Posted on 25th April 2019
Does the thought of riding terrify you? Do people say just get on and do it? Just be brave? Pull yourself together and get on? But no one quite understands how big that mountain is in your mind. How it’s on your mind all of the time but no matter how much you try you cannot just do it?
I know that feeling. I have had that feeling. If that’s where you are right now I’ve written this in the hope it may help you.
Let’s rewind to March 2017, after a taking a fall a few weeks before (I say fall… my mount certainly helped me on the way with a rather large buck out of the blue out hacking) I realised I didn’t want to go and see my horses. That was odd. Very odd. Horses had been the centre of my hopes and dreams for as long as I could remember. This want to avoid them was making me feel very unlike myself. I was teary, feeling miserable and no amount of my telling myself to snap out of it was helping.
In my desperation I put a distraught post up onto Facebook detailing all this. One reply stood out. It was a FB Friend telling me to seek help from a trauma therapist.
I did look into it. I decided I couldn’t possibly afford to see one and went to back telling myself, and others telling me, to ‘Just get back on’, ‘you’ll be fine once you’re on’, ‘he’s sensing your nerves.’, ‘just relax’ and a whole host of other ‘helpful’ phrases.
I don’t know how far I’d got through that year but I do know it was a very warm day when I finally had my first appointment with Diane Danzebrink that had been booked two weeks prior. Sitting in floods of tears yet again about going to feed the horses and feeling frustrated at myself for feeling this way I picked up the phone and made that call. I shouldn’t have worried. From the outset Diane was kind and understanding and explained to me that it sounded very much like I had PTSD following my fall out hacking.
I know there are a lot of riders out there that feel your own anxieties or fears are insurmountable. That it’s not possible. That your days of riding are over. I have gone from avoiding my horses to being able to walk, trot, canter and smile and laugh while doing it!
With the help of some lovely therapists that have been kind enough to give their time and input, please grab a cuppa and read on. I am hoping that there may be options to help you too.
I remember feeling shock at the mention of PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How on earth could that be my issue? Maybe you’re surprised to hear it could be your problem too. I’d always associated PTSD with being in the Army or sustaining a serious injury, so I asked the professionals what actually is PTSD?
Jane from Horse Riding With Confidence explains that “A person with PTSD will have intrusion symptoms eg. Unwanted memories, flashbacks, alteration of mood and an alteration of reactivity eg. Hyper arousal or hyper vigilance. These symptoms will be on going and not resolve spontaneously after the event(s). The person may find themselves avoiding situations which can trigger unwanted memories and will generally show a high degree of distress.”
Richie from Horses In Mind reminds us to not compare ourselves to others “Think of PTSD as a mental imprint of a situation your mind has found traumatic. It can vary in severity. It doesn’t have to be something huge and catastrophic. Don’t compare your thoughts to other peoples. It’s what affects you and how it makes you feel. You may feel sweaty, nervous or agitated at even the thought of riding or it may manifest as panic attacks while riding. If it doesn’t feel good or the feels around riding have changed dramatically then you could be affected by PTSD.”
Even if you have been struggling for years, you can still be helped! Anne from Confident Horsemanship says “One of my client’s had experienced a bad fall from a horse whilst cantering. She was at the point of giving up riding because – years after the event – she was still experiencing panic attacks at the thought of cantering.”
Some of the treatments that are available to help you move on from the PTSD involve guided visualisation or hynpotherapy. I was a bit worried about this I must admit, I’m quite a live wire and have other anxious tendencies and didn’t think I would be able to relax enough. I’m also a bit ashamed to say my only experience of hypnotherapy was a childhood watching of Paul McKenna.. which didn’t real make the idea appeal to me. I really needn’t have worried as it is absolutely nothing like that and was just like being incredibly relaxed, kind of asleep but at the same time awake.
Jane explains that “Hypnosis is a medium for therapy not a therapy in itself and must be qualified by a suitable qualified practitioner (more on this in the next section!)… Hypnosis is effective to the extent the client wants, expects and allows it, you can’t be stuck in a hypnotic trance or made to do something against your will.”
Anne adds “We all use visualisation and hypnosis regularly in our daily lives. When you recall a memory or think of something happening in the future you are visualising and hypnosis is much like being in a day dreaming state. It’s a natural, normal, relaxed state that we all experience daily. When you get lost in thought, daydream, zoned out on your daily commute, or become completely immersed in book or a movie, you’re in a trance state of self hyponisis.”
Tracey from Tracey Cole NLP provides some reassurance for any of you feeling like hypnosis might not be for you “If the client has reservations about hypnosis and specifies they would prefer not to be hypnotised, then there are other options such as neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and Time Line Therapy (TM) . Both use the waking state to enter into the unconscious (subconscious) mind.”
I can vouch that after my first session I just felt like I’d had a really good dream and the good feeling lasted. I felt so much lighter. I do know that results after one session vary for each individual and you may not feel any differently initially or you may, like me, feel a real weight has been lifted. I’ve deliberately not gone into great detail of the process here as it is imperative that you work through this process with a qualified professional who will look after you and make sure it is all done correctly.
