Margie Sugarman is a leading board-certified psychotherapist and sports consultant based in New York. Margie’s desire is to enhance performance through the connection between the mind and body, and her current client list includes Olympic, professional and amateur athletes across the country. Her experience employing various therapeutic modalities has helped equestrians win classics, junior medals and grand prix. Do you have a question you want Margie to answer? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am an “older” woman who returned to riding after a 35-year absence. I aspire to jump around at least 3’, which I’m physically capable of. However, the fear of being hurt, the thought of failure and not wanting to be gawked at or embarrass myself have suddenly stopped me from jumping around. I need a systematic way to get back into the game. Help!
Life is for living … and as long as you’ve got your pain relief for achy muscles, bath salts and any other means of dealing with soreness and stiffness, you can zip up your boots and head to the barn. However, there are a few things you can do that will help you physically before you tighten the girth.
Remember that we do lose some flexibility as we age, so stretching will increase your range of motion. Cardiovascular fitness is of utmost importance. Exercises like biking, swimming, running or brisk walking will help tremendously before you sit in the saddle.
Of equal importance is your core strength. Pilates and/or yoga address those core muscles while improving overall strength. The more physically fit you are when you put your feet into those stirrups, the more secure and confident you’ll be when ultimately riding around the course.
Returning to the ring more seasoned will bring some advantages that being younger lacks, such as the ability to speak up and discuss things openly with your trainer; use this wisdom and awareness to your advantage and voice your feelings, setting clear expectations. Your trainer should be challenging you but not overwhelming you. You must make sure you and your trainer click. Some younger trainers have difficulty with “older” riders because they are so accustomed to working with the younger rider and might feel nervous about being judged. There are many trainers out there … find the right one or your goals might never be reached.
Once you’re back in the saddle riding around and ready to jump, the nerves and anxiety might engulf you like heat when opening the car door on a sunny summer day in July, or leaving your air-conditioned home and stepping outside in the middle of August.
Foremost, it’s important to be seated on an equine partner that you have confidence in. Remember, you are only half of this riding equation.
From the fear of falling off to the fear of getting hurt, there are quite a few emotional components that can hinder your progress. You might consider specialty equipment such as a body protector or safety stirrups. Although they won’t prevent a fall, they certainly will make you feel safer and help with a “softer” landing should something happen.
Once you’ve gone through all the practice at home and jumped the jumps over and over, then it is time to bandage your horse, pack your tack trunk, polish your boots and head to the show. This is when those dreaded “what if’s” drown out your favorite song from your playlist and flood your mind. This fear, created in your mind by projecting that something negative might happen, results in anxiety, self-doubt and thoughts of turning around and heading out to breakfast. It’s here that you have to pull yourself together and remind yourself that those “what if’s” are really “almost never’s.”
At this point, think back to your recent riding lessons. They must have been pretty good or your trainer wouldn’t be meeting you at the show. Put yourself back in the saddle and in your mind re-ride those courses you rode so well at home.
Remember the feeling of accomplishment you felt, the smile you had, the happy, loving pat you gave your horse when you completed the course successfully at home … and then decided it was time to show.
Riding, for many, is like the sun to a plant. It is an essential part of making one feel fulfilled and whole. Enjoy this second opportunity and embrace it; your desire to ride outweighs your fear of falling. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be asking, you wouldn’t be taking lessons and you wouldn’t be polishing your boots.