I always get asked to write about confidence by riders, it seems to be the number one thing that worries people. After all, we all know that we ride better when we feel more confident. But why is that? Hopefully the wonderful people at EWW will allow me to write some regular articles to explain about this to give you a clearer picture of what happens and how to deal with it.

Jon 5As a Performance Coach, it’s my job to understand why (for instance) we ride better when we feel more
confident. I remain amazed at how rigid the equestrian mind set is fixed on the horse, and it frustrates me that no one sees what is obvious to me. As a rider, your body influences and affects the horse in many different, positive and negative ways. RideSmart is the concept I’ve launched to show people this, and that if you focus on what YOU are doing, the horse will respond in the way you want. In difficult and anxious situations the last thing you want to do is force a horse: it is by nature a nervous animal and its anxiety will only increase. But, this doesn’t have to be difficult, all you need is an open mind and an idea of how to use your body better.

So, stage one is to understand what is happening, and this is not just a head thing, but a combination of mind and body. Firstly, ALL riders get nervous before they compete and there are two types of anxiety. Nerves can be in response to competitive pressure something that in essence is a modern equivalent to comparing yourself to others from a social hierarchy perspective. And, particularly before cross country, which at the end of the day is the risk element of eventing, riders also get nervous and anxious in response to the potential danger.

In either case, this is perfectly normal and is how your brain and body are designed to work. You are not malfunctioning and should accept that nerves will happen. In many ways our brains remain very primitive, and your fight or flight system won’t distinguish between competitive or risk related nerves, and the response will be the same regardless. When this happens, your anxiety system kicks in, and your physiology changes to prepare yourself for action.

The trouble is, and here’s the key thing to understand: your body is not designed to ride a horse. Having measured the world’s best riders in these situations, it is quite clear that their bodies have adapted from a ‘default’ setting to operate in a different way to which it is designed. That’s the difference, that’s why it looks so easy when they do it. So, when your nerves kick in, your heart rate increases, your muscles tense and your breathing shortens. Additionally, and crucially from a riding perspective, your fine motor skills (balance, coordination and reactions) become suppressed in favour of maximum output features such as strength.

And your horse knows when this is happening. Those physical traits of anxiety transmit through your DSC_0624legs, seat, trunk and arms/hands, and as an animal highly tuned to sense imminent danger, they recognise that. Conversely, when you’re relaxed and happy so is your horse and so not only is it better behaved but it is softer and able to use its body better.

When coaches talk of connection or feel, I don’t think they’re completely clear on how this happens, but these things are PHYSICAL things operating through your sensory systems and being interpreted by your brain. Your brain is designed to protect you, and riding a horse to most humans is beyond their comprehension. You are brave for riding, and push your body to its limits in many ways. But going into this in a blind and “traditional” way is leaving room for potential risk. What I’m trying to get across is that if YOU know how to do it, YOU will be able to do it too: it’s not some mythical power………

In part 2 I’m going to reveal some of the systems I use with riders when preparing for cross country in particular to tackle nerves, minimise risk and develop a strong and clear communication with the horse so that everyone is on the same page.

Please check out for more info on the system of learning and training available
based on Jon’s research and development. There’s a different, better and safer way of riding and it’s time to change the industry. Become the Rider you want to be. RideSmart.



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