Anxiety about mounting is such a common problem with riders, however, it is entirely possible to overcome this with some simple exercises.
I have been a hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, confidence coach, instructor and NLP practitioner working with riders for over 30 years. I have found that so many riders get ‘stuck’ because there is the anticipation of something going ‘wrong’.
Conscious or subconscious?
You may be very conscious of a past, bad experience perhaps, or your horse could be difficult and you are worried about the very real possibility you could be hurt.
Or, it might lie purely in your subconscious, an association that has been formed from either a real or imagined trauma, leaving you with a feeling of dread but not knowing why.
The effect is the same. You worry well before you even get to the yard. You spend as much time as possible doing other things before mounting. When you finally get tacked up and the horse is there by the mounting block, you are flooded with fear and can barely get your foot in the stirrup iron, let alone your seat in the saddle!
For some riders, there will be a few moments (or minutes) of feeling uncomfortable prior to getting on, but once you are on board, you are over that anticipation and feel relieved and are able to ride your horse. However, sometimes riders can be terrified once on board but this article is covering only those that experience difficulty getting on with no other problems.
The problem is often due to a past experience, (something that has happened to you, something you have seen or heard about, a story you have read, a film you have seen, stress, loss, etc). Whatever it is, this anticipation of something going wrong is held in your mind.
Your subconscious will fire up the Fight or Flight response if there is a notion you are in a dangerous situation. When you think about getting on, the response will happen as your subconscious reacts to your thoughts.
What is needed, is just some re-training, (re-teaching, re-learning, inputting updated information, whatever you like to call it). In the NLP world also called re-programming. Basically, teaching you a new way of thinking about the event, both on a conscious and subconscious level.
Hypnotherapy (a therapist using hypnosis) is one of the most powerful ways to do this, however, it’s perfectly possible for you to do this yourself (self-hypnosis) and a mixture of practical exercises and some mental strategies are perhaps best for you:
1. Practical: Each day, (twice a day if possible), with the help of someone on the ground, mount and dismount at least 10 times before doing anything. If you feel your horse will not be happy with this, or you have a horse that is tricky to mount, then see if you can go to a riding school and hire a suitable horse. Make sure they know what you want to do beforehand and the horse is patient.
By repeatedly mounting and dismounting, you teach your subconscious you are safe and ok when getting on. It’s like teaching your subconscious when you first tie a shoelace. Repeating this over and over will start to overlay the fear with boredom. On a conscious level, boredom is your best friend! Do this until you are so bored with mounting. Each day, every day.
If your horse has a problem with having someone get on, then all the usual checks (back/tack/etc) needs to be done and if all is ok, then a bit of re-training for your horse too. (By someone else at this stage, definitely not you).
2. Mindfulness: Your conscious mind can do one thing REALLY WELL…and that is FOCUS! Please, please be in charge of what you are focusing on! As you go to mount, only think about how your feet feel on the ground as you walk up to the mounting block. What is the ground like? How do your toes feel in your boots? How does the air feel on your skin? What sounds you can hear (birds, people, etc)? What colour is the mounting block? As you stand on the block and take up the reins, how do they feel in your hand…how do they REALLY feel…leather, rubber? How evenly you are standing on the block. Take a breath, long breath in, controlled breath out. When your foot is in the stirrup iron, focus on the weight of your foot on the iron….your toes in your boots, etc. I’m sure you get the picture now! Your focus is on the present, the physical…not on anything else. It takes a little time to train your brain to do this, but you can (yes, really, you can!).
3. Visualisation: Some things you can do at home or quietly sitting in the tack room. These must be practised over and over. Think about how many times in your life you have got on a horse and everything has been fine. Have there been hundreds? Thousands? Think about how many times there have been! Dwell on this fact. Really spend time thinking about the times if you can. (Often, we tend to forget how well we actually got on, until it becomes a problem). Think about them in detail, go over and over them. If you cannot remember any, just make it up.
