Regaining confidence can be a bit trickier than building confidence in the first place. Adult riders often find themselves wrought with trepidation and disabled by doubt, even if they flew about on horseback like a rodeo monkey in days gone by.
First of all, stop burdening your psyche with any thoughts of what you used to be able to do. Don’t dwell on distant memories about historic feats of bravery. Life changes. We change. Things happen to alter who we are; comparing your past self to your current entity is as pointless as it is unfair. Work appreciatively with the person you are today.
Next, work with the right horse. Human-horse relationships are a lot like dating. Some unions simply are not meant to be long-term. Does that mean you’re not a good hand? No. Does it mean the animal is in some way flawed? Absolutely not. All horses need a fair, concise, consistent leader, but if you’re doing all you can to be that leader every single time you two interact and the situation still feels unsafe or truly unpleasant, it may be best for you both to move on. Find the horse a more suitable partner. Find yourself a horse that you’re sure you can more happily work with for years to come.
Set reasonable goals and maintain realistic expectations. For example, if you used to love to jump but are now afraid, don’t even think about jumping. Get in the saddle and walk your horse over a ground pole. Look up and ahead. Pick a point and go to it; think about keeping your heels down and your hands forward. Sit up! Curling into a fetal position or excessive leaning compromises your stability (plus no horse needs a rider’s weight burdening its front end or tearing a bit through its face when trying to move forward, up and over an obstacle). Relax, trust your horse, allow the both of you to enjoy the experience and have a good time. If you can’t do that much at a walk with a ground pole, jumping is far off in the future.
What if you don’t feel comfortable even walking over a pole in the saddle? That’s fine. Be entirely realistic about what you expect out of yourself based solely on your present state of mind and current comfort levels. Just walk around in a figure eight pattern. Uncomfortable getting in the saddle at all? Also fine; then walk the horse in hand. Breathe. Smile. Do ground work. When you start to think about climbing aboard have a friend lead you around the paddock if you feel too tense guiding the horse solo. Safety and enjoyment should always be your primary concerns! Take baby steps and repeat those baby steps until all your nauseating butterflies have flown far, far away.
Once you’re able to walk the horse around the paddock on your own, resume that walking-over-the pole objective. When you feel entirely, absolutely, thoroughly, confident doing so, trot over the pole. When you feel so relaxed you could sleep through the pole-trotting activity, move up to cantering over that single pole on the ground. Eventually you’ll be a certified ground pole expert and you can lift that pole slightly off the ground; 2”, then 6” and so on.
How long does it take to progress from walking over a ground pole to jumping a 10” cross rail? It takes as long as it takes. Rushing and tension destroy confidence. Undue pressure interrupts your enjoyment.
Chew up your fear in tiny bite-sized pieces; it’s far easier than trying to swallow it whole, and far more beneficial in the long run!
Another benefit to rebuilding your confidence slowly is that you’re simultaneously laying a more solid and reliable foundation, in your own riding skills, balance and equitation, as well as adding to the foundation of a trustworthy, happy relationship with your horse.
Don’t worry about what you were able to do yesterday. Don’t allow yourself to get stressed out making plans for tomorrow. Enjoy your time right here, right now. Focus not on what you could do, don’t waste energy dreaming about what you might do someday, rather, put your focus, thoughts, enjoyment and appreciation into whatever you can do at this moment. Take action with your present abilities. All we’ve really got is today. Make the most of it!