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  • Writer's pictureAnna Beattie

Confidence for Equestrians by Pegasus Dressage Music

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

Case Study Two:

Caitlin Hefron is a perfect example of the claim that confidence loss affects ‘riders from every level’. Cattlin started riding when she was twelve and was a keen competitor from the outset. “I did all the usual Pony Club events and eventually decided I wanted to make a career out of horses.”

Caitlin went to college where she attained her BHS Intermediate Instructor qualification. She was a keen eventer and showjumper, competing regularly without ever having to consider her confidence levels. “I didn’t think twice about the fear factor; in those days, there was definitely an attitude of ‘just get on and do it’. I then took a break from horses for seven years and when I came back to riding, that’s when the cracks began to show.”

Caitlin’s loss of confidence after this break culminated in a complete refusal to jump at all. “When I returned to riding, I expected to be able to do all the things I’d done before but I wasn’t competing at the level I’d been at and I certainly wasn’t enjoying the experience anymore. I forced myself to do a few riding club competitions and even did a couple of BSJA Novice and Discoveries. Then I took a fall when schooling in the arena and hurt my back. I didn’t realise it at the time but that was the trigger for my problems afterwards.”

In a scenario all too familiar to many riders, Caitlin began to make excuses not to jump. “I would have a list of excuses not to go out and the more my family and friends tried to encourage me, the more I dug my heels in. I think, because I was an instructor, people were surprised to hear I had this phobia. In fact, I got a very good reputation for teaching nervous riders, which was ironic because I couldn’t deal with my own nerves at all.”

Caitlin is very articulate when describing the crippling effects of this loss of confidence: “I think everyone has the pre-competition jitters. However, what I experienced wasn’t just nervousness: it was a fear that was totally paralysing. My perception of the fences completely changed so that a 65 cms upright looked absolutely huge to me and I would just think, no way!”

So what led Caitlin to seek help? “I was going to shows and watching other people and, to be truthful, I was really jealous. I had a super horse whose talent was being wasted and so, when a friend mentioned she’d been to a series of hypnotherapy sessions, I thought I would give it a go. I didn’t have anything to lose at that stage.”

“I didn’t know what to expect but I found that after three sessions I started to want to jump: starting off with cross poles and building up slowly to competing. A few months after I started the sessions, I announced to my Dad that I’d entered a hunter trials and his mouth fell open. He couldn’t believe the change in my attitude.”

The hypnotherapist tailored treatment to suit Caitlin’s particular skill set: “I found the visualisation exercises really useful and the fact that I could use them at home, and even in a competition environment, was a godsend. We practised a number of ‘anchoring’ techniques in the sessions, where you anchor or link a positive experience of jumping to a colour or piece of music and you can use this anchor to recall those positive associations when you need them. I actually went round the hunter trials with the theme tune to the Horse of the Year show in my head and my horse, Carraway, and I loved every minute.”

Caitlin is pleased to note a change in people’s attitudes towards confidence loss. “There is definitely a sense that it’s more acceptable to admit your fears and it’s great that people can be proactive about becoming the riders they want to be. You don’t have to hide your anxiety and sit back and hope for the best - you can actually take back a bit of control and do something positive.”

Try this at home. A couple of exercises from Catherine Smith to help put you in a positive frame of mind. Remember that practise makes perfect with both these techniques.

Peripheral Vision:

1. Look up and focus your attention on a spot high up on the wall in front of you. Keep focusing on that spot, taking in all the details: colours, light or shadows. Keep focusing for a minute or two. You are now using ‘tunnel’ vision.

2. Let your mind relax and allow your awareness to expand outwards and “soften” your focus. What can you sense on your left and right sides? Keep focusing on the spot but allow yourself to become aware of shapes and details out of the corners of both eyes.

3. Continue to allow your awareness to expand and, as you do so, allow your jaw to relax, and once more notice an even wider field of vision.

4. When you have achieved a state of relaxation, bring your eyes down and focus on a spot directly in front of you. Now allow your focal point of attention to remain central with a “soft focus”. Notice what is different about your breathing, your body and mind. You may find that your breathing has become deeper, more even and your muscles are more relaxed.

Basic NLP Anchoring:

  1. Remember a specific time when you felt completely confident, in control and self-assured. It does not necessarily have to be a positive memory of riding but the stronger and more vivid the memory, the better it will work as an ‘anchor’.

  2. Close your eyes and remember that feeling in detail. To intensify the experience, ask yourself the following:

· What can you see? Make the colours brighter and bolder. Can you magnify the image in your mind’s eye? Can you move the image closer and closer, taking in more and more detail?

· What can you hear? Imagine the sounds amplified, increasing in volume.

· How do you feel? Can you double the intensity of that feeling? Picture the feeling as an enormous wave, crashing over you. Imagine ‘spinning’ the feeling around and around, faster and faster.

1. Timing is crucial at this point. When you feel that this positive, confident feeling is at its most powerful, anchor it with a physical signal, for instance: press your forefinger and thumb together, pull your ear lobe, make a fist or even say a word.

2. Now relax and test the ‘anchor’. Make your signal or say your word. Does this action trigger off those feelings of confidence? If not, repeat the process, focusing on making the positive recollection as real as possible. With practice, you will be able to use your ‘anchor’ to recall those positive feelings when you need them most.

If you're in need of a confidence boost or want to find out more about any of the techniques Pegasus have discussed in this series, why not sign up for a Dare to Dance coaching and competition package with dressage coach and NLP specialist Alison Calvert? Available to purchase in our shop for only forty pounds. In the meantime, stay safe and happy riding!

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