30/ MAY 2021 THE RIDER

10 Strategies for the Nervous Horse Rider

By Kathy Farrokhzad. This one goes out to the

people who want to ride horses but still have that nig- gling nervous feeling even while they are enjoying the incredible “sport” that is horse riding. I mean, we wouldn’t be

human if we didn’t get nerv- ous - it happens all the time in all avenues of life. Sit on a 1000-pound animal about five feet off the ground and commit your entire being to that animal’s four legs - and then try to get it to DO things - well, yeah, one can see how a somewhat precar- ious situation might arise! So what can you really do to help with the nerves while riding? Here are some ideas that might be useful for you. Of course, many reference getting help from a riding in- structor, because there really is no other way. Even if you’ve been riding all your life!

1. Control the Environ- ment

One of the most obvi-

ous ways to set yourself up for success is to ride where you and your horse feel most at ease. If you can feel con- fident in the environment, then you will have a much better chance of finding re- lease through your joints and maintaining a calm, relaxed feel toward your horse. If your horse enjoys

riding in an outdoor ring, go there. If your horse is less distracted in a quiet, con- tained indoor arena, then that might be your best

choice. If you feel that your horse gets nervous on the trails alone, and you are alone, ride closer to the barn. You get the idea. The opposite would be

to force yourself through a ride when you know the horse is going to be tight and tense and unresponsive. Or let’s say the weather is so bad that you are sure that your horse is going to go through 20 minutes of being over-reactive before he set- tles down. Rather than trying to overcome your anxiety about having to deal with such a situation, don’t ride that day and wait for better conditions when


KNOW you and your horse will be calm, cool and col- lected.

Work up to the more

difficult environments little by little, building on success rather than fighting through failure.

2. Ride the “Right” Horse I feel I need to put this

in because it can be truly helpful to find a horse that helps you build your confi- dence. Some horses are just calmer than others, less in- clined to spook, or generally dependable and even-tem- pered. There is also such a thing as being “over- horsed,” or riding a horse that doesn’t have either the temperament or education that would suit your needs. This is when riding

schools are distinctly advan- tageous because they will have several horses for you to choose from. They can likely find a horse that

matches your well and helps you while you still need some support. Once you’ve overcome your obstacles, or developed the skill neces- sary to have more confi- dence, you can move on to a less educated or more sensi- tive horse.

3. Ride Exclusively in Les- sons

Confidence comes with

skill building. There really is no other way. There is no short cut to learning - you must lesson and you must practice! Many people ride only

in lessons with an instructor for years until they feel they have the skill necessary to ride on their own. There is something to be said for having a consistent “eye on the ground” even if you al- ready have strong riding technique. If you want to im- prove as quickly as possible, this is the way to go.

4. Demo Rides Many of us are visual

learners and watching others ride might make a huge dif- ference for the learning process. Whether you can watch your instructor, or other riders at a higher level than you, you will surely have a lot to gain by having techniques or strategies modeled for you. Best yet would be to

have your instructor get on your horse and show you how she rides your horse to eliminate spooks, how to use your aids effectively, or what to do when something specific happens.

5. Get Lunged Well, this is the icing

on the cake when you can find it. There is no better feel-

ing than knowing that your instructor on the ground has your horse under control so that you can explore your seat, legs, coordination and balance. Every minute spent on being lunged will pay back in dividends for years to come. You can fast track your seat development with lunge lessons. Better seat will allow your body to “take over” when necessary and will reduce tension all around.

6. Tone Down the Ride Keep this tip in mind if

your horse tends to go too fast or run off with you. If your horse tends to be over- energetic, ride him “under power.” You can slow down that trot tempo until the horse is almost walking. If you have the ability to con- trol the tempo of the gaits, you will be far more able to let go and enjoy your ride. Cooling it down takes a

fair amount of ability and patience, but it can be learned, and it can be done!

7. Ride Specific Patterns This idea is great to get

you and your horse paying attention to something other than the distractions. Know where you are going and take your horse through a predetermined pattern that will make him (and you!) balance, bend and think. Be picky - if you choose to do a

20-meter circle, then make it 20 meters, no matter what your horse does to fall in or out. Use your aids and take your horse places! Give your horse some

“pop quizzes” to practice your aids and his respon- siveness.

