Confident Riding

When I was 6 years old, I was kicked in the stomach by a rather naughty pony named Gomez who obviously thought I was holding him up on the way to his dinner. For a long time after, though I still loved horses, I became very anxious around them, particularly riding. It wasn’t until middle school that my family acquired a bombproof Haflinger that I gained confidence on, before moving on to the slightly more forward thinking Tanner, and finally, graduating to a ‘real’ horse and taking on eventing with Merry.

Merry going Novice @ The Fork

Merry going Novice @ The Fork

Even though my confidence in the saddle has come in leaps and bounds since the days of W-T-C, sometimes I find myself needing a good pep talk. Self doubt loves to creep in, especially when on on my own in the arena. All those what-if’s buzzing around can be distracting and worse case scenarios can easily start to haunt every other thought. As part of training my own horse, I am required to be a leader as well as a partner to him, and keeping confidence is something I am aware of all the time.

So this article on 5 Things Confident Riders Avoid was particularly interesting to me.

The areas I can improve directly relate to problems #1 and #5 in the article. I try hard to break the cycle of negative thinking, but it’s my greatest issue. This directly relates to my avoiding certain spooky situations. For instance, Foster likes to spook at horses or humans walking up the path to the outdoor arena. I’ve been guilty of allowing him to stop and watch them come up- instead, I should press on with our work. While I know as I’m doing it that it’s wrong, I haven’t made myself correct the behavior entirely.

Water jump 1


We talked recently about the rider’s mental game and how it leads to successful showing experiences. But being confident and focused on the positive can certainly apply to everyday riding too, especially when it comes to stepping out of your comfort zone.

What do you do to feel confident in the saddle? What are your fears and anxieties that you are currently trying to master?

15 thoughts on “Confident Riding

  1. As weird as it is, when I start getting anxious I actually start to think of all the times I’ve been on a horse that’s acted up in the past. It reminds me that 9 times out of 10 I am perfectly capable of handling what pops up, and that I’ve always been able to bounce back from any injuries.

  2. I’m pretty much trying to work on the same points you are. In that article specifically, basically everything BUT ‘ride the right horse’ since I feel like I already do that. Confidence is a huge issue that I struggle with on an almost daily basis.

  3. Repetition and realistic goals are the two things that have helped me tremendously on my goal to being confident in the saddle again. I do things over and over until they are mundane. And I don’t reach for the stars with my goals, I make them small and realistic — that way I CAN achieve them and feel good about doing so.

    • That approach definitely makes sense. I also find solace in repetition- and that’s where my jumping has been my mental weak point of like- we haven’t jumped hardly at all, so forget repetition entirely!

  4. Lately I’ve noticed a trend in my jump lessons/schooling where I get on and at first 2’6″ is looking kinda big. Then we pop around the course and everything feels small/reasonable and I’m totally ready for more. I’m not sure if this is a natural progression of confidence for each ride, but when I show myself that Murray and I can do it, I feel so much more confident. Thinking about the times we have done it is helpful, but not as good as actually doing it. I think this means that I just have to make sure to school at my confidence level until my confidence boosts up to the next level!

    • Yes- this is me too. I’ll set up a fence and then when I look at it from the horse I think- oh no! That looks too big! But after jumping it a few times it always starts to shrink in size and scariness 🙂

  5. You know, my anxiety is rarely related to a horse misbehaving. Instead, it seems to be all tied up in looking like an idiot. I don’t like to push the riding envelope in front of others. Instead, I’ll toodle around doing easy things, or things I feel confident in asking. Of course, when I do easy things I’m not challenged to ride better, so I tend to ride far less securely and with a much crappier position.

    Ride like no one is watching, right?

    • Haha, yes! Ride like no one is watching! Or as my old coach used to say, ride ’em like you stole ’em!

      I used to have terrible show anxiety- now I try to put on my best ‘damn it I’m awesome’ face and showing has become so much better. The only person this fails with is my mother- I *still* cannot ride well in front of her!

  6. For myself, and my daughter, and my riding students I always say BREATHE. Breathe deep and slow, so your horse synchs to you and also picks up on calm and confidence. Even if it’s not really how I’m feeling inside! Sorta a fake it till ya make it attitude.

    • I used to hold my breath CONSTANTLY- my old trainer would hook a walkie-talkie up to me at shows and that seemed to be her constant mantra. Only recently did a new instructor remind me to breathe, and I realize I have not kicked the habit!

  7. i am definitely on the confidence struggle bus haha. but i try very hard to stay positive and *trust* my horse. it’s really difficult for me to let go… but i’m working on it. repetition and not over-thinking things, and just ‘going for it’ are helping slowly but surely

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