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CONFIDENCE IN THE SADDLE - An introduction to the 7 piece confidence series

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Confidence affects everyone.

Whether you’re a show-jumper with a busy competition diary or a happy hacker, issues with confidence can trap any rider. Whatever your age and ability, nerves come when we leave our comfort zone and as we all know, there are plenty of times in this sport that you are thrown out of that comfort zone.

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Usually the shock of an unexpected issue when riding can set the alarm bells off whether you mean it to or not. An usually big and unexpected spook that knocks you right off your trail of though, a new obstacle to deal with unlike anything that you’ve ever pointed your horse at before, or maybe something as simple as a negative vibe you’re feeling that day from your horse that you end up over thinking; there are many different types of nerves for many different reasons, and with many different ways of attempting to deal with them.
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Unfortunately, a bad habit many riders fall into which ALWAYS makes problems worse is choosing the easy life of avoidance. Put your hand up if that’s you? It’s definitely been me. That awkward gate you choose to avoid when out hacking, that safe zone height you like to jump when really you’d be overjoyed if you could bring yourself to go for the next level, or arguably the most damaging to your horses training - dismounting when anything starts going wrong. Is that because you think that’s the best idea, or (the more likely of the two) because you’re letting your nerves get the better of you?
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It’s easy to point out our issues; what we should and shouldn’t be doing as riders, but when real life emotion comes into it it’s a lot easier said than done. Our confidence series is all about the way we think in situations. When something goes wrong, our confidence is knocked and we’re in that decision stage of choosing our next move. It’s very easy to focus in; your mind will scream danger at you and all you can see is the negative outcome that you are suddenly certain is just about to happen. Changing the way we think and teaching ourselves to focus on that bigger picture, shrinking that big scary problem can make all the difference.
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A mind exercise I use when trying to over-come a situation is simply reminding myself that I am the parent, the horse is the child. To your horse, you are their leader. You are there to help them, to show them the best way past danger, to give them strength and bravery. They are trusting you to take control and to lead them. If you’re the one acting silly, getting all up tight and worried about a situation, they will panic and not know whether they can trust you, leading them to act far more irrationally. 
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They’re reacting to your behaviour in just the same way as you would if your positions were flipped. You’re be more likely to panic when they start getting up tight about a situation and act silly, so how can you expect them not to if you’re the one acting that way?
If this happens, the situation can quickly spiral out of control, where-as if you think about the big picture rather than let fear blind you, choose your strategy to overcome the issue and tell your horse exactly what you expect of them whilst turning a blind eye to any nonsense they are giving you, you will be onto a winner.
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Within this series are 7 posts, each homing in on techniques specific to that area, to help you improve your confidence and go that step further than you’ve been able to so far.
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Here’s what we’ll be talking about:
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  • Confidence in jumping
This is a big one for many riders. Usually relating to the height of the obstacle, pushing ourselves out of that comfort zone. We have some great tips for you on activities you can do and ways of thinking to improve your confidence in jumping.
 
  • Confidence in competing
       Having confidence when competing is quite different from the confidence we look for in other areas. Not everyone competes all the time and therefore it’s not always possible to up the confidence through repeating the task more often. We give advice on how to think and prepare to make sure you feel as calm and clear as possible.
 
  • Confidence in independent schooling
It’s very easy to feel confident in a lesson. Having a teacher makes you relax because you’re passing that authority on from yourself to your teacher, your teacher is in charge of you and your horse, you just have to do what they’re saying. You may not consciously think this but we do naturally feel ‘looked after’ when somebody more experienced is teaching us. This is great, but how do you feel when you’re left to school by yourself? When you need to plan what you’re working on and take full control, no teacher to distract you from what your horse is doing. For some riders, this can be quite daunting so we’ve got some ways to help you focus on your task and stop your confidence from dropping when training independently.
 
  • Confidence in hacking
An important one for many. Hacking (especially alone) can be very daunting for some. We all stick to our favourite routes where we feel safest and there’s nothing wrong with this, as long as you’re not avoiding certain routes you’d actually like to be riding because confidence is holding you back. We’ll share some tips and tricks we’ve used to build the confidence slowly.  
 
  • Confidence in ground work
As we all know, problems don’t ever only occur in the saddle. In fact, some horses are the most well behaved when being ridden yet problematic when handling from the ground. We look at techniques you can use to take control and work on always being in charge.
 
  • Confidence in a new horse
Something everyone struggles with, this is pure fear of the unknown. The horse doesn’t have to have done a thing, it’s the fact that you don’t know them yet, their reactions to situations, what to ignore and what is abnormal behaviour for them and this is scary enough in itself. This post is about overcoming these problems by getting to know your new horse in as many different ways as possible as early as possible and from many different angles to understand and feel more confident in them and their reactions.
 
  • Confidence in falling
This may sound like the odd one out in some respects, but as some of you may know, a fear of falling from your horse can have a detrimental effect on your confidence in the saddle and the whole way that you ride. Overcoming that fear and looking at falling from a different view point can help you get over the worry of an unexpected dismount!
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These posts offer advice from 9 DVR ambassadors, offering you a range of view-points, opinions and tricks to try. We really hope it helps some of you out there to feel better when faced with your next daunting situation.