Anxiety Prior To Getting On Your Horse


Anxiety about mounting is such a common problem with riders, however, it is entirely possible to overcome this with some simple exercises.

I have been a hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, confidence coach, instructor and NLP practitioner working with riders for over 30 years. I have found that so many riders get ‘stuck’ because there is the anticipation of something going ‘wrong’.



Conscious or subconscious?

You may be very conscious of a past, bad experience perhaps, or your horse could be difficult and you are worried about the very real possibility you could be hurt.

Or, it might lie purely in your subconscious, an association that has been formed from either a real or imagined trauma, leaving you with a feeling of dread but not knowing why.

The effect is the same. You worry well before you even get to the yard. You spend as much time as possible doing other things before mounting. When you finally get tacked up and the horse is there by the mounting block, you are flooded with fear and can barely get your foot in the stirrup iron, let alone your seat in the saddle!

For some riders, there will be a few moments (or minutes) of feeling uncomfortable prior to getting on, but once you are on board, you are over that anticipation and feel relieved and are able to ride your horse. However, sometimes riders can be terrified once on board but this article is covering only those that experience difficulty getting on with no other problems.

The problem is often due to a past experience, (something that has happened to you, something you have seen or heard about, a story you have read, a film you have seen, stress, loss, etc). Whatever it is, this anticipation of something going wrong is held in your mind.

Your subconscious will fire up the Fight or Flight response if there is a notion you are in a dangerous situation. When you think about getting on, the response will happen as your subconscious reacts to your thoughts.

What is needed, is just some re-training, (re-teaching, re-learning, inputting updated information, whatever you like to call it).  In the NLP world also called re-programming. Basically, teaching you a new way of thinking about the event, both on a conscious and subconscious level.

Hypnotherapy (a therapist using hypnosis) is one of the most powerful ways to do this, however, it’s perfectly possible for you to do this yourself (self-hypnosis) and a mixture of practical exercises and some mental strategies are perhaps best for you:

1. Practical: Each day, (twice a day if possible), with the help of someone on the ground, mount and dismount at least 10 times before doing anything. If you feel your horse will not be happy with this, or you have a horse that is tricky to mount, then see if you can go to a riding school and hire a suitable horse. Make sure they know what you want to do beforehand and the horse is patient.

By repeatedly mounting and dismounting, you teach your subconscious you are safe and ok when getting on. It’s like teaching your subconscious when you first tie a shoelace. Repeating this over and over will start to overlay the fear with boredom. On a conscious level, boredom is your best friend! Do this until you are so bored with mounting. Each day, every day.

If your horse has a problem with having someone get on, then all the usual checks (back/tack/etc) needs to be done and if all is ok, then a bit of re-training for your horse too. (By someone else at this stage, definitely not you).

2. Mindfulness:  Your conscious mind can do one thing REALLY WELL…and that is FOCUS! Please, please be in charge of what you are focusing on! As you go to mount, only think about how your feet feel on the ground as you walk up to the mounting block. What is the ground like? How do your toes feel in your boots? How does the air feel on your skin? What sounds you can hear (birds, people, etc)? What colour is the mounting block? As you stand on the block and take up the reins, how do they feel in your hand…how do they REALLY feel…leather, rubber? How evenly you are standing on the block. Take a breath, long breath in, controlled breath out. When your foot is in the stirrup iron, focus on the weight of your foot on the iron….your toes in your boots, etc. I’m sure you get the picture now!  Your focus is on the present, the physical…not on anything else.  It takes a little time to train your brain to do this, but you can (yes, really, you can!).

3. Visualisation: Some things you can do at home or quietly sitting in the tack room. These must be practised over and over. Think about how many times in your life you have got on a horse and everything has been fine. Have there been hundreds? Thousands? Think about how many times there have been!  Dwell on this fact.   Really spend time thinking about the times if you can. (Often, we tend to forget how well we actually got on, until it becomes a problem).  Think about them in detail, go over and over them.  If you cannot remember any, just make it up.

