With the recent restriction being lifted on horseback riding in New Jersey, you’re ready to get back to your favorite place again. You swing your leg over a saddle that you haven’t sat in in months. You’re met with an unfamiliar feeling in your stomach. Excitement? Nervousness? Maybe a little of both? A few months out of the saddle can create some uncertainty when deciding to ride again, especially if you were previously an anxious rider. As a nervous rider myself (my trainer could tell you lots of stories), getting back to riding frequently and as intensely as I did before has been a journey. The good news is that we can work to calm these nerves and enjoy the ride again. Remember: you can take it slow; maybe the answer today is not more leg.
It’s Okay to Feel Nervous about Riding.
Maybe if you’ve been riding for years, a few months off isn’t a huge deal. If you’re one of the many who feel anxious about riding again, don’t compare yourself to everyone else. We are riding 1200lb animals of prey. We have the right to be a little nervous when tacking up again. However, keep in mind all of the positive experiences you’ve had while riding. It’s this joy that keeps you coming back to this sport.
Understanding the Riding Anxiety
A certain level of anxiety is normal and to be expected. Again, we are riding on the backs of animals who are a lot bigger than us and have a mind of their own. Anxiety keeps us safe, but we can also keep it in check. You may feel your heart beating out of your chest, shortness of breath, sweating, or shaking. These are all common indicators of anxiety. Remember that your horse can sense these nervous feelings, so it’s important to manage them.
When we have a better understanding of how anxiety works, we can best manage it. Take a look at the image below. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected. When we can shift our thoughts, our emotions and behaviors will follow. Instead of mounting your horse with negative thoughts in mind, shift the perspective to something positive. Such as “I haven’t ridden in so long. I’m going to get stronger again.” The emotions or feelings that follow that statement might be enthusiasm and eagerness. The behaviors that would connect with these thoughts and feelings might be riding confidently and non-defensively.
Find a Coping Strategy
Your trainer might have some great tips for focusing on the ride and not allowing the anxious thoughts to creep in. One of my favorite coping exercises while riding is belly breathing. To practice this, breathe in through your nose for three seconds, hold your breath for three seconds, and exhale out of your nose for four seconds. You should feel your stomach expanding on the inhale and deflating on the exhale. To make it easier, you can pretend you’re blowing up a balloon in your belly while inhaling, and deflating it while exhaling. This exercise slows your heart rate and can calm your nervousness.
Another coping strategy to calm horseback riding anxiety is visualization. Start this at the beginning of your ride or before you get on your horse. What do you want to accomplish during your ride today? Envision yourself accomplishing this goal. Try incorporating as many of your senses into this. For example, maybe for your first ride back you’d like at least canter around the arena three times.
Envision the arena.
Notice the sounds.
Imagine the smells.
You feel the motion of your horse moving forward.
You be see the mounting block pass by three times.
You hear the rhythm of your horse’s hooves hit the ground as the gait transitions into a canter.
Using this imagery can help you push through the anxiety and reach your goal for the day.
Yoga and Meditation
Furthermore, yoga and meditation can be quite useful both in and out of the saddle for anxious riders. Yoga can help you create a mind, body, and breath connection. Practicing these skills on a yoga mat, can do wonders for calming your nerves while riding.
Life (and riding) is all about enjoying the journey. If you’re continuing to struggle with anxiety while riding, therapy may be able to get you confidently back in the saddle.
Interested in working through your riding anxiety?
Contact us for a free video consultation.
Lisa is a Licensed Social Worker who is passionate about helping children, teens and adults. Lisa provides her clients with the skills to overcome low self-esteem and trauma of sexual abuse or pregnancy loss. In session, Lisa incorporates her training in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as well as mindfulness.