Anxiety Negatively Affecting My Riding

Anxiety has always been a struggle for me sigh. I tend to over-think and over-analyze every situation, and lately, that has caused a big problem in my riding. I absolutely love horses and riding, but I get so nervous and anxious when I jump other horses or attend shows that it makes riding unenjoyable for me. I consider myself a good rider as I can handle a variety of horses, but I always have a fear of getting bad distances. I can easily flat any horse you put in front of me, but jumping is another story. However, I can confidently jump my horse with only minimal anxiety. I think that this anxiety stems from my problem of over-analyzing things as I tend to think too much into my riding. Has anyone else been through this, and how can I learn to control my anxiety and allow myself to have fun again when riding other horses? Help! :cry:

I think horses cost too much money to have it not be fun. if what you’re doing is taking the joy out of riding, go back to what you love and skip the rest.

I suffer from similar issues and I can recommend going back to square one. Do the things you are most comfortable with and that you enjoy. Life is too short to send it not enjoying what you actually enjoy doing. If you are nervous and anxiety appears when jumping other horses at shows or at home, maybe tone things down a bit when you get on them? Become familiar with them first before attacking a show or a course? Set the jumps super low and just concentrate on getting to know the horse and finding a rhythm. If you’re at a show, instead of showing in over fences classes; try just doing the warm ups over fences and spend some time out there just going around the course. Enter the undersaddle classes and save the jumping for the warm ups. Or just go to the show just to bomb around and don’t enter any classes.

Solving the anxiety means taking a step back and finding the comfort zone, even if it means setting the jumps super low or spending more time getting to know a new horse, or not entering any judged classes at a show.

For me, I stopped doing the bigger rated shows and started going to the more popular weekend “C” shows. Take the pressure off yourself and learn to find the comfort zone again

Are you just anxious about finding distances or new horses being dirty stoppers, etc?

I have a lot of anxiety too, and I cut out everything “optional” in my life that causes it. I get enough anxiety from necessary daily activities; my hobbies need to be fun & anxiety free. If it’s just the fences causing anxiety, ride on the flat! A pretty large % riders have never jumped and are perfectly happy riding.

I used to be like this. What was afraid of wasn’t the bad distance - I was afraid of sucking as a rider in front of witnesses. For a long time I had a coach who projected her own riding fears by telling us we weren’t good enough to do something that frightened her.

I still have a little anxiety about it at a show but mostly I eel total peace when jumping my horse now. Some of it was that he was Green - if it’s ugly, well, he’s only five - but also a trainer who always says “it wasn’t that bad” and listens to me when I say how I want to try to ride it better. I’m being given credit for my riding ability instead of being told it should have been better and in turn I am a better rider every day.

I also got a saddle that really worked for me so I never fear losing my position or getting jumped loose or “looking stupid” which was worth every cent of the money.

You might consider discussing this with a cognitive behavioral therapist. They specialize in anxiety disorders and can help you redirect your thinking. Best of luck to you.

Are you anxious about getting hurt when you miss (falling, etc.), messing up your horse through your mistakes, or do you fear that others will judge you/your performance?

I’ll echo others: riding, for us amateurs, is supposed to be a diversion–a pastime that provides an enjoyable release form the stressors of “real life.” If riding is not fun the way you’re currently doing it, take a step back and try something else. Read a good sports psych book, dabble in a new discipline, ride out of the ring, step back from the shows, work on ground work-- whatever. Reset, then come back to it slowly.

This was me as well in my early adult years, while in college. I can relate.

I could have written this same post a couple of years ago. This may or may not be the route you’d want to go, but I talked to my doctor about my issues and she had me try Xanax when I rode. I had a classic case of performance anxiety, I was worried about other people watching me ride, and like you, worried about getting my horse to a bad spot and having him crash and burn.

I only took it for a month, and once my brain realized everything was A-OK, I was able to wean myself off of it without my anxiety returning. I do still take one if I’ll be riding a new horse or if I’m showing, because those things do still cause me a lot of anxiety. But as far as every day riding, I am confident and a totally different rider thanks to it. It literally changed my riding, and I know drugs aren’t for everyone, but for me at least, it was a game changer.

Good luck, OP. I know how frustrating it is for you to feel anxious and nervous when your brain is saying “This is dumb, I’ll be fine, stop worrying!” Anxiety sucks.

I feel for you- anxiety bothers me daily as well.

Why do you have to jump horses other than your own? There’s absolutely no shame in just flatting other horses and just jumping what you’re comfortable jumping. Showing too- only do it when you want to. Unless you want to go pro, why push yourself?

