Jodine's Blog

Thoughts, reflections, stories and insights on leadership and life.

Seven Steps to Confidence for Riders

confidence for riders Feb 29, 2024

Your horse naturally senses how you are feeling, so pretending you are not nervous is a recipe for tension and resistance–in both you and your horse. These seven simple steps will calm your nerves, boost your confidence and help your horse relax. The calmer you and your horse become the more fun you’ll have. These steps are easy to implement and a snap to remember, you’ll be armed for success at home and on the road.

Whether you’re nervous about riding, or are simply dealing with show ring butterflies, your horse picks up how you are feeling. As prey animals they are hardwired to notice shifts in the energy, emotions and physical bodies of everything around them. Some horses may become a little tense when you do, others might notice a lapse in leadership and start to take over. Either reaction isn’t much fun when you’re already feeling a little anxious. 

So let’s get started with some easy ways to calm your nerves and have more fun doing what you love to do!

1.     Think Positive: Whether you want it to or not your body automatically responds to your thoughts, and your horse responds to your body. When you think about what makes you nervous your body will stiffen, your heart will beat faster and you’ll start to hold your breath. The opposite happens when you think relaxing thoughts. If you catch yourself thinking of what might go wrong take a breath and then focus on a memory of when things went really well.


2.     Breathe: Holding your breath is a natural response to stressful situations, yet when you hold your breath your body tightens. In doing so you not only have a harder time responding physically, you have less oxygen going to your brain to help you think clearly (and remember courses).

Purposefully taking long deep breaths will help your body—and your mind—relax. The great thing about breathing deeply is you can do it anytime, anywhere. I suggest trying it before you get on, while you’re warming up and even in the show ring. It’s simple and it works!


3.     Sing: Sing, and sing out loud. Singing is one of my favourite tools, especially if I’m having a hard time thinking positively. When you sing it forces you to keep breathing and it keeps your mind busy. If you’re busy thinking of the words to a song it becomes more difficult for those pesky negative thought to pop up. 


4.     Take it One Step at a Time: When you are feeling scared or nervous it becomes harder to learn and make good decisions. There is a lot going on at horse shows so if you don’t consciously slow down it’s easy to become overwhelmed. An easy way to slow down is to break your day into small steps and then give your full attention to each one. 

For example, while tacking up try to focus on your horse’s cleanliness and turnout rather than how he’ll behave in the show ring. In the warm up ring listen to your coach’s advice and be considerate of other riders. The more you focus on the task at hand the calmer you’ll be.


5.     Visualize: Visualization is a tool that many top athletes, including riders, use to improve and get the best out of their performance. By creating a mental video of an event or situation, and going over it in your mind while in a relaxed state, you can increase the likelihood that the situation will go according to your plan. 

All you have to do is take a few minutes before you tack up and imagine yourself riding exactly as you need to for the show to be a success. If you don’t see clear or vivid pictures right away don’t worry, that’s normal. Just talk yourself through your imaginary ride.


6.     Educate Yourself: One of the easiest ways to combat those horse show nerves is to learn as much as you can beforehand. Study show ring etiquette and ask your coach what the judges are going to be looking for. Practice tests or courses at home and give yourself plenty of time to memorize them before it’s your turn to enter the ring. The more you plan ahead the less there is to worry about on show day.


7.     Have Fun: Last but not least, have fun! You’ve likely been working towards this day for a while and you deserve to enjoy it. Even if things don’t go as intended focus on what is working, even if it’s laughing with a friend as your horse makes goofy faces hoping for a treat. Having fun boosts your confidence and loosens up your body.


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