4. Trance state: A trance state is just the same as when you daydream. A quiet room where you will not be disturbed when you first start doing this is ideal. Play background music if you want. Relax and get yourself comfortable. Long breaths in, controlled breath out, do a few of these. Bring back a good memory of yourself doing anything that is relaxing. Being in a garden, walking in the woods, being by the beach, etc. When you feel more relaxed, then see yourself getting on board easily, effortlessly, in balance. Sitting in the saddle and then going for a wonderful ride. Do this over and over. These are direct instructions for your subconscious. This is also called self-hypnosis and visualisation.

Remember, you are re-training your subconscious. This is just done by repetition of what you want to happen and as your subconscious cannot tell the difference between what you are really doing and what you are imagining, your subconscious accepts the new instructions at a deep level.

5. Do NOT dwell on how you struggle to get on. Don’t constantly focus on it being ‘difficult’, don’t agonise over it with others, don’t obsess about it. Push it away in your mind.  You will only be re-teaching your subconscious there is something dangerous here, something ‘difficult’ here. Focus only on your past positive experiences. Remember them or make them up, it doesn’t matter, it will work all the same.

7. Phobia cure: If you have had an accident whilst getting on in the past, or there has been some trauma, there is an NLP technique that can help called ‘Phobia cure’. It has other names, but is easily accessible online or in any NLP book. It will incorporate a cinema and projector, so just look out for this when you do a search.  It’s a good exercise to do, but do read the instructions first.

I do have my own way of working this particular exercise that is fun with excellent results. I normally bring this to confidence camps and workshops, however, the basic steps online are going to help a great deal.

8. Anchoring a positive state. Go back to Nos 3 and 4 above. As you think about getting on easily and effortlessly, you can anchor this good feeling to a sound (something you say), see (an image in your mind/colour/etc), feel (like the reins or ribbon) or smell (an oil of some sort, e.g. lavender). How you do this is very easy:

When you are feeling really comfortable, rehearse a perfect mount in your mind, focus on every detail, how the horse stands still and ready, how the mounting block is exactly the right height, the stirrup iron in line with your foot, you move effortlessly and in balance into the saddle, the absolute joy you feel at getting on so easily.  Whilst you do this, say the word, sing the song, think about the image, press the rein/ribbon, smell the lavender, etc. Repeat.  Many of you (me included) have physical difficulties with getting on due to age, injury, etc., however, push this out of your mind for the moment and make sure when you do actually mount, everything is set up to make it as easy as possible.

There are many other ways you can anchor a good feeling, a confident feeling, a strong feeling. If you are interested in more NLP techniques, there are some great little books out there you can get. NLP is so easy to learn, you don’t need to do an expensive course! Choose a small book, not a huge equine related one that I have found tends to take ages to get through. Short practical exercises is what you are looking for.  Online NLP exercises for just about anything are all up there for you to help yourself.

9. Transform stress. Turning a threat into a challenge. You can apply this strategy in your own life at any time in any situation you find challenging. Stress usually means sweaty palms, pounding heart, butterflies, etc. Remind yourself this is just your body’s way of trying to give you more energy (remember fight or flight…your body is giving you more energy to do either). Focus less on wanting the feelings to go away and more on what are you going to do with that extra energy. Turn the word ‘nerves’ into the word ‘excitement’. You are excited to get on!  Make those feelings work for you (even if you don’t like the feelings).

Yes, your subconscious is in control, however, it’s only working on information supplied in the past and this learning can be updated.

This is a tiny sample of information and ideas to help you. If you choose to seek help from a professional, make sure they have many years of experience, not just 10 days on a course or an online course! (Yes, they can help some riders, but they can also do a great deal of harm). Whoever you choose should have done at least 4 years of training, be supervised, insured and associated to the main associations in the UK.

Hopefully I have given you enough to get you started.  If you need any further help, please to contact me for a free half hour chat:

Happy riding everyone!


Amanda Kirtland-Page
Adv Dip Integrative Counsellor, Accredited Hypnotherapist & Psychotherapist,
NLP Sports Coach, Confidence & Performance Coach, Riding Instructor.

Online & 1:1 Coaching,
Confidence Camps,
Confidence & Performance Talks,
Private & Group Workshops,
Bespoke Hypnotherapy Recordings,
Hypnosis CDS & mp3 Downloads.

