Loosing your nerve versus loosing your confidence

So I sat down to write up my lesson yesterday, but I am just not ready to talk about it yet. Instead I will give you a hint as to how things went. I want to talk about the difference between loosing your nerve and lacking confidence.

When it comes to horses loosing your nerve is when you are afraid to ride. Loosing your confidence is different. It is when you don’t think you can handle riding a horses. Does that make sense? Let me try to clarify.

I have indeed lost my nerve before. In fact, I just lost my nerve last year when Phoenix was being a butt head over the winter. I was afraid to get on him and I would make excuses not to ride. When I could even talk myself in to tacking him up I would be a nervous wreck. My heart would start racing and I would physically feel how scared I was. There were shaking and sometimes tears. It literally felt like I would die every time I got on. Eventually with time those feelings got less and less and in what seemed like no time at all I was over it. I got my nerve back. The best way to get your nerve back is to just ride a safe horse and have supportive people around you. The more you ride the easier it gets to ride and eventually your nerve will come back.

A rider loosing confidence is something that does not happen to a lot of people. I would hazard a guess that most riders have lost their nerve at some point, but I don’t think that everyone has lost their confidence. To loose your confidence on horseback means that you don’t feel like you have the ability to ride, regardless of if you actually do or not. You are not physically scared to ride, it is more of a bad thought process that you do not think you can ride and thus you worry that you will not be able to handle a horses behavior. Unlike loosing your nerve there is no physical symptoms. Loosing your confidence is all in your head. When you horse starts to be naughty you automatically decide that you cannot handle it. Again, loosing your confidence may or may not have any basis in reality but at its core it is an emotional thing.

Right now I am suffering a loss of confidence. I don’t remember this happening to me before so I don’t know how to fix it. I feel so broken! I will try to write up my lesson. Just know it is hard for me because I don’t know how to fix my problem. At least I can define it though right?


10 thoughts on “Loosing your nerve versus loosing your confidence

  1. That is an interesting way of looking at it. I never thought of those being separate things, just degrees of a problem. Have you talked to your trainer? I think she would be the person to help you through this as she knows you and the horse. I think the highs and lows of riding are constant and when things are bad I try to make myself remember that they will turn around again.

  2. I think you’re wrong. I think more people loose their confidence than loose their nerve. Every day people get on their horses and think they can’t do it. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no business on this horse. He deserves better….”

    Maybe you are only confused about what you should be doing. This happens all of the time with horses. They get pushed too far and loose confidence because they don’t know what you are asking of them. Take a step back. Think Training Level, not First, not Second, not this horse is an upper level school master – Training Level. Go back to the basics.

    Get back on sooner rather than later – don’t wait until your next lesson, you’ll just stew about this all week. Have an easy ride. Even if it’s just a little walk/trot or just walk. Enjoy sitting on the back of a horse.

  3. I feel so bad for you when I read this. I wonder if you could be suffering from depression, or a related illness, linked to the lack of sunlight – I think it’s called Seasonal Adjusted Disorder (SAD), or something like that? Given that a similar thing happened last winter, maybe there’s a link? I sure hope you can overcome this thought process and continue to enjoy horses. What you did last winter was amazing (I’ve been there re fear – that is HARD), so you’ve got a lot of guts. I admire you and have faith that you’ll find answers.

  4. Sorry for the lengthy post here, but we’ve all been where you are, to some degree or another. I agree with all the previous posters, especially tryingtoride’s advice about taking a step back. I would go back even more: Try not doing dressage–just go for a hack for a couple of weeks.

    I am facing the long road of getting both horse and self back in riding condition. Long story, but it involved my shoulder surgery and deciding I HATE the custom saddle I bought because it has never fit me properly and I have been struggling for YEARS trying to ride in it (and not doing very well as a result). I am not a youngster, and neither is my horse, but my plan for “refitting us” involves long rides–mostly at the walk with a bit of trotting–“down the road.” I live in the country, and long hacks down the dirt roads as well as work on the ground–are just the ticket, for BOTH of us. Not doing dressage every ride is a good “routine variation.” Everyone needs to clear the mind, and hacking out is a good thing.

    I also agree with think Barbara. Your trainer knows you. She is a good person to have a talk with because I’ll bet SHE has had similar feelings, and I’ll also bet she has some suggestions about getting away from them.

    Carol’s post: If you’re feeling “down,” the feelings may be related to diet as well as SAD. Make sure you’re getting enough protein and fat. Maybe you need vitamins. More water. Less sugar. ??? (I just had my wellness check doctor visit a couple of weeks ago and my blood tests came back with no reason for me NOT to ride ;o) I’m in good shape. I have also started taking B-12 caps, one a day dissolved under the tongue. I don’t feel so exhausted that I have to take a nap every day. Maybe that would help you.

    Now that the weather is nicer and days are definitely getting longer, I feel more like riding, too. SAD is a very real condition, but cold weather is a real bummer. I hate having to wear so many clothes I can’t put my arms down. Hard to ride in that position, too.

    Finally, I think losing your nerve is more due to what happens after an accident which may or may not have resulted in an extended period of convalescence as well as physical therapy. Losing your confidence is when you “hit the wall” and realize that you’re not progressing as quickly as you think you should be. That involves reassessing your goals and making them a bit more realistic. Baby steps and all that.

