saddle the tenth time, the horse was soft and waiting for me – and I was soft and able to connect to her.
Doing the move ten times had CONSOLIDATED things.
I also noticed that the first couple of times I dismounted there was a definite feeling of “phew, that worked!” which proved I wasn’t completely in my comfort zone!
This extends to everything. When we ask for flexion – -most of us ask once to “check that it’s working” then we move on. How about repeating that at least ten times and see what happens? You will be pleasantly impressed with how much BETTER things get for you AND your horse with this simple shift.
So here’s my tip for building sustainable confidence: whatever you do, break it down to the smallest steps you can think of – and instead of doing a step, checking it off your list and going right on to the next one – do each step at least TEN times – and see how you FEEL.
This way you will learn to tune into yourself, and know when you have real confidence for moving on.
You might even help your horse too….
Yours, in confidence