regain your riding confidence

Regain your horse riding confidence

There are many reasons why you may have had to take a break from riding: recovering from a fall or horse riding accident, having a baby, or even just because the short, grey days of winter have limited your time in the saddle. Returning to riding after a prolonged period away can be daunting, and you may well feel a bit rusty. Our experts share the right mental and physical exercises to help you regain your confidence.

Brain training

Danielle Olding, a sports coach and trainer at From the Neck Up, advises that the first step is to change your thinking. ‘While every individual reacts differently to a fall or to coming back from pregnancy, it’s important to programme your brain positively,’ she says. ‘People often believe that losing confidence is a natural consequence of such events, but that isn’t always the case. A loss of confidence is due to negative thought processes, not necessarily your experience.’

Danielle gives all her clients a practical, uncomplicated tip for retraining their thought processes: ‘Always remember yourself at your best, how you used to be when you were riding regularly and at your most confident,’ she says. ‘This unconsciously stimulates your muscle memory of horse riding, while also tricking your emotional self into reliving your feelings of confidence. Despite what you might fear, your brain is very capable of picking up where you left off.’

Fit bits

As well as engaging yourself mentally, also consider physical exercises. You’ll have a better (and less sore!) first time back on your horse by practising movements that strengthen riding-specific muscles. Carys Jackson, a horse riding physiotherapist at ActiveRider, recommends that you keep things simple to begin with. ‘Start with some basic lower-body exercises, such as lunges and squats, to help build up stability through your leg, as well as encouraging your upper body to stay still while your lower body moves,’ she says.

‘Another benefit of lunges and squats is that they strengthen your bottom muscles [glutes], although you should also make sure to incorporate some basic core activation exercises like Pilates. These kinds of exercises are important, as your core muscles and glutes will have weakened from the horse riding accident or pregnancy, and are vital to support your back.’

Riding ready

Brushing up on the basics – such as road safety, checking your tack and considering your horse’s fitness – can also help you feel more in charge of the horse riding process, and will do away with the feeling that you’ve forgotten everything you know. As Carys says, ‘Skills are rarely forgotten, they may just be a little rusty.’ Danielle agrees: ‘As riders, we develop muscle memory for all basic ridden functions, just like we do for tasks such as driving a car. It’s unlikely your subconscious has forgotten how to do these.’

If you’re still feeling unsure, why not hack out with a friend or book a one-off riding session with a trainer? That way you’ll have someone to monitor your progress, as well as an instant source of company and encouragement. After all, getting back in the saddle should really be about enjoying the ride.