Butterflies in your stomach before a competition or big riding event are normal, and can even be helpful—as long as they fly in formation. However, if you can’t control your anxiety, your horse will pick it up and may act out accordingly. Try these techniques to calm your nerves in the saddle:
Control your breathing. The body’s reaction to stress, anxiety and fear is to take quick, shallow breaths, an action that can cause muscle tension, impede your riding and send distressing signals to your horse. Instead, take deep, rhythmic breaths, exhaling longer than you inhale. This will supply your brain and body with oxygen while relaxing your muscles.
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Visualize success. Before tackling any nerve-wracking riding task, take a moment to imagine doing it perfectly. Playing that “mental tape” in your mind over and over again will encourage your body to mirror the situation. The more details you have, including smells, colors and sounds, the more powerful the visualization will be. Having trouble conjuring up an image? Pick a rider you admire and try to mentally mimic his or her style.
Keep your internal dialog positive. Encourage yourself with an upbeat script, such as “I enjoy challenge. I’m confident, relaxed and ready. My horse is going to be great.” Phrases with a positive “I can” spin will help you overcome fears and anxiety. Take a similar tack with your body language: Keep your chin and eyes up, put on a smile, and push your shoulders down and back to adopt a posture of confidence that your brain may pick up on.
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