Is it only nervous riders that assess risk? Why it’s important to express ourselves

Hi there,

For a while I have been observing actions, listening to people verbalise their thought patterns and comparing physiological reactions while out on horse rides with people focusing on improving their confidence levels.  It is interesting that whilst some of the actions, thought patterns and physiological reactions that I have as a confident rider, less confident riders experiencing the same things may view this as further evidence of their anxiety or nervousness.

What am I talking about?

Picture two hypothetical riders, one confident and one that may consider themselves nervous.  Out on the trail both close their eyes.

The confident rider thinks: “wow, isn’t that interesting that at walk I feel dizzy and unbalanced, I wonder why?”

The less confident rider thinks, “see, I can’t even close my eyes at walk without feeling dizzy and unbalanced – I’m such a nervous rider!”.

We have two riders, feeling the same thing physiologically and arriving at two different conclusions! Without feeling comfortable to verbalise what they are feeling, the rider wanting to improve their confidence may never realise that what they are feeling is not related to anxiety or nervousness at all but purely due to something to do with our senses and the rocking motion of the horse.  It’s further interesting that this feeling goes away when trotting with eye’s closed – BTW: I’d love to know the reason for this if anyone has studied this.

Then we come to risk assessment. All equestrians, regardless of confidence level, should be assessing risk when riding. Less confident riders may think that confident riders just don’t assess risk.  This is a misconception.  A simple way to determine whether someone is assessing risk when they ride is what they do when they hear a car out on the trail.  Do they continue their merry way riding down the road, or do they move to one side, signal to the car (to stop, go slowly or please keep coming) and maybe gather their reins up a little?  The confident rider has just assessed risk! This goes on constantly in the background of people’s attention, eg: rider feels a little wobble in the saddle and thinks mmm, may need to tighten the girth – or sees a kangaroo on the side of the road in the bushes, gather’s up their reins (depending on their horse) and draws their horse’s attention to the animal in case it hops out at them. It is critical that less confident riders truly understand that their assessment of risk is WHAT KEEPS THEM SAFE!  It is not something that a rider should want to avoid otherwise we would be constantly surprised and possibly put ourselves in danger.

The difference about risk assessment between confident and less confident riders is not the amount that hazards are being considered, it’s the potential emotional and physiological reaction that occurs with that assessment.  If you and your horse have gone past a kangaroo once on the ride, your horse saw it and didn’t react, then it’s logical that you can be not as worried the next time you go past a kangaroo (yes, I know sometimes horses aren’t logical ?).  If you tense up, grab hold of the reins and feel sick, cold, clammy and your heart starts racing – then depending on your horse, you’re likely to create a problem rather than just assessing risk.

Is your “risk assessment program” constantly running in the background and you are still enjoying the ride – or is it all you can think of, where even passing the hazard uneventfully does not reduce your feelings of anxiety?  These are two differences.  Assessing risk is good – it’s what keeps us safe.

So, what can we do?  TALK TO EACH OTHER when we ride!  If you are a rider wanting to improve their confidence, keep up a running commentary of what you are thinking and feeling with the person you are riding with.  You may just find out that your confident rider friend is experiencing similar feelings to you!  This then provides you with EVIDENCE TO DISPUTE your thoughts about confident riders vs less confident riders.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about what you feel when out on the trail.  It may just be that I feel them too ?

Fantastic riding,

Bianca xx