If you really want to jump other horses, have you tried counting your strides out loud? I find that helps me visualize the right distance than not counting. Canter around enough to get a good feel of the horses stride and its adjustability, then count to the fences to find your distance. Make sure you count out loud- it might get you out of your own head so your anxiety can’t build it up as you go around.

I have a lot of experience with anxiety, I constantly have anxiety but gets worse with shows. What I started taking is Magnesium, Ashwagandha, and valerian root. There’s one more medication that they are like little balls and you put them under your tongue just forgot the name of them. Once you start taking the necessary vitamins it will get easier to deal with, I still get my attacks from time to time but they are more controlled now. I would try Magnesium, Ashwagandha, and valerian root first before going to the doctor and spending $$$$

I think we ALL begin to suffer from at least occasional anxiety from riding, as we get older. We aren’t stupid teenagers anymore, and a lot depends on our staying safe. I fall = I get hurt = I can’t work = I cant pay the bills = I can’t take care of my family/pets/etc…

Sometimes my anxiety would be about where I thought I should be with my riding, and where I actually am. Then I finally realized, WHO CARES. I want to ride for fun. So I’m gonna ride for fun! Doesnt matter where I’m at!

I also have anxiety when jumping at times. Just yesterday a friend of mine and I went CC schooling; something I never DREAMED I would do. I really hate fences with width. I’m scared the horse is going to misjudge it and get a leg caught. But my friend is braver than me, and helped me work up to my bigger width fences. For some reason I trust her, and I also trust me. She wanted me to do a certain fence, and I said, no way. My anxiety is going to transfer to him, and its not worth it. Later the property owner said that the fence is actually a more difficult fence, despite its smaller height. So trusting my own instincts was good!

I struggle with this as well. Lots of people have told me to just quit showing, but I know that’s not the answer for me. I just truly believe that anxiety over anything isn’t fun and isn’t something you want to lie down and take EVER. If given the choice between cutting out parts of my riding and cutting out anxiety, of course I choose cutting anxiety! So I put my mind to figuring it out, and here were my takeaways.

  1. Get a good therapist. Seriously. Some people might think there’s a stigma, but there is NOTHING weak about realizing your struggles and facing them head on and being willing to work for a solution. In fact, IMO, it’s the opposite of weak.

  2. If you’re afraid of something, do it often. This means jump LOTS of horses at home, as often as you can. Take EVERY opportunity to do it. The more you do, the more you’ll realize that you’re capable and there’s no reason to be nervous. I gained SO much confidence, and conversely lost SO much anxiety through competing in IHSA shows in college, because I jumped a different horse every day at home, and showed myself I was able to lay it down on any horse on show days.

  3. Caveat to number 2-- give yourself permission to start SMALL. I think this can be a hard one for our pride to swallow :slight_smile: Canter ground poles. Canter cross rails. Trot cross rails. You do not need to start fighting your anxiety by jumping a full course of 12 1.40 oxers with liverpools underneath. Build your confidence by making it super easy. Then as you get more comfortable, you can challenge yourself in ways that lead to positive experiences.

Hope this helps.

I struggle with this as well. Lots of people have told me to just quit showing, but I know that’s not the answer for me. I just truly believe that anxiety over anything isn’t fun and isn’t something you want to lie down and take EVER. If given the choice between cutting out parts of my riding and cutting out anxiety, of course I choose cutting anxiety! So I put my mind to figuring it out, and here were my takeaways.

  1. Get a good therapist. Seriously. Some people might think there’s a stigma, but there is NOTHING weak about realizing your struggles and facing them head on and being willing to work for a solution. In fact, IMO, it’s the opposite of weak.

  2. If you’re afraid of something, do it often. This means jump LOTS of horses at home, as often as you can. Take EVERY opportunity to do it. The more you do, the more you’ll realize that you’re capable and there’s no reason to be nervous. I gained SO much confidence, and conversely lost SO much anxiety through competing in IHSA shows in college, because I jumped a different horse every day at home, and showed myself I was able to lay it down on any horse on show days.

  3. Caveat to number 2-- give yourself permission to start SMALL. I think this can be a hard one for our pride to swallow :slight_smile: Canter ground poles. Canter cross rails. Trot cross rails. You do not need to start fighting your anxiety by jumping a full course of 12 1.40 oxers with liverpools underneath. Build your confidence by making it super easy. Then as you get more comfortable, you can challenge yourself in ways that lead to positive experiences.

Hope this helps.

