Riding is supposed to be fun! But sometimes, a lack of rider confidence can ruin your enjoyment of the sport you love.
If you want to get your riding mojo back, read this guide on how to improve rider confidence!
What makes a confident rider?
There are two elements to horse-riding confidence:
- Technical skill
- A positive mental attitude
Sometimes, one element can compensate for deficiencies in the other.
That’s why a less technically competent rider can sometimes get better results in a competition, purely because they believe they can. Compare that with the technically expert rider who goes to pieces mentally in a competitive situation. Their performance will probably not be as good as that of the first rider.
Ideally, you want to have both the technical skill and a positive mental attitude, so let’s look at both aspects individually and how you can improve them.
There are a few practical ways in which you can improve your technical skills to help boost your rider confidence.
1 – Get a good trainer
Even the world’s greatest riders never stop learning.
Seeking the help of a good trainer is not something to be ashamed or afraid of, and you’ll be amazed how quickly your confidence will improve once you get a few valuable lessons under your belt.
If you can’t afford lessons, take a look at some of the YouTube videos made by top trainers. These are free to view, and you can pick up some very useful tips from them. And don’t forget that there are dozens of helpful articles on our website that you can check out, too.
Related Read: What to Look for When Selecting a Dressage Trainer
2 – Don’t be over-horsed
Many riders lose their confidence because they are over-horsed.
Unfortunately, dressage judges see many combinations that are totally mismatched. Often, the rider has fallen head over heels in love with a stunning horse that is beyond the rider’s current ability. That can lead to the horse becoming belligerent and difficult to ride, and the rider’s confidence level plummets into her boots.
Sometimes, an inexperienced rider takes on a young horse, and it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. The rider has a few bad experiences, and both parties lose confidence in each other.
If either of those scenarios sounds familiar to you, the best thing to do is admit defeat gracefully, sell the horse, and find something that you can feel confident with.
Related Read: How to Know if You are Over-Horsed
3 – Get riding fit!
If you have a secure independent seat and you’re well-balanced and supple in the saddle, you will feel more confident.
So, if that means shedding a few pounds, getting down to the gym, signing up for Pilates classes, or all of the above, then do it!
A positive mental attitude
So, let’s look at ways in which you can develop a more positive mindset to improve your confidence in the saddle.
1 – Stop focusing on what might go wrong!
There’s a saying that’s pretty appropriate for this scenario, and that’s, “Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday!”
In other words, if you spend all your time worrying about what might go wrong, you can’t focus on the here and now.
Teach yourself to concentrate on what’s happening at the moment, not what might go wrong when you ride down the centerline next week. Focus on how your horse feels underneath you right now and work on improving his way of going.
Don’t even think about the potential tiger that might be lurking behind B in a forthcoming event that’s still days away.
2 – Set realistic goals
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Aiming too high too soon is a surefire way of setting yourself up for failure.
Instead, set small, achievable goals and learn to celebrate every success, no matter how small. That boost you get from every achievement is a great way to increase your positive mindset and make you feel more confident.
Related Read: How to Set Rider Goals (10 Tips)
3 – Don’t let others’ opinions affect you
In the horsy world, everyone has an opinion. Sometimes, a few pointers can be helpful if they come from someone knowledgeable who genuinely wants to help you. But listening to the naysayers who make snide comments about your riding or your horse will only destroy your confidence.
Ignore what other people are saying or doing. Concentrate on your horse and yourself. The chances are, those critics are only jealous of you and your achievements anyway!
4 – Don’t be a perfectionist!
Although you might strive for perfection in your riding, in the real dressage world, perfection doesn’t exist.
Think about it; even Olympic gold medalists don’t score a perfect 100% for their dressage tests!
If you decide to accept nothing less than perfection, you will only end up beating yourself up when you don’t achieve that. And that will surely dent confidence as a rider. Instead, learn to be happy with very good, instead of insisting on perfect.
5 – Don’t forget to have fun!
Spending time with your horse, schooling, hacking out, and competing are all meant to be fun activities.
The more you enjoy doing something, the more confident you will feel, and the more fun you will have, and so on. But the converse applies, too.
So, if you start to continually judge your performance in the saddle and criticize yourself for what went wrong, you’ll forget to have fun. The less fun you have and the less enjoyable your riding becomes, the less confident you will feel.
After every lesson, competition, schooling session, trail ride, and lunging session, write down three positive things that you enjoyed.
And above all, make riding fun!
What if you’ve lost your nerve?
If you have a bad fall or some other scary experience, your confidence can take a real knock.
Unfortunately, your brain is hard-wired to protect you from such potentially dangerous experiences. For example, if you had a bad fall when riding in the outdoor arena, your brain tells you not to ride in that place again. So, whenever you even think about riding in the outdoor arena, you probably start looking for excuses not to!
However, there are a few things that you can do to overcome a loss of nerve.
1 – Take a breath
When you start to feel nervous, slowly take a deep breath in, counting to five as you do so. Now, slowly breathe out again, counting to five.
Repeat that exercise until you begin to feel calmer.
Breathing in that way slows your heart rate, which your horse will pick up on, too. As a result, you’ll both be more relaxed and confident.
2 – Take a body scan
If you have tension anywhere in your body, your horse will pick it up right away and probably become tight and tense too.
If you always feel that your saddle doesn’t fit you or your stirrups are the wrong length when you mount up at a competition, that’s because you are tense somewhere in your body. Tension will prevent you from sitting softly, and that will affect how you ride your horse, further denting your confidence.
Before you mount up, slowly work your way down your whole body, starting in your face and jaw, and then move on to your shoulders, arms, wrists, fingers, core, buttocks, legs, even your ankles and feet.
Tense up each area individually as hard as you can, and then relax. That simple exercise is a great way of removing tension from problem areas before you get onboard.
3 – Swing your hips
As the horse walks, consciously count the number of times that your hips swing from side to side.
Once you reach 10, start counting again. Now, use that hip swing to deliberately slow the horse’s tempo. You can use the exercise in trot and if you’re on foot too.
This technique is very useful for calming a tense horse, makes you feel more in control, and, therefore, increases your confidence.
4 – Try hypnotherapy
In cases of extreme loss of confidence, taking a course of hypnotherapy sessions with an experienced, qualified hypnotherapist can be extremely effective.
If you can’t afford that, there are lots of really helpful self-hypnosis videos available for free on YouTube.
A lack of confidence can ruin your enjoyment of your passion; horse riding. But whatever the reason for your confidence wobble, you’re sure to find something to help you in the tips we’ve given in this article.
If you have any other tips on how to boost rider confidence, please share them with us in the comments box below.