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One of the major challenges that I help recreational and amateur riders with is undoubtedly hacking confidence. Hacking isn’t without real hazards, but making sure that you have decreased the risks to a minimum and then applying some mindset techniques can really help to improve your enjoyment of this valuable form of exercise.

Decreasing the physical risks on the road

1. Know your route. Make sure you’ve checked out any potential hazards – are you going where HGVs are likely to be in high numbers? Are you on a popular motorbike route?

2. Manage your expectations. A pleasant 15-20 minute hack does more good for you and your horse than an arduous 1 or 2-hour ride.

3. Wear hi-viz. Make sure you have hi-viz and so does your horse. I see so many riders in dark colours on dark horses. Whilst I do see them, they haven’t given themselves or other road users than extra couple of seconds to register them.

4. Wear a back protector – why wouldn’t you? Tarmac is quite hard!!

5. Make sure you tell someone your route and roughly when you’ll be back.

6. Use the app ‘What 3 Words’. It’s often hard to tell the emergency services where exactly you are. What 3 Words is used by the 999 operators and they can locate you to within a metre or so!

7. Make sure you have name tags and phone numbers on your tack.

8. Avoid being a hero – dismount if you feel really nervous. There’s always another day.

9. Consider lunging your horse before hacking, if it makes you feel better and relaxes them too.

10. Vary the pace (even if you’re walking, control the speed up and down), put in some leg yields, long, low walking and getting your horse in more of a contact.

11. If your horse isn’t used to hacking, why not build up to it? Use the school or a field and place items such as plastic feed bags, poles, cones, footballs, beachballs, etc. and ride around them like handy pony! Build up your horse’s resilience to strange objects!

  
  

When hacking, we can meet obstacles that distract our attention and focus. We might also have distracting thoughts and ideas, including ‘what-if’ movies running through our minds. Here are some tips for regaining control of your mind.

Physical distractions that cause anxiety

As riders, we can become distracted, even scared of everyday items, such as wheelie bins, sheep, cows, pigs, puddles, crisp packets and parked cars!! Our unconscious mind has become very much on high alert and we’re losing the ability to think rationally. To take back control, here are some ideas.

Prior to hacking, practise tuning out the sights and sounds of the distraction. Practise until you find it easy and can go hacking and repeat it whilst actually encountering the distraction. Here’s how:

  • Sights: Visualise the challenge you may face, visualise yourself as a rider (not watching yourself), you may feel the anxiety even whilst visualizing, and that’s perfectly normal
  • Now, begin to make those challenges fade, see the colours fade, drain out all the colours. Work on it until they are so washed out you can make them black and white, or even transparent. Now add in a cartoon version of the object instead. Ask yourself, what’s happened to the anxiety?
  • Sounds: In a similar way, transforming the sounds removes the trigger. With sounds, turn the sound down, fainter, fainter, fainter. Now add in another sound, for example, your favourite music or calming sounds of the sea. Turn up the volume on the new sounds. Now, where’s the anxiety gone?
  

What about the ‘what if’s?

Whilst hacking, it’s very easy to have those ‘what-if’ moments. These can be something you remember or something that you’re making up. Consider this: these are only stories in your mind. They are not happening. They are not real. Your instincts can keep you safe, should they need to. You have in-built software to do the best you can in a moment of need – your flight or fight instinct. This protects you. The made-up stories don’t.

What to do:

  • For this, we’re going to remove the anxious feelings. Practise off the horse, then when you go out to ride, it’ll be a second-nature strategy to turn to.
  • Consider where the nervous feelings are in your body (e.g., often they are in your stomach, solar plexus or chest, but they can be elsewhere too).
  • Now, will those feelings to move to another part of your body. We’re aiming to move them to somewhere silly like the big toes (who gets anxiety in their big toes?!). From the toes, we can wiggle it out into the air.
  • If the feeling won’t move that far, that’s fine. Moving the feeling a few centimetres can make a change.
  • Now consider, if that feeling had a colour, what would it be? Change the colour to any other colour.
  • Notice what has happened to the anxiety. Giving your conscious mind something to do and changing how your mind sets up anxiety in a part of your body, breaks the habit.

The author of this article, Dr Tracey Cole, is a Trainer and Master Coach of NLP, Hypnotherapy and Time Line Therapy®. She works with equestrians of all abilities to teach, train and support them in gaining a robust mindset. She is the author of ‘The Confident Rider Mindset: How to Hack Your Mind for Riding Success’, available on Amazon.

Dr Tracey Cole
Horsemart Content Contributor
Published on 03-09-2021
Dr Tracey Cole is one of the UK’s leading mindset experts helping, supporting and training equestrians. She is passionate about working with riders to improve their mindset and mental strength and thus, enhance their performance and enjoyment. Tracey trains equestrians of all levels, as well as riding coaches, to become Empowered Equestrian™ Coaches. This is the world’s only accredited 4 certification training specifically designed for equestrians. Riders are trained in NLP (neurolinguistic programming), Time Line Therapy®, NLP Coaching and Hypnosis. She is also a keen equestrian, being the proud owner of Lottie, a chestnut warmblood.