8. Sing! You might be amazed

at how much singing can change your demeanor. Not only will it help you keep time with your horse’s strides, it will help you in every way possible includ- ing your rhythm, your en- ergy level

(reduced if

necessary), your attitude and even your tension. If you can’t sing, then

talk a rhyme out in rhythm with your horse. It will serve the same purpose.

9. Focus on The Current Palm Partnership Training™ Building A Partnership With Your Horse Aids Communication: The Bending Aids

By Lynn Palm. I have been reflecting

on the importance of the turning aids compared to the bending aids a rider uses. This issue is so important, I would like to revisit our dis- cussion of these aids and add some clarification. To review, the turning

aids are the outside leg and outside indirect rein, sup- ported by the inside leg and inside rein. Bending is when the

horse arcs his body, from the poll (top of the head), through his spine, to the dock (top of the tail). The bending aids are inside leg and inside open rein, sup-

ported by the outside leg and outside rein. The inside leg is the bending aid curv- ing the spine from the with- ers to the dock. The open rein flexes the head inward and curves the spine from the poll to the wither. It is very important for

the horse to have the correct body position on straight

lines and curves. This puts the horse on his best bal- ance. The rider keeps her horse straight between her leg and hand aids. The rap- port between her leg and hand aids is critical! The aid sequence for

bending is: 1) the inside leg just behind the girth, 2) in- side open rein, (An “open

rein” is applied by turning your hand as if you are “turning a key” to open a door or start a car. Then the hand is moved forward and sideways. Your fingernails should point to the sky, as an exaggerated position to get this correct. Later you will need to exaggerate this as much), 3) the outside leg to support the horse’s hips from swinging out, and 4) the outside rein to control the head and neck from not bending or flexing too far and to keep the shoulder in line of the bend.

Your Next Step… Let me give you an ex-

ercise to practice using the bending aids to keep the horse in proper position on a curve and back to a straight line. It uses an elon- gated “figure 8” pattern made up of two half-circles on each end connected by

“Thing” If you pay close atten-

tion to your own riding or even to others as they progress, you might notice that we all have “THE THING” that we are work- ing on at any given time. This skill is the one that

most obviously needs work. It is what is preventing you from having that smooth, calm ride. For example, it could be that your horse doesn’t go when you apply the leg aids. It might be that you have difficulty using the half-halt to balance. If you can focus on the

current “thing” that is loud- est, you might be able to make headway into the root of what causes nervousness.

10. Get a Ground Person I have asked people to

be my ground person many, many times when I felt less

long, diagonal straight

lines). Let’s start with learn-

ing the aids sequence used when going from a straight line to a turn and returning to the straight line:

1. Start the figure on one of the pattern’s straight lines using even leg aids and rein aids to keep the horse straight.

2. BEFORE the turn use the bending aids (the inside leg, and open inside rein) sup- porting the bend with the outside leg and outside indi- rect rein against the neck,

3. As you get to the turn use the turning aids (the outside leg and outside indirect rein) to direct the horse through the turn,

4. BEFORE going straight again use the straightening

than confident about what I was going to do. I had my friends help me when I backed young horses for the first few rides. No experi- ence necessary! If your ground person

is willing to stand in the arena, or in the middle of a circle you are riding, just his presence might encourage both you and your horse to relax. The ground person can keep your mind off your tension. Bio: Kathy Farrokhzad is an EC coach and author of the Horse Listening book col- lection, Goal Setting For The Equestrian: A Personal Workbook, and the creator of the Practice Sessions on- line program. If you liked what you read here, check out her blog at HorseListen- for many more arti- cles about horses, riding and life in general.

aids (the inside leg to stop the bending and bring the horse to your outside open rein)

5. As you back get the point of going on a straight line again, evenly apply both leg aids and rein aids as to keep the horse forward and straight. The process starts over

again before the next turn. Do this exercise at the

walk to get the coordination of aids, have more time to do the figure, and give your- self more time to feel the horse’s reactions in response to your aids. When you per- fect this at the walk, then re- peat the exercise at the trot. As you progress, this figure will be great to advance to the canter with a simple change of lead in the middle of the straight line. Until then, follow your


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