The Centre of Horseback Combat rider confidence course, reviewed by Dan Sawyer.

I had ridden a bit before taking up horseback archery, so that I could canter with only a moderate amount of fear and discomfort.

A few sessions of horseback archery at the Centre of Horseback Combat, together with a few lessons from Karl, had put me more at ease, to the extent that I could ride at a medium paced canter whilst shooting without worrying. I was still pretty nervous before I started each time.

At the European Open in 2011 I competed in the new Polish style event, which is run over a cross-country course. My confidence went through the floor even before I landed on the said floor, which I did in spectacular fashion.

Not for the first time in competition, I selected a slow horse out of fear of the faster ones and ended up losing lots of points though time penalties. Something had to be done.

I arrived at the Centre of Horseback Combat on a freezing morning in November.

Over a cup of steaming tea Karl explained the format and we then went straight into the first of two sessions of hypnotherapy.

The great physicist Nils Bohr used to have a horseshoe hanging on the wall of his study.

When somebody incredulously asked whether he believed it would bring him good luck he replied: “Of course I don’t believe that, but I’m told it works whether you believe in it or not!”

Hypnotherapy for me was a bit like that. I am a deeply sceptical person and had no expectation that hypnotherapy would work on me.

Within five minutes of the start of the session I was as relaxed as I can remember being and at the end of the session, when Karl said it was time to get on the horse I felt more confident than I have ever felt before whilst getting on a horse. Quite why it worked, I don’t know. But it did.

The riding section of the course started with learning to shift position in the saddle and recover from what might be called “half-falls”. Slipping down so that only one calf is still hooked on, I learnt to haul myself back into place.

Next came rearing. This is something I had done once by accident and had not particularly enjoyed.

By the end of this section of the course I was doing all I could to hold the horse up in the rear for long enough for a photo to be taken. It was as comfortable as sitting a resting horse.

Not that it was all fun and games — the serious part of the lesson was how to deal with a horse that won’t come down.

Simple steps, repeated several times, left me confident that if a horse rears I will be able to deal with it.

After a well-earned lunch I learnt what I think is an essential survival art — what to do if a horse falls, rolls or just lies down.

Of course there was no falling or rolling, but the superbly trained Niagara would lie down on command, allowing me to practise stepping out of the saddle, holding the horse down, stepping away and, just as importantly, staying in the saddle as the horse gets back up again — a vital skill if your foot is stuck in a stirrup.

Mine wasn’t, of course, but through a combination of this controlled lying down and discussion of what to do when things are less controlled, I was taught how to avoid the nightmare scenario of being crushed and/or dragged by a horse that has fallen.

The last riding section of the course required some extra protection. The time had come to learn about falling. First I was given varying bits of padding — hips, knees, body (I was wearing a hat throughout, of course). Then came a talk on keeping the arms in and rolling on impact. “All well and good”, I thought, “but falling off a horse is going to hurt no matter what”.

It didn’t. First from a standing horse, then walking, trotting and finally cantering, I merrily took my feet out of the stirrups and hurled myself from the saddle, rolling away and, after a small struggle to get up — there really is a lot of padding — I walked back to the horse to do it all over again.

Before this course I had fallen off a horse precisely twice. I have no idea how many times I jumped off in that session. Dozens for sure. And all with no fear, no pain and a lot of fun.

The day finished with a second hypnotherapy session. Again the relaxation, again the confidence — although this had been growing all day. An excellent day was then rounded out with another piping cup of tea as I changed for the drive home.

The day had not only been tremendous fun — I would recommend it to those who have no confidence issues, simply for the fun aspect — it had also left me feeling confident that I could now deal with most things that a horse is likely to do whilst riding.

A couple of months after the course I went to a new riding school near my home, to learn western riding. After weeks without riding I was getting onto an unfamiliar horse with an unfamiliar saddle and tack to learn a whole new system of riding. It wasn’t until some time later that I realised I hadn’t given it a second thought. Nerves simply didn’t feature.

Now that’s a confidence course.

Websites:
www.horsebackcombat.co.uk

www.stampedestuntcompay.co.uk

Contact: Tel 01442 462715 / 07853 316531