[QUOTE=SugarCubes;8712181]I could have written this same post a couple of years ago. This may or may not be the route you’d want to go, but I talked to my doctor about my issues and she had me try Xanax when I rode. I had a classic case of performance anxiety, I was worried about other people watching me ride, and like you, worried about getting my horse to a bad spot and having him crash and burn.

I only took it for a month, and once my brain realized everything was A-OK, I was able to wean myself off of it without my anxiety returning. I do still take one if I’ll be riding a new horse or if I’m showing, because those things do still cause me a lot of anxiety. But as far as every day riding, I am confident and a totally different rider thanks to it. It literally changed my riding, and I know drugs aren’t for everyone, but for me at least, it was a game changer.

Good luck, OP. I know how frustrating it is for you to feel anxious and nervous when your brain is saying “This is dumb, I’ll be fine, stop worrying!” Anxiety sucks.[/QUOTE]

Great advice. Riding is so mental, that if you can just get your brain to chill out long enough to realize you’re competent, you end up continuing to feel competent even when, as you said, you wean yourself off any pharmaceuticals.

Or, hell, if it works and you do it every time you ride, who cares. So often, anxiety isn’t rational. If we could control it, it wouldn’t be a problem. Sometimes our brains just need their hand held a little :slight_smile:

I loved being a carefree kid when nothing bothered me. I have had anxiety with jumping that is off and on for a while. When things go great I’m all “jeez what was I so freaked out about because that was awesome” but when things go bad it really throws me through the wringer. I don’t jump as high as I used to and who knows if I ever will. I hope so, because I love jumping. I really really do. I have the same anxiety about getting a bad distance and I don’t have a whole lot of advice because I am still working through it all myself.

One thing that does help me is having an instructor that pays attention (instead of sitting on a cell phone and not telling me what to do differently) that really focuses on technique. I also find that if I ride a horse that makes me think (ie: must keep straight, brave but spooks at silly things so pay attention, can tell he backs off at jump so keep a leg on, etc) I am going to use my brain to ride and problem solve vs. on a bombproof babysitter where my brain thinks of the worst things that could happen but probably won’t. Sometimes saying a “you know you can do this, you’ve done it before, and you will do it again” mantra helps.

This is GREAT ADVICE. I actually just did a “mini show” this weekend and did the cross rail division. Have I jumped higher before? Absolutely. Has my confidence been meh lately? Absolutely. I had so much fun doing the cross rails because it was fun seeing that I could ride and jump (albeit small) without one iota of anxiety. I kind of felt like the cross rail bad ass :wink:

I also suffer from anxiety and would get it when riding. It also was happening increasingly over fences with no real explanation.

What helped me, riding lots and lots of other horses, especially schoolmasters. I also went back to basics and did a lot of lessons with just dressage/flat work. We slowly added small cavalettis and courses of ground poles in to the flat work. As I became comfortable, I found myself asking to jump and jump higher. It was a matter of me needing to build up confidence again.

I also started doing group lessons and that support from other riders helped tremendously. Now I am back to being able to catch ride and having an absolute blast. It did not happen overnight, so give it time. Be patient.

(Oh and I also said no more showing. It was not worth paying for something that was not fun. Now that my confidence is back, I went to watch several shows and found myself wishing I was in the ring. Unfortunately, I was ill and did not recover in time to ride in the most recent show at our barn, however I watched it and my friends ride and knew I was ready to give it a shot).

You must know me when you decided to start this thread. When I was quite a bit younger, I was so much braver. After being mismatched with horses not appropriate for me-my doing, no one else to blame, I lost confidence. I am finally jumping again, doing a “starter” combined test this weekend. I have a horse that has been there, done that, so that helps. Like the bad ass cross railer, I intend to be the bad ass 2 footer. I am not ashamed that I’m doing this height. I am beginning to look at bigger jumps with more interest than fear. I have no shame building back up anymore to get to novice again. I am a work in progress even though I’ve ridden forever.

I am old now and ride older horses, but I am enjoying the 2’6" hunter divisions. There is really no such thing as a bad distance. If you keep a nice canter, and a 12’ stride, your horse can handle those close ones. It really annoys me when people on the h/j forum berate the 2’6" divisions. I have a feeling they must not appreciate how difficult a nice hunter trip is at any height.

Maybe put less pressure on yourself and drop down a division?

Thank you all so much! It is really nice to hear that I’m not the only one that has gone through this! It is so tough when anxiety starts to make something you love feel like it is impossible! The advice y’all gave me is great, and I plan to try out all of the options that y’all have given me. Thank you! :slight_smile: