Riding these crazy horses

EquiTeam coach Liz Daniels looks at why over dramatising details can lead to a very negative mindset.

Last week I stood in the middle of the arena being told how naughty a particular horse was going cross country the week before.
Rearing, bucking, taking off, napping and spooking were all words used several times with the assurance from the client that her horse was REALLY Naughty.

I reassure her, because this isn’t really about the horse who is standing like a dope on a rope, on a loose rein, in a grass field, happily chilling, it’s all about her and how she is feeling.


Confession time; when my clients relay this information to me I always listen, digest and then think about how I can help them, rather than worry about the horse.

Most of the time – the problem isn’t the horse. There are of course exceptions to this rule – but usually the exceptions don’t come with a BAFTA winning performance.

I explain to the rider that we will take some time to manage the situation to make it a positive experience for all. I equip her with lots of tools and exercises that we can use, explain that we won’t be standing still at each fence, stopping and starting as this can make some horses hotter, that instead we will keep his brain focused, him listening and switched on, keep him moving and give him a job to do.

Years ago during one of our Equiteam Confidence Camps I remember Jane Brindley from Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland sharing an example of over dramatising which has really stuck with me, and one I refer to a lot. (I hope you don’t mind me sharing this Jane).

In a nutshell she was hacking when her horse spooked, turned for home and cantered towards a road.

By the time she had relayed this story to the fifth person the horse had bolted out of control, she had been hanging on for dear life, and then almost got killed on the road.

As the story embellished so did the words of reassurance from the person hearing about her ride, and by the time the tenth person had been told the horse was an unrideable crazed beast.

The reality was the horse got a fright, turned towards home, cantered a few strides, but Jane had been brilliant, and although she got a fright – she was in control, didn’t come close to falling off, handled the situation brilliantly and went about her ride. Nothing too dramatic had actually happened.


So why do we do over dramatise things? In my experience, and Jane might be able to share differently at a later date, we do it because we want other people to confirm and acknowledge that it is OK to feel scared, anxious and frightened.  

Of course it is OK to not feel OK and this should be shared – but voiced in a factual way.

By over dramatising situations it actually has the complete opposite effect. If you tell yourself something often enough you will start to believe it and all those negative thoughts that go with it. Your poor horse who just got a fright, actually becomes a dangerous beast in your mind.

We then ride in a way that creates the very thing we are worried about. A clear example being of a horse who has reared needs to be ridden forwards. A nervous rider wants to do everything but ride the horse forwards, and does the exact opposite, their fear creating the very thing they are scared of.

So what happened to our rider above? We followed our plan and kept her busy (and breathing) and she totally nailed it by jumping lots of different fences and even managed to link a course of XC fences together. And the horse…? Guess what… yep – he didn’t put a hoof wrong!

I often wonder what percent of success riding is mindset, and how much is skill… the more I coach the more I think mindset is tipping the balance.

You can be the most capable rider in the world, but without an awareness about the impactful effect of your mind you will never push and grow beyond your comfort.

Keep with those positive thoughts,

Liz x

It’s very closely linked to out ‘Horses are not machines’ blog which can be found HERE.

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