Copyright Amanda Kirtland-Page, Jan 2019

17 Tricks To Remember Your Dressage Test!

dressage test sheet

dressage test sheetWe all have our favourite ways of learning a dressage test, and usually riders stick to one or two methods. However, the more choices you have in learning a test and using different options, the more likely it is you will be able to remember it, even under difficult or stressful conditions.

I have here a list which I not only use myself, but ideas that have been hugely helpful for the riders I work with. These cover many different learning styles and include practical suggestions and mental strategies with the help of NLP, Hypnosis & Visualisation.

1.   Start to learn your test a few weeks before the competition. The longer you have to learn it, the better you will feel and the less stress will be associated with competing. Remember, anxiety and tension will affect not only you, but your horse. If you know the test by heart, that reduces your stress levels.

2.   I recommend you buy laminated test sheets with diagrams. You can buy these in a folder from the British Dressage Online Shop or at Dressage Diagrams. This makes it easier to ‘see’ where you are going.

3.   Draw the test out over and over again. Different coloured markers for different paces. You can get A4 boards with the markers already printed out. Draw out the test, wipe it off. Repeat.drawing test

4.   Look at the test as a whole and run through it a couple of times, just to get the ‘feel’ of it before you start learning.

5.   Break it up into chunks/sections and make the chunks small. Memorize the small chunk. Have a cup of coffee, think about it again. Do that a few times in a day.

6.   Ride each ‘chunk’ in your mind. You will have already decided which is the best way to turn into the arena, depending on which way your horse turns more easily. Imagine sitting on your horse. You look up to see the best place for the turn, as you make the turn, you head directly for C , riding straight to that marker and the judge. As you do this, also imagine you can feel what it’s like to turn onto the centre line at A and ride that straight line to C. Will it be sitting or rising trot? How will that trot feel under you? How do your legs feel whilst they create and maintain the energy and straightness?Veteran

7.   You are memorising not only the test as a pattern on a sheet, but more importantly, you are memorising what it looks and feels like, and this will all sink into your subconscious. So put in as much as you can. As you approach C, what will you be doing to make that turn? How will that feel, with your hands, your legs, your body?

8.   Continue in small chunks all the way through the test, running it bit by bit and only moving on to the next piece when the first is memorized. It may seem a faff to do all this, but this is one way to really ‘know’ your test. If something happens half way through a test (that’s nothing to do with you), you are much more likely to just be able to continue without being distracted.

9.   Using hypnosis can really help. This is where you deepen that visualisation into more of a trance state. A good time for this is when you go to bed. Have your test near you. Make sure you are not going to be disturbed. Turn the light and your phone off. ‘See’ yourself riding the test as if you were on your horse. Whilst you are relaxed, the patterns and images will drift further into your subconscious. This happens naturally and effortlessly and is reinforced when repeated.

10.   Each night, practise the self-hypnosis session. If you always fall asleep, then simply do this at another time of the day, perhaps sitting in a chair.

11.  Find a clear area of your living room, yard, etc. Simply ‘ride’ the test in this area on foot. feetBe very clear where the markers are and what movements you are doing where. You are showing your subconscious mind the test to be memorised, (which is what you want to happen) so be accurate when you ‘ride’ it!

12.  If you are fortunate to be able to ride another horse that is not competing, then ride the test on that horse. This will give you the added benefit of doing the complete test without the danger of your own horse anticipating the movements.

13.  If you are a person that learns really well by listening to a voice, small on the phone call out your test and record it on your phone. Listen to it whenever you can. If however you start to ‘tune out’, then you need to do this in another way. I suggest sing the test.  You can sing it to yourself again when you are actually competing (do remember not to do this out loud!).

14.  When you get to the venue, you can watch the riders before you, but make sure you watch one or two well before your test. If you watch only the last rider, and they go wrong, then that may very well affect you negatively.  When you send your entry in, you could ask for a late time. Get there early and watch a few tests. You want to feel that you can easily predict the next movement (almost as if you are ‘calling’ the test for them).

15.  Warm up then go through your test on your horse before you go in if you want. You are only looking to reinforce the pattern, not necessarily ride all the movements.

