BWRT World Congress 2023
Putting the Science into Brain to Rein
My talk today is about the concept that underpins a large proportion of my practice - Brain to Rein.
Brain to rein is a concept that horse riders have known about for years. It explains those subtleties of energy that are felt by a horse, even if when its rider is not aware of them.
Very simply, whatever the state of your mind when you’re riding, your horse will feel, and more often than not, will react to. It could make for a perfect partnership, which is one of the greatest joys of riding, or it could result in disaster. And that’s where BWRT comes in.
Horses are basically a half a ton of muscle with a ‘go to’ reaction to pretty well anything they deem even slightly dangerous, of flight. But not just flight, also spinning round at top speed when they see that unexpected, or expected cow, ducking out rather than going over a jump that’s too big, too small, too wide, too narrow, or perhaps dropping a shoulder and tipping you off when they decide the flowers at the end of the arena are the wrong colour. In other words, horses are incredibily sensitive and the only predictable thing about them is their unpredictability.
Having a partnership of mutual trust with your horse is the only way for you to have a pleasant riding experience. If you don’t have that relationship, you’ll spend the whole time anticipating falling off or you’ll end up in a constant battle with an animal that’s far bigger, stronger, faster and possibly more frightened than you are. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a top showjumper or a happy hacker, you won’t enjoy riding without that partnership.
To achieve that mutual trust, your horse needs to have confidence in you. He or she needs to feel that you know what you’re doing; that you’ll protect him or her, or at the very least that you’ll know the best course of action if anything in the slightest bit dangerous happens. And as a very sensitive being, your horse will have anything but that confidence if you yourself have any doubt in your ability. Therefore that role as a rider - to inspire confidence in your horse - means believing in yourself.
Having a riding instructor or coach can help your belief in yourself enormously. Who would have thought that paying enormous sums of money to someone to tell you exactly what to do could be such a safety net? And most riders will employ an instructor at some point but people with horses don’t want to only ride when they’re being taught, they want to be able to ride the horse on their own, they want to hack, they want to compete, they want to be able to take their horse to a dressage clinic, a showjumping clinic, the beach, through the woods, wherever. And they don’t want to only be able to do those things when someone else is holding their hand.
Confidence can be lost in a number of ways. It could be lost by having a fall and possibly injuring yourself, or by not doing as well in a competition as you thought you should and having an easy fence down, or by being humiliated by your horse misbehaving in front of others, maybe by being a prat on a public road when cars are trying to get past. And then of course a vicious circle is born. You worry that your horse is going to dump you, ruin a competition or embarrass you in public, your horse picks up on that fear, your horse consequently feels afraid, acts like there’s a monster under every leaf and so on.
And for a rider, that circle of fear, that loss of nerve, can be paralysing to the extent of feeling traumatised. I’ve witnessed riders crying with fear and with frustration. I’ve had friends who have become depressed and despairing because they can’t relax in the slightest they’re so frightened that something awful will happen. And riding becomes an anxiety inducing chore rather than much loved and fully embraced pastime as it once was.
You may say ‘well, why bother? Take up something safer like base jumping’. Well. Horses are a grand passion, and riding is a love affair that you never really get over. Despite the vast majority of riders, if not all, experiencing a loss of confidence at some point in their riding career, I don’t know of any that have given riding up as a result.
I myself have had that crisis of confidence about riding. I first learnt to ride at the age of seven and before my car accident at the age of 20 from which I became a wheelchair user, I was competing at a reasonable level. After a hiatus of 18 years after the car accident, I went back to it – that old love affair - and not long after that I bought my horse, Smartie. However about three years later, it was all I could do just to get on him, never mind actually ride him. There was no massive initial sensitising event. I just became more and more aware of my vulnerability. Well, I’d had enough experience of talking therapies to know it can take months or even years to get over this issue and I wasn’t prepared for that. So, after doing some research, I found BWRT. My riding confidence problem was resolved in four sessions. The day after the first session, I got on Smartie with no help from anyone, which is not the easiest thing to do anyway being disabled, and I rode him completely on my own with no one else there; no safety net. Smartie, not surprisingly once you understand the communication between horse and rider, was absolutely fine for once, no spooking at all. And that created a snowball effect. My confidence feeding his confidence, which fed mine etc. etc. And even if he had spooked, because of how BWRT works, I knew I could handle it. It was such a relief to have the belief that I could keep Smartie focused on me rather than the suspiciously coloured patch of grass. And with that, and as is the nature of BWRT, it grew and grew. And only a month later we won the first showing class we entered.
The experience of BWRT as a client inspired me to study to become a BWRT practitioner, and I recognised that my background with horses and first hand knowledge of the issues, are invaluable in working with other riders enabling them to address their own confidence issues.
As I think I’ve made clear, the passion that riders have for their sport, means they will do anything to keep riding. But they rarely, if ever, consider seeking therapy, partly because they find it difficult to conceive of a solution that doesn’t directly involve the horse. They also, invariably don’t have the money or the time to dedicate to a therapy that isn’t going to give them fast results. Money and time are both in very short supply if you own a horse. And of course most, if not all other therapies take a considerable investment in both resources, to take effect. If indeed they do at all, AND they’re subject to recidivism. All of this tends to mean other therapies will cost much, much more in the long run, than using BWRT.
There are many, many success stories I could list, but the one thing that stands out more than any other is the way BWRT works not only on resolving the presenting issue of confidence when riding, but continues to work, improving not only confidence in riding, but in other areas too.
Things I have taken from this are:
Riders are extremely motivated to gain or regain their confidence with their horses and their riding. I haven’t met one yet that has had a secondary gain from being too scared to ride. Or at least not one that’s stopped them from regaining their riding confidence.
They want fast results, they don’t have the time or money, or motivation, for anything else. They don’t want to wait for weeks or months to feel good enough while they have a half ton animal eating through their wage packet without any return.
They want a targeted therapy that also means they don’t need to revisit their childhoods or any past traumas, they just want to get on with it.
And lastly, riders have got too much to concentrate on while they’re actually riding to be also trying to employ a coping strategy at the same time.
BWRT, quite clearly, is the perfect fit.