As we would when finding the right riding instructor for a horse riding lesson, we want someone who is first of all qualified, followed by the instructor being someone that we feel comfortable with and trust. Even more so the same applies when finding a therapist to help you. If you don’t find the right therapist for you first of all, don’t forget there are others out there and you may just not have found the right one yet.
All of the therapists that contributed to this blog stressed the importance of asking as many questions as you’d like about their qualifications and experience. Jane says “No ethical therapist will mind you asking them about their training and qualifications.” And Tracey adds “Make sure the hypnotherapist asks you questions, you want an individualised hypnosis tailored to your issues, not an off-the-shelf generic hypnosis.” Certainly google can be your friend with a bit of research you should be able to find out what qualifications a therapist has. “A quick Google after the letters after their name should led you to a website which gives an insight into codes of professional conduct, qualifications and requirements for supervision and/or ongoing professional development.” Is a handy tip from Jane!
I know it can help, as I will now get back on a horse where as before I didn’t even want to see them! Every one of these therapists know it can help too and they are passionate about providing that help as they’ve shown in their contributions to this blog.
Many therapists will see riders that are thinking of giving up horses because of their fears. Quite poignantly Jane says “Often riders come to see me after a fall, a series of falls, and accident or experiences of unwanted behaviour from the horses they ride. This can leave them shattered and definitely not enjoying their riding and perhaps even thinking of giving up.”
Anne shares, “As an equestrian myself, I know the anxiety, fear and stress that horse riders feel. Whether it’s show nerves, coming back into riding after years away from it, or dealing with the trauma of a riding accident, NLP techniques and hypnosis can eliminate the negative emotions so you can enjoy every ride.”
Can these fears and phobias be overcome? Richie says “They absolutely can! I always work for success, whatever that may be to a client. Some may just want to go on a gentle walk with their horse, and others to go cross country. Whilst a session is bespoke to (a client’s) needs I do follow a framework. Finding out what’s getting in the way and how the brain has stored that information then removing it and rebuilding new associations and memories until the client has achieved their intention. And I don’t give up until we get there!.”
Success stories are real and genuine. While for confidentiality reasons the therapists cannot disclose names and identifying circumstances, the changes in client’s enjoyment of their horses whatever the situation are always uplifting for client and therapist alike.
It works for competitive riders and happy hackers alike. We all pay a lot of money and invest a lot of time in keeping our horses. It is worth investing some of that in ourselves after a traumatic event so we can move on from it rather than it affect us and our enjoyment of our horses in the future.
Tracey recalls as dressage rider who had previously suffered an injury that had extended to a fear of mounting any horse. After one session of Time Line Therapy and one personalised hyponosis recording within two days she was exercising her horses – over jumps!
Jane met a client who had been involved in a traffic accident while out hacking and while neither horse nor rider was seriously hurt, her client subsequently unable to hack out and this had spoiled any previous enjoyment of riding. After treatment the client learned to ride ‘in the moment’ and regain the freedom of getting out and about on her horse again.
One of Richie’s favourite successes was a lady who had lost all confidence from a few falls years previously. She’d tried a local riding school who provided excellent quiet horses but she had become phobic. Her husband had horses at home and all she wanted to do was to be able to go for long slow hacks with him. Richie had two therapy session with her and two days later was sent a photo of her and her new horse. Two days after that he received a photo of his client and her husband out hacking together.
A client of Anne’s had been close to giving up when a fear of cantering was even manifesting as an anxiety of going to the barn before she even got on the horse. After a few sessions of NLP and a personalised script she was enjoying riding again – even cantering!
Many therapists, while meeting with client’s that are more local, offer services by phone or via Skype and so could help you even if you are not geographically close by. I really hope if you’ve been struggling, as I did, that reading this has shown help is out there! All is not lost and the things you dreamt of or used to do, you can do again. Whether it’s getting out competing or a gentle hack enjoying the country side. It’s worked for me and many others. While I’ve a little way to go on getting back on my boy Bear, you may have seen my boy Bear has been diagnosed with gastric ulcers and so is not in work at the moment, I am happily riding our other ponies and enjoying them. I am completely expecting to seek further help to get Bear and I going again if I struggle with any issues with my mindset once he gets the all clear.
Thank you so much to the therapists that have given their thoughts and time to collaborate on this article. I’ve listed their details below should you wish to contact them. Keep an eye out for the next mindset blog where, once you’re over the mountain, we’ll look into different strategies to keep going with the confidence building!
Anne Gage www.confidenthorsemanship.com based in Ontario, Canada serving clients locally and worldwide with Zoom/Skype sessions
Diane Danzebrink www.dianedanzebrink.com Based near Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, UK. Serving clients locally and nationwide
Jane Brindley www.horseridingwithconfidencescotland.co.uk based in Scotland serving clients locally and worldwide
Richie Moore www.horsesinmind.com based in Shropshire, UK based serving clients locally and worldwide
Dr Tracey Cole www.traceycolenlp.com based in Staffordshire, UK serving clients locally and worldwide
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