16.  Often you can find your test on YouTube. Make sure it’s the right year! Choose high-scoring tests if you can. It can help to actually see what the test or movement should be and you can play it as often as you want.

17.  Using a caller. Most likely you can ask someone at the venue to call, but you cannot guarantee this. loudspeaker 1459128 1280Perhaps you are lucky enough to have someone coming with you who is prepared to call. Now this can be a real bonus, or it can put you off your test completely, so ideally you want to have that person call for you at home first. You still have to know your test as callers actually can go wrong sometimes. But the main thing here is you must have some experience of listening to a caller and riding a test. It can be quite different. It can be a great back up, or a distraction, and you don’t want to find out which when you are actually in there.

Remember…if you go wrong, it’s only 2 penalty points! It’s worth just stopping and giving yourself a moment to work out where you are in the test, what happens in the next few moves. If in doubt, ask the judge. This is far better than going blank then trying to guess.

Happy competing everyone!

If you would like any further help or advice, please contact me for a free half hour chat:

Amanda Kirtland-Page
Adv Dip Integrative Counsellor, Accredited Hypnotherapist & Psychotherapist,
NLP Sports Coach, Confidence & Performance Coach, Riding Instructor.

Online & 1:1 Coaching,
Confidence Camps,
Confidence & Performance Talks,
Private & Group Workshops,
Bespoke Hypnotherapy Recordings,
Hypnosis CDS & mp3 Downloads.

Hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, confidence coach, instructor and NLP practitioner working with riders for over 30 years.

Copyright Amanda Kirtland-Page, 2016


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11 Tips For The Dressage Competitor

Dressage Tips


Competing can be a very rewarding experience. There is the excitement of the preparation and arrival at the venue, the competition itself where you get a measure of all your hard work, the feedback for your future schooling sessions and hopefully a rosette or two if it’s been a good outing! It is very addictive and you can easily start to move up the levels and enter teams as you improve. Here are some ideas and tips for you if you are just starting out:

1. Online Dressage

If you are completely new to dressage, or can’t get to a venue, this is an excellent way to start. All you need is as arena or field that is marked out, a friend with a phone that can video your test. It’s a great way to get the feedback you need from riding a test, so you know what scores you are likely to get when you do go to a venue. Remember of course, you can keep videoing your test as often as you want, until you are happy with final ‘take’ before submitting it!

Dressage4all  can give you all the help and advice you need.

2. Be working at home at a slightly higher level than the classes you enter.

You will feel far more confident if you are ready for the level above. However, when you are starting out, if you can get your horse to walk and trot a circle and get down that centre line to halt, then you are ready for an Intro test! If you struggle with any of the movements or need extra help feeling calm and focused at a competition, then visit the shop at Here you will find CDs and downloads specifically for Schooling and for the Dressage competitor.

3. Tips on learning your dressage test.

You usually have a few weeks to memorise the test(s), so you do have lots of time to prepare. There are many of ways to remember your test:

  • Every night before you go to bed, go through the test as you go to sleep. It’s amazing how much you do take in and remember if you do this regularly.dressage3
  •  ‘Ride’ it in your living room or down at the yard.
  •  Draw it out on paper. ‘Visual’ people love this!
  • Watch a YouTube video of it. Do make sure you get the right test though…
  • Sit down in a quite spot and ‘see’ yourself in your mind riding the test (as if you were on your horse).
  • Actually ride sections of it on your horse, but don’t do the whole test so your horse learns it too and starts to predict the movement.
  • Ride the whole test a few times on another horse. I used to ride Pedro’s tests on Hettie (who was working at a higher level) and Hettie’s tests on Pedro (minus the fancy bits!). It just gave me a sense of what movement followed on when and what direction I was supposed to be going.

You want to be able to ride the test to the best of your ability and remain focused on getting the best transition at a marker. Practicing in your mind will help you do this. If you know your test, that is one less thing to think about.

4. Decide if you would like to have a caller.

Make sure your caller is familiar with the test or has called before. I do suggest you ride it at home with someone calling. This is so you get used to hearing it whilst you ride. It’s surprising that for some riders it can be off-putting, but for others it just adds to the reassurance of knowing exactly where you are going.

