Anna Davey, an avid rider, struggled with anxiety and chronic pain for seven years. When it became so mentally crippling that she almost sold her beloved horses and gave up riding forever, she knew things had to change.

In her search for answers, Anna came across Brain Working Recursive Therapy (BWRT), a modern technique that retrains your brain and creates new neural pathways that change the way your mind responds to anxiety. BWRT was created 10 years ago by British psychotherapist Terence Watts. It’s based in neuroscience and has gained ground worldwide as it works quickly and effectively for fears, phobias, anxiety and more.

Thanks to BWRT, Anna was able to re-frame past trauma and anxiety which transformed her health. She found the therapy so powerful that she is now a BWRT-trained therapist helping other riders to get back in the saddle by overcoming old traumas. This might range from a riding accident to a general lack of confidence and ‘imposter syndrome’, enabling them to re-engage with the joy that is riding horses.

How does BWRT work?

For most people, by the time they become aware of their adverse reaction to something (anxiety or fear), those deep processes in the brain have become a pattern, a thought loop that’s hard to break. And this is where BWRT comes in. It uses natural psychological processes to recondition neural pathways in the brain that lead to unwanted behaviour.

By stopping and rerouting the brain’s natural response to anything traumatic or not understood in its tracks, BWRT then allows you to choose your new positive response.

How does the therapy work for riders?

With minor and irrational fears, we can get into a loop of “what ifs”: “What if my horse spooks?” “What if I fall off?” and the list goes on. The more we ruminate on these thoughts, the deeper they get ingrained into our neural pathways and the quicker they become a habitual fear reaction to riding. By repeating these negative thoughts and fears, you are literally programming yourself and creating the new habit of being a nervous rider.

BWRT helps you stop this thought loop in its tracks and replace it with a more preferred and positive thought and feeling. Not only does it help you regain confidence, it also improves your relationship with your horse, as they will react positively to your new-found confidence.

Tips for regaining joy in riding

1. Practice relaxation techniques

Modern-day life is both a blessing and a curse. We have pretty much everything that we need at our fingertips, information is easily accessible; we live in privileged times. And yet our brains and nervous system have not been able to keep up with the super-fast progress of the past century.

Consequently, we can feel stressed, overwhelmed and unsafe quite quickly due to the over-stimulation, so we go to our horses with all of life’s stressors swimming around in our minds and bodies and find it hard to switch off.

When we practice relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, meditation, and breath work daily, over time we reset our minds and nervous systems to a more resilient level and are therefore less likely to be triggered by riding fears and insecurities.

2. Drop the perfectionism

You’re good enough, no matter what your mind is telling you!

There is no point in riding if you are not enjoying the process because you are constantly too hard on yourself. Self-criticism, or feeling like you are not good enough or not doing a good enough job, is a form of self-torture and becomes a stressor to the body and mind. You started riding for pleasure, joy, freedom and fun – always remember that, and also remember that where you are right now with your horse is just fine.

Things will improve – they always do – so let it go and allow yourself to be imperfect while you work through any challenges that might be coming up.

3. You do not have to struggle alone

For the really big traumas and fears which have resulted in a state of chronic freeze, procrastination, avoidance or flashbacks creating unwanted ‘fight or flight’ physiological responses that your subconscious mind is unwilling to let go of, consider seeking help. Be willing to invest in yourself.

As riders, we tend to provide our horses with everything they need and more, but we don’t always do the same for ourselves. The right therapy, such as BWRT, can quickly and efficiently eliminate the issues that are blocking you, allowing you to get back to the joy of riding. You will be pleased that you did once you’re back in the flow with your horse!