Anybody who rides over jumps will often at some stage experience confidence issues. Reasons can vary from a bad fall, a long break away from jumping, having children or riding a difficult horse. Whatever the reason, it is possible to overcome your fears with the right preparation and help.
1. Long Term Goal
Having a realistic, long-term goal to work towards will help you to focus. For example, it could be to compete in a 1m jumping class in six months' time at your local show.
Firstly, though, consider the horse you are riding and if he is going to give you the confidence you need. You have to be honest with yourself if you are to make progress. There is no shame in admitting that a horse is too much for you and finding a more suitable mount. Once you are happy with your horse, start taking regular lessons with a sympathetic and experienced instructor.
2. Action Plan
Create an action plan by using short-term goals to help you reach your ultimate goal. Have an aim for each training session, raising your personal bar each time, and practice what you have done in your lessons. Small achievements will give you a much-needed confidence boost:
Use poles – work up to riding a course. Concentrate on your turns and straight lines, maintaining a good rhythm in the canter. If you can ride this correctly, then the transition to jumping will be easier.
Small jumps – if you are working well over poles, next time build a course of tiny jumps. As you feel more confident with each session, gradually make them higher.
Grid work – working through a grid of small jumps is great for your balance and position, and you will feel more at one with your horse. Have an experienced person on the ground to make any necessary adjustments to the fences.
Jump your horse at another location - in preparation for jumping at a show, it is a good idea to hire a course of jumps to practice over at a riding centre.
Have someone film you - this will help you to observe any weaknesses that need improving as well as watching your progress. Keeping a written record of each training session describing how you felt will also be beneficial.
Compete in smaller classes - competing in classes over jumps lower than you are doing at home will make you more confident riding in public and help you progress towards your long-term goal.
3. Points to Remember
It is important to stay calm and relaxed if you want to ride over jumps. Here are some points to remember:
Breathe – this may seem obvious, but it is amazing how many people hold their breath when riding, especially when they are nervous. Concentrate on your breathing and sing or chat to your horse! Also, counting out loud the strides to a jump helps you to focus on what you are doing and ensures that you breathe.
Positive thoughts – if you think positively then you will ride positively. Think back to the past when everything went well and ignore any negative feelings. When riding to the jump just say to yourself, "I am going to jump this fence" and "I can do this."
Visualization – before you jump, close your eyes and visualize yourself riding the course in a confident and competent way.
Get rid of tension – sitting in the saddle, tense your whole body and take a deep breath in through the nose, holding it for about four seconds, then breath out slowly through your mouth, allowing your body to relax. Circle your shoulders backwards and give both arms a good shake. Also, let your jaw flop when riding.
Warm up plan – by having one in place before your competition will help you concentrate on the day. Decide what works best for your horse with the assistance of your instructor.
By taking small steps, you should slowly start to regain your confidence and enjoy jumping again. If things don't plan out at any time, just return to a lower level until you feel ready to move back up. Remember, if you are competent in what you are doing, you will be confident. Most of all, have fun!