  5. Awww, hugs to you!

    Everyone has given you some great advice. I say try to ride without a goal, without a lesson. Just get on for the JOY of riding! Remember that??? 🙂 Just have fun, go around and feel thankful to be able to walk, trot, and canter a horse. Maybe the “lesson only” format is too much right now. Who cares if everything is not perfect, every movement is not show quality? Can you get out on trails? (Probably not, but this spring you can!)

    Set up a trail course and play around with that. Teach the Schoolmaster to go over tarps, a piece of plywood on the ground (like a “bridge”), open a gate from horseback, drag a tire behind you……just fun versatility stuff!

    Also, I HIGHLY recommend Jane Savoie. She has some great books and DVDs and even a bunch of YouTube videos!

    You can get through this!

  6. I feel for you, it is really tough. Last January my horse and I were doing great, jumping 3’6″ courses in the indoor (and he HATES The indoor). Then one day he just spun me off. I really had a hard time after that, really lost my confidence (because even though my horse was always nutty in there I had always managed to stay on and breaking that streak really shook me). I am only now feeling like I’m starting to get my confidence back, and I think the only way I got through it was by 1) forcing myself to get on, and asking the people close to me (my trainer and friends) to force me to get on, even if it was just to walk and 2) talking about it a lot with other riders. Even if they hadn’t experienced losing their confidence just addressing the issue helped me.

    It was really hard. Really hard. Good luck working through it.

  7. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time and I think confidence is not something you have lost, I think it is something that you have not really claimed yet. You have been up and down and all over the place in your emotions about your riding and doubt of one kind or another has permeated most of it. Confidence and doubt are counter-intuitive.

    While I believe you are a competent enough rider to be confident, I think you just don’t trust yourself enough to let yourself feel confident.

    When you get that ride that is up to your standards, you have the same high that most of us feel but when the next one isn’t just like it, then you’re convinced that somehow you are less than you should be instead of realizing the ups and downs are all part of the process for all of us.

    My hope for you is that you will learn to let go of those difficult standards you use as a self measure and allow yourself to grow and learn at a normal rate with all the ups and downs that go with it. I believe if you can do that, you will indeed claim the confidence you so justly deserve to feel.

    Take care, my friend, remember to breathe and be kind to yourself about your riding and everything else will fall into place.

  8. for me the problem has always been the opposite: i have almost never been truly afraid of any horse or of riding in general. sure i’ve had moments of panic when things have gone wrong or when i suddenly realized i may have overfaced myself or my horse, but those moments pass pretty easily because i can always take a step back and work my way back up.

    where i’ve gotten into trouble in the past–and probably will again as i start to bring the horses and myself back into a training program after winter–is when i have (sometimes unrealistic) expectations of myself based on where i used to be in my riding, or where i think i should be right now; i then begin to question my ability to accomplish anything i want, do right by my horses, make the right decisions, etc..

    we’re all striving for perfection and i don’t think we give ourselves permission to make mistakes, to have doubts and to ask the tough questions, but these are all natural parts of the learning process. the point is to realize that perfection is unattainable even for the best out there. and confidence, imo, isn’t about knowing you’re right or even good at what you’re doing, but knowing you aren’t going to let the inevitable setbacks beat you. you have to be defiant when that nagging little voice inside your head that says ‘no’ and go on, no matter how much you may think you suck at the moment.

    when i feel that way about my riding and i get overwhelmed or frustrated by those setbacks, it helps reminding myself not to dwell on the faults and the temporary failures, but to start with what i know i CAN do, even if it’s just walking around on a loose rein, and find one thing at a time to work on, to build on. treat yourself like you’d treat a green horse – start with the basics and (re)introduce each new skill one at a time in baby steps, then go back and reinforce them until they are second nature before you move on to the next stage….

    i think of riding as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straightforward path. riding/training, like life, is like a maze – you set out on any course and you’re going to hit some dead ends sometimes. the trick is to not stand there facing the wall and give up, but to backtrack and try another route. and that means giving yourself permission to try, to fail and to start again. take the pressure off, focus on what’s working, and build from there. you don’t need to be on anyone else’s schedule, so take your time and move at your own pace, but keep moving!

    it’s never hopeless. and the truth is, it doesn’t even take confidence, it just takes doing. even if you don’t think you can, try. we all have doubts at times, and none of us are capable of truly objective criticism of ourselves. some of us overestimate our abilities (and often turn into conceited, self-deluded a-holes), and some of us underestimate ourselves, which is humbling, but can also become very discouraging. we can either turn that doubt into despair, or we can take it as an incentive to keep going, keep growing and end up better horsemen for our efforts.

    if it’s any consolation, you may not realize it, but i don’t know any horsemen–even at the highest levels–who haven’t been where you are at one time or another. you’ll get through it, and in the process you’ll find the tools to get you through other rough patches in the future. it sucks for now, but it gets easier 🙂

  9. i m know just how you feel as i had a very bad accident on a horse of mine and now have an ex eventer and i am really finding it difficult to ride i keep making all sorts of excuses and saying to myself i cant ride when i know deep down im a competent rider i have won best rider in competitions and been riding since i was 5 i am now 55 what the hec is wrong with me if it dosnt soon get better i will have to consider selling one of my horses who needs riding

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