I love jumping my pony but have a fear of it! I had a bad fall 15 years ago and didn’t get back on the pony. I now have a six year old mare now who I broke in and have shown inhand and under saddle - now i'd like to try some jumping but I have a phobia about it. My mare is lovely and really does try very hard but sometimes we miss strides which makes the jump akward and me nervious about the next jump. I'm fine with a 1’6” course but as soon as they get bigger I panic - I would love to be able to overcome my fear but just don’t know how. I have had some lessons on her which doesn’t seem to help. Are there any exercises I can do with her at home to help me gain confidence? Thanks, Tam"
Confidence expert Charlie Unwin replies:
The first thing I would get you thinking about is, why do you want to get into jumping again? Chances are you believe that you can derive enjoyment and even fulfilment from getting back into it? That’s a great start, the problem is that this picture is clouded by a fear of revisiting bad experiences from the past. We must therefore aim to achieve two things:
1. Detach the feeling of fear from any bad memories
2. Rediscover your sense of enjoyment, control and challenge towards jumping.
Both of these are important. A smoker trying to give up smoking must not only give up the behaviours associated with smoking if they want to succeed, they must also identify with the behaviours of a non-smoker! If they don’t then they are always moving away from something they DON'T want rather than moving towards something they DO want. The latter is a much more powerful motivation, I would therefore recommend the following:
'Interpret your anxiety as excitement rather than fear' - Think of two reasons WHY you would like to get into jumping again. For example it may be to appeal to your sense of challenge or simply because of the buzz. If so, think of a time when you have felt real excitement or a buzz and imagine feeling like that again. Now imagine yourself as vividly as possible jumping at some point in the future whilst maintaining this sense of excitement. Notice how when you do this well your breathing becomes deeper – this is because when you feel anxiety you also lose your sense of control, but when you feel excitement you get it back again!
'Plan your session beforehand and be creative in setting yourself challenges' - Interestingly, riders often associate their level of fear with the height of a fence. The higher the fence, the more they perceive their 'sense of control' to be taken away from them (often regardless of the capability of the horse). It therefore really helps to be able to increase the level of challenge without actually making the fence any bigger. This requires you to plan your session beforehand and be creative in setting yourself goals.
See how many progressive exercises you can do over a small cross-pole. For example, try coming in at slight angles and different directions. Secondary tasks are also a great way of jumping without actually being pre-occupied by the fence itself. This involves focusing on a specific task that is detached from the jump itself. Such tasks may be linked or unlinked to riding. A linked task might include focusing on the quality of flatwork in between jumps, regaining rhythm as soon as possible after the fence, focusing on a distant point beyond the fence, looking at the fence even earlier on approach etc. An unlinked task may include doing a simple breathing exercise, saying the alphabet out loud or counting down from 50. This is particularly good as you can monitor and influence your own feelings by trying to control your tone of voice. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you just focus on one thing and nothing else! Judge yourself not on how well you jumped, but on how well you did the task.
Once you have become comfortable with challenging yourself over simple fences, then you will feel far more confident about progressing in height. Good luck! Charlie"
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