Confidence for Equestrians: Part 2
Pegasus examine real life case studies to find out what is involved with the three confidence coaching methods and ask how they might help us become the riders we wish to be.
Case Study 1
We meet rider Andy Atherton and observe two sessions with Cumbria based Catherine Smith, of One Life Therapies, who employs a range of strategies from all three coaching methods to help equestrians with confidence issues.
Catherine begins her session with Andy by sharing her own background with horses and explains how she became interested in these alternative approaches: “Back in 2008, you wouldn’t have got me on a horse; you certainly wouldn’t have got me over a pole on the ground. I would’ve turned green and started shaking.”
“That’s what got me interested in TFT and NLP and, to be honest, these coaching methods got me to where I am today: first time owner of a thoroughbred, George, and in a position to deal with the little challenges that are part and parcel of horse ownership.”
After attending a course to deal with her own confidence issues, Catherine eventually returned to train as a TFT and NLP Practitioner and now specialises in helping riders overcome anxiety related problems. “The stories I hear are so common; we have a tendency to feel isolated when we lose our confidence, assuming that everyone is so much more capable and fearless but it’s really not the case. I’ve dealt with riders from every level and loss of confidence affects us all at some point or other, regardless of our backgrounds.”
The session continues with Catherine asking Andy about his own experiences as a rider. “I try to create an informal and relaxed setting for my client and use this time to learn about their background, their issues as a rider, as well as focusing on any goals the client may have.”
Andy runs a livery yard and also owns four horses: Guinness, a happy hacker, Murphy and Nero, purchased as foals, and Hannah, a Hanoverian mare. He has been riding for a number of years and jokes that everyone assumes he is very confident. “I did all the groundwork and backed both of our youngsters myself so I might look quite self-assured to someone meeting me for the first time. Appearances can be deceiving though, and lack of confidence continues to be an issue for me. I will force myself to get on a horse, even though I’m scared, and jumping is proving to be a real source of anxiety for me.”
“I will jump 30 cms but I will have to force myself over that jump and, although it doesn’t make sense, I’ll actually lose my confidence the more times I jump it. I just keep saying to myself, ‘What if I fall off? What if Murphy refuses?’ and these negative thoughts take over. I want to do it but I’m not enjoying it.”
Asking Andy to focus on the incident which causes him the most anxiety, Catherine uses a range of visualisation techniques in order to recreate the negative feelings associated with the jump, using the five senses to stimulate the client’s imagination. “I ask clients to be specific about a scenario which causes them stress; in this way, I can really be precise about changing patterns of behaviour or negative feelings associated with that situation, such as tackling a fence. Of course, NLP and TFT can treat a more generalised loss of confidence but this is a useful starting point for clients.”
Catherine asks Andy to rate his anxiety levels when imagining jumping the fence and then guides him through an algorithm - a specific pattern of tapping at energy points on the body. This pattern is revisited at key points during the session; Catherine also draws on a range of techniques from TFT, NLP and hypnotherapy, dependent on Andy’s responses. “Every client is an individual so I will personalise the session based on their preferences. For instance, Andy initially found some of the visualisation exercises challenging but responded really well to the hypnosis at the end of the session. I find that many clients become more adept at certain skills through practice so their needs might change over a series of sessions.”
At certain points during the session, Andy is asked to visualise the fence again and then rate his anxiety levels. He is surprised when these levels gradually drop. “Although I was very open minded about the session, I was still taken aback at the rate at which my negative feelings subsided. Of course, the proof will be putting them into practice at home, when actually faced with that fence.”
Andy returns home with a set of exercises to practice and a more positive attitude to jumping. How does he feel four weeks later? “I found the exercises really beneficial, particularly the tapping technique Catherine gave me to try. You do have to invest the time and effort though; it’s not a ‘quick fix’ to confidence issues. What I did notice was that, while I had less of those very negative ‘what if’ moments when jumping, I was conscious of a gap in my jumping technique which I felt was still holding me back and making me doubt myself.”
Four Weeks Later
Following feedback with Andy, Catherine suggested a joint session involving the delivery of her coaching methods before, during and after a jumping lesson delivered by close friend and qualified instructor, Sarah Linton. She explains the reason behind the partnership: “On one hand, I get a lot of clients who come to me feeling very frustrated. They have tried to deal with a confidence issue by getting lesson after lesson and unfortunately sometimes the problem doesn’t go away. On the other hand, being confident without having the technical ability isn’t a recipe for success either. We find that this dual approach works really well for some clients.”
This certainly proves to be the case for Andy. The lesson takes place on a typical, stormy Cumbrian day. “Before meeting Catherine, you wouldn’t have got me in the saddle in this weather, never mind over a 70 cms jump,” Andy jokes. “I would’ve made an excuse and put it off. I feel so much more positive now and really enjoyed having the input from both Catherine and Sarah. Can’t really believe the results!”
By the close of the session, Andy is happily jumping a 70 cms upright on Murphy, a fence he would not have contemplated tackling a month ago. Catherine and Sarah are pleased with the results, never losing sight of the key objective, which is to inject enjoyment back into their client’s riding. “The main thing is that Andy is happy; he’s actually smiling when he’s jumping which is brilliant to see.”
Andy is quick to note that a two pronged approach has had the most lasting effect: “Having both the confidence strategies and feedback into my riding technique worked wonders for me. My next goal is to jump a 50 cms course in a competitive environment and it’s strange to actually feel excited about that idea, rather than dreading it. ”
Keep an eye out for our next blog on our second case study and find out more about taking a more proactive approach to your confidence issues.
Pictured below are client Andy Atherton, Catherine Smith from One Life Therapies and instructor Sarah Linton