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Many horse riders have been having a break from riding recently. Some have chosen to give their horses a winter break, some might have been put off by the horrible weather we have been having recently, and some might have been forced to take a break due to Covid 19. But whatever the reason, when you have had a break from riding, it can be a bit daunting getting back on. So here are some tips for getting back on.
Set yourself up for success
When getting back in the saddle, you want it to go smoothly. This is important for both yours and your horse’s confidence. So it is important to consider the things what will set you up for having the perfect first ride back on your horse.
Have they still been worked?
If so they are probably fit and ready to go. If they have also had a holiday, you might want to do some work on the ground with them first to help them mentally and physically and return to work. You might also want to think about having their back and saddle checked if they have been out of work a while, to make sure there are no pain related excuses for “naughty” behaviour.
What are they typically like?
If they are prone to being dramatic when you first get on, you might want to lunge them first to take the edge off. Especially if any silly behaviour on their part will knock your confidence. If they can be fidgety at the mounting block get someone to hold them while you get on. Think about how they behave and plan a solution to make it easier for you.
Pick a good time
When you first get back on you should pick the right time for your horse. While the morning might be best for you, if all his friends have already gone out to the field is he more likely to be nappy? Can he be spooky or silly if there is a lot going on? If so, when is the yard quietest? When would he usually be worked? If he is in a routine of being worked at a certain time of day, stick to that time as it is what he knows.
Have a helper
Even if your horse is usually good or isn’t any better for having someone hold them while you get on, make sure you have someone with you when you get back on. Not only does this mean that there is someone there to help if the worst should happen, but often the reassurance of someone being there can keep you calmer, reducing the chance of your horse picking up on your anxiety and reacting to it.
Keep it simple
For your first time back on board you should keep it simple. If you have an arena of an enclosed area to ride in, stay in there rather than going out hacking. You don’t need to prove anything on this first ride back, you are just getting yourself and your horse back into the routine of it. If you walk around for five minutes and feel happy, it is perfectly okay to finish there. You can do a bit more each time.
Asking too much of your horse could create a dangerous situation, either from your horse’s freshness or due to their lack of strength and fitness.
Your mindset when returning to riding
One of the reasons we worry so much after taking a break from riding, is we feel like we will have forgotten everything or don’t have the strength and balance we had before we had a break. I recently reached out to Jane from Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland for some advice for anyone returning from a break.
Just like riding a bike
Just like riding a bike, once you have learned to ride, you can’t forget. Jane believes the first thing to think about when returning to riding is to think about all your past experiences.
How long had you ridden before? What had you achieved? How good would you have considered yourself to be? Yes you might be a bit rusty or unfit. But all that experience is still with you, just below the surface. So much of horse riding becomes muscle memory and instinct of how to react to the horse. This will stay with you and the rest will soon come back once you get going.
Find your starting point and challenges
The next thing to think about is where you are right now. This is your starting point to returning to riding and somewhere you want to move on from. Think about your strengths, such as your past experience, a supportive yard or a fairly safe horse to ride. Then think about your challenges. These could be lack of fitness, not having the best facilities to ride in or even having a horse who can be quirky if not in regular work.
You now have a list of strengths and challenges which you can use to create your personal mission statement. For example “I used to ride him 4 times a week, I know I can do that.” You can also use the challenges to help create successful situations like I mentioned earlier. For example “He is better behaved the more work he does, so I will lunge him a few times before getting back on to help him get back into that routine.”
However you approach getting back in the saddle, keep going back to all the good memories you have from riding. That is why you are doing this, to make more of those memories. You will likely face challenges getting back to that place. But it will all be worth it in the end.
Thank you Jane for sharing your thoughts with me. If anyone wants to find more information about horse rider mindset and confidence, Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland has a great website as well as being on Facebook and Instagram.