Fear is something that in and of itself we are scared of. Fear, however, is not always our enemy. Fear plays a very logical roll with this crazy idea of keeping us alive. So take a moment and say "Thank you fear." Poor guy always getting such a bad rep.
Now just like any relationship, handled poorly, it can become an issue. If you let fear completely take over then you start to make decisions that were not filtered through the good old brain space.
So how do we develop a healthy relationship with fear?
Through scientific research the next 4 have been proven very effective:
Fear survives through shallow and nervous breathing. If you breathe through your belly you instantly bring back control. Before you ride, make sure to do a breathing exercise so that your nervous system has something to revert back to and then remember to send breath to the belly in moments of panic. This takes time and practice so the more often you get into the habit of breathing the better.
(See belly breathing exercises under blog and videos)
2)We are social animals so we instantly crave other people when we are nervous. It relates back to survival. So if you are riding with a friend maybe just have a quick conversation with them. If you are riding alone remember that your best friend is with you, reach down and pat your horse. If they are the ones acting up, remember that you are still a team and maybe sometimes you need to be the one to give serious direction. Do it FOR them, it may change the way you look at the situation. Perception is EVERYTHING.
3) Add humor to the situation. Whenever I am approaching an obstacle that is making me nervous I try to smile. Take that fear into excitement. Maybe laugh to yourself at what you are scared of. Crack a joke about being nervous to a friend. Pride and anger get in the way of truly conquering your fears.
You need to establish a different type of relationship with fear and being angry will only make it worse. In yoga, we fall, it happens, but how do you handle that fall? If it is with a smile and grace then you are still practicing beautifully. Do not let anger and tension ruin the beautiful dance of riding.
4) Sit with it, if you are in a safe place and you can practice sitting with your fear for a moment and of course breathing. Think through what you are scared of, is there anyway you can prepare for what is coming better? If you are approaching a jump can you focus on what you need to do? Not what you don't want to happen? This applies to everything in riding not just jumping. Make a plan: sit back, count your strides, breathe. Can you chant a mantra? "Move with abundance" "Move with love"
A mantra that paints a good mental image for me that allows me to follow my horse fluidly is: "Breathe through my elbows". When I get tense I tend to carry tension in my shoulders which then tightens my elbows and signals fear to my horse. When I tell myself to breathe through my elbows somehow it makes everything more fluid and my shoulders relax.
Where do you hold tension? Breathe to that place and let your body signal to your brain that you are A-Okay.