4. Trance state: A trance state is just the same as when you daydream. A quiet room where you will not be disturbed when you first start doing this is ideal. Play background music if you want. Relax and get yourself comfortable. Long breaths in, controlled breath out, do a few of these. Bring back a good memory of yourself doing anything that is relaxing. Being in a garden, walking in the woods, being by the beach, etc. When you feel more relaxed, then see yourself getting on board easily, effortlessly, in balance. Sitting in the saddle and then going for a wonderful ride. Do this over and over. These are direct instructions for your subconscious. This is also called self-hypnosis and visualisation.
Remember, you are re-training your subconscious. This is just done by repetition of what you want to happen and as your subconscious cannot tell the difference between what you are really doing and what you are imagining, your subconscious accepts the new instructions at a deep level.
5. Do NOT dwell on how you struggle to get on. Don’t constantly focus on it being ‘difficult’, don’t agonise over it with others, don’t obsess about it. Push it away in your mind. You will only be re-teaching your subconscious there is something dangerous here, something ‘difficult’ here. Focus only on your past positive experiences. Remember them or make them up, it doesn’t matter, it will work all the same.
7. Phobia cure: If you have had an accident whilst getting on in the past, or there has been some trauma, there is an NLP technique that can help called ‘Phobia cure’. It has other names, but is easily accessible online or in any NLP book. It will incorporate a cinema and projector, so just look out for this when you do a search. It’s a good exercise to do, but do read the instructions first.
I do have my own way of working this particular exercise that is fun with excellent results. I normally bring this to confidence camps and workshops, however, the basic steps online are going to help a great deal.
8. Anchoring a positive state. Go back to Nos 3 and 4 above. As you think about getting on easily and effortlessly, you can anchor this good feeling to a sound (something you say), see (an image in your mind/colour/etc), feel (like the reins or ribbon) or smell (an oil of some sort, e.g. lavender). How you do this is very easy:
When you are feeling really comfortable, rehearse a perfect mount in your mind, focus on every detail, how the horse stands still and ready, how the mounting block is exactly the right height, the stirrup iron in line with your foot, you move effortlessly and in balance into the saddle, the absolute joy you feel at getting on so easily. Whilst you do this, say the word, sing the song, think about the image, press the rein/ribbon, smell the lavender, etc. Repeat. Many of you (me included) have physical difficulties with getting on due to age, injury, etc., however, push this out of your mind for the moment and make sure when you do actually mount, everything is set up to make it as easy as possible.
There are many other ways you can anchor a good feeling, a confident feeling, a strong feeling. If you are interested in more NLP techniques, there are some great little books out there you can get. NLP is so easy to learn, you don’t need to do an expensive course! Choose a small book, not a huge equine related one that I have found tends to take ages to get through. Short practical exercises is what you are looking for. Online NLP exercises for just about anything are all up there for you to help yourself.
9. Transform stress. Turning a threat into a challenge. You can apply this strategy in your own life at any time in any situation you find challenging. Stress usually means sweaty palms, pounding heart, butterflies, etc. Remind yourself this is just your body’s way of trying to give you more energy (remember fight or flight…your body is giving you more energy to do either). Focus less on wanting the feelings to go away and more on what are you going to do with that extra energy. Turn the word ‘nerves’ into the word ‘excitement’. You are excited to get on! Make those feelings work for you (even if you don’t like the feelings).
Yes, your subconscious is in control, however, it’s only working on information supplied in the past and this learning can be updated.
This is a tiny sample of information and ideas to help you. If you choose to seek help from a professional, make sure they have many years of experience, not just 10 days on a course or an online course! (Yes, they can help some riders, but they can also do a great deal of harm). Whoever you choose should have done at least 4 years of training, be supervised, insured and associated to the main associations in the UK.
Hopefully I have given you enough to get you started. If you need any further help, please to contact me for a free half hour chat
Happy riding everyone!