I think it’s far to say that all of us want to be the best rider we can be not only for ourselves but for our horses too, and whilst trying to do that you can get a bit lost on the way. By either adding too much pressure on yourself and your horse or just ending up feeling a bit rubbish. I know I am guilty of this!
So here are my tips on becoming a better rider without actually getting on your horse!
1) Stop worrying about people think. I don’t know about you but I go a bit funny when people watch me ride. Now I wouldn’t even describe myself as a nervous rider, I just want people think I’m a good rider, even when I am riding in front of my friends.
When I was recording my latest online dressage test I had a bit of an epiphany! Who cares? Why does it matter what other people think? So what if the other girls at the yard don’t think you are amazing? Your friends won’t think you are rubbish because they are your friends and if they are negative in any way perhaps you need some new ones. I gave my really nervous friend some advice many years ago before she went into the showjumping ring. “They probably aren’t even watching you anyway” which may seem super harsh but its probably true! Not in a nasty way but don’t ruin your ride because you think someone is watching. They probably have their own stuff going on and haven’t even noticed you. Do what makes you happy and don’t let people having a little look at you worry you. They may be thinking how good you look.
2) Don’t be a sheep! It’s sometimes easier to follow the crowd. All your friends love jumping but it scares the life out of you? All your friends love eventing but it stresses you right out? You don’t have to do it because they are! If you want to be a dressage diva do that. If you want to try endurance do that. If you don’t even want to ride then do that. It’s up to you what you do. Just because you always used to do that or everyone else is doing that doesn’t mean you have to do it too. Find something that suits you and your horse and stick to that.
3) Find a Coach you like. Now when I was younger I wouldn’t really care what instructor I had. Of course I had my favourites but I would just get on with it regardless. These days I realise that I want a particular sort of instructor and that hasn’t been easy to find in France. I don’t want an instructor that tells me I am brilliant so I keep having lessons with them and also don’t want an instructor that is too ‘gun ho’ either. I am lucky and I seem to have found a lovely instructor, who seems to share mine and Mya’s owner’s values and I can already see an improvement in my riding after two lessons.
4) Do some homework. The internet is a wonderful thing! If there is something you would like to work on with your riding or you are looking for new schooling ideas there are so many resources out there now online that can help you from the comfort of your sofa! I have recently discovered equestrian vlogs and they are just great. There are all sorts of educational videos, schooling ideas and how to videos for basically anything you want to know about riding and horsemanship.
5) Do some in hand work with your horse. To be the best rider you can be you need to be comfortable with your horse and trust them. This is a massive issue for Mya and I, as she can be pretty unpredictable to handle sometimes and it really scares me. Last year I lost all trust in her, which led to her losing trust in me and our rides suffered. Normal rides became problematic as I felt nervous, so she would be nervous too or act out. It was rubbish and not very fun. However we overcame those problems when her owner worked with me and showed me how to handle Mya assertively and confidently in hand. We did lots of ground work sessions and it helped tremendously. My confidence was restored on the ground but it also came back in the saddle too. Now, when Mya is naughty being handled I now know what to do with her and will forgo riding her sometimes to do some in hand work so we keep that level of trust that we have built back up.
6) Goal setting . I am all about goals! I think it is so good to have something to work towards. Start by setting little achievable goals as it feels so good when you reach them. I have set goals that have taken me way longer to achieve than I thought they would. That is fine too. Make sure you are realistic and be flexible with the time it may take to achieve them. Then quite often you will find you will set yourself a goal which naturally then leads to another. It’s also a great way to realise what you have achieved when you are feeling negative as you’ve probably progressed more than you think!
7) Stay inspired. I am a sucker for this one. I like to set goals and become a little obsessed. At the moment it is with my online dressage competitions. I just love them! So I focus all my energy on training for a test or two each month, and quite frankly once I have filmed my tests I am bit dressaged out! Particularly if I do more than one test a month. So I realised I need to stay inspired in a more well rounded way. I need to make sure Mya and I go hacking often too, we started having a lesson once a fortnight and I have found some really cool pole work exercises to do with her as I realised that I need to make it all a bit more fun or the inspiration will dry up pretty quickly!
8) Try and watch the professionals at work. I get so motivated after I have watched Badminton or Burghley and come away full of enthusiasm wanting to be able to ride like the pros. It isn’t going to happen. BUT it’s great fun feeling motivated and watching those horses and riders compete at the highest level of our sport. Any motivation or enthusiasm you can take will come out positively in your own riding.
9) Try something different. If you are feeling a bit flat or bored with your regular riding go try something different. Have a go at polo or go for a beach ride. Anything that will relight your passion. Even something as simple as going for a lesson at a different yard on a different horse may make you realise that you can actually ride quite well after all.
10) Have fun. It’s why we do it! Don’t let silly things get in the way of having fun with your horse. Do what makes you happy what ever that is and try not to be too hard on yourself. You are a great rider and wanting to improve is a sign of a great horse person. Just don’t get too caught up in that and put too much pressure on yourself. You can improve and progress whilst having fun and your horse will be thankful for it as all they want is a happy relaxed rider!
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Copyright of Louise Dando & In Due Horse 2020.