5. Let your horse get used to other horses working around them.

Warm up arenas can be tricky if there are a lot of riders in there. If you don’t know how your horse responds to other horses coming up behind or passing, then get some friends to ride in an arena with you ‘as if’ you are riding in a warm up arena. It is not fair to expect your horse to cope with something like this if you have only schooled at home or at the yard on your own. It also means you know exactly what your horse will be like around others. Please, please learn the warm up arena rules, and if you are an instructor or friend helping out, don’t lean over the rails into the arena.

6. Be organised!

Have a checklist and keep a copy at home and one at the yard. The list should have everything YOU need and everything your HORSE needs. Absolutely everything! (I love lists, so not a chore for me). Arriving without a bridle, hat organisedor whatever will not help you to feel calm, even if you can borrow these things when you get there. Don’t beat yourself up though if you have forgotten something…A very experienced event rider I know left the yard one day with everything in their lorry but their horse… (Absolutely true!) However, I’m sure that’s one thing you will remember!

7. Make a timetable.

Whether it’s in your head or (preferably) written down, you must know what you are doing and when you are doing it. I usually work backwards:

  • Start: time of the first test.
  • Work back – the time you are going to tack up and then warm up at the venue.
  • Add time for ‘chill out’ prior to riding. (loo break/drink/egg bap/check out where the arenas are, etc.)
  • Time you should get to the venue (include extra for any traffic delays).
  • Time you’re leaving your yard.
  • Time to start washing, plaiting, preparing your horse. Plus a bit more time for feeding, booting up, etc.
  • Look at what you can do the day before.

I write all this down as soon as I have my start times. It may seem excessive, but by doing this, you are setting yourself up for the best day which will be fun and rewarding for both you and your horse!

8. Know exactly where your venue is and have all the directions and phone numbers you need.

I have directions to each venue already in my truck, plus venue phone number. On occasion, I have had to call the competition centre as there have been delays due to traffic. On these occasions I was able to do my test later than the stated test time. However, if you are unfortunate and cannot make it to the venue at all, it is courteous to just ring them as soon as possible so they can take you off their list.

9. Try to stay out of stressful situations

If the warm up arena is full of other horses, go and see if there is another area that is quieter. Get on earlier than you need if there is no other arena and walk around until there is a quiet spell before working. Once you have done your main warm up, then it is only a matter of a quick trot or canter before you are ready to go in. This is not a time to be schooling your horse, merely warming up. Do make sure you wear a watch so you can check on the time rather than depending on someone else.
If you know your horse is spooky or dislikes other horses coming close, consider tying a red ribbon to your horse’s tail. Normally this is to indicate your horse kicks, but you can do it anyway because the effect will be to keep everyone else at a distance.

10. Keeping you and your horse calm.

Hettie 002It can be all very exciting for your horse to arrive at a venue with lots to see. However, you need to be the one ‘consistent’ element for your horse when everything around is new, even if you don’t feel it, pretend to be calm.

11. Smile!

The judges have many riders to look at, and although this won’t affect your marks at all, it’s much nicer to watch a rider looking happy to be there. When smiling, you will look more confident (even if you don’t feel it at the time). Plus, it will help you relax a little.
Remember, everyone else is struggling with the same things, the same issues…just to different degrees. Celebrate all the bits you and your horse did well!! Don’t worry about the things that go wrong, that’s how we learn. Think of it more as a pointer to what you can start working on. If you are not sure about a comment on your sheet, try and catch the judge for a quiet word after your test (if they have time) and see if you can chat to them about how to improve your performance.

Above all, enjoy the day and take all the positives from it!
If you need any further help, do contact me for a free half hour chat:

Happy competing everyone!

Amanda Kirtland-Page
Adv Dip Integrative Counsellor, Accredited Hypnotherapist & Psychotherapist,
NLP Sports Coach, Confidence & Performance Coach, Riding Instructor.

Online & 1:1 Coaching,
Confidence Camps,
Confidence & Performance Talks,
Private & Group Workshops,
Bespoke Hypnotherapy Recordings,
Hypnosis CDS & mp3 Downloads.

Copyright Amanda Kirtland-Page, 2016