FAQ Riding

How can I calm my nerves before horse riding?

calm nerves horse riding
Written by Horse Rookie

Even the best riders get scared or nervous from time to time. 

When it comes to any sport, there’s good nervousness — and the kind of nervousness that can keep you off your horse and in the nearest washroom hugging the toilet.

Needless to say, your goal is to spend as much time (enjoying) riding as possible.

Click to see our all-time favorite riding nerves book at Amazon

Read on to learn how you can welcome the good kind of excitement, but banish all the bad stuff.

Thanks to Emily Harris for our feature photo!

Ready for a little sports psychology?

Here’s what the best athletic coaches know and tell professional athletes. After all, riding requires as much — if not more — sports psychology as basketball, hockey, and marathon running to perform at our best.

We think it requires more because we also have our horse’s unique psyche to consider, too!

Confidence fluctuates

Yep, confidence is a state of mind–and a fleeting one at that. Like anything mental, feelings of “I’ve got this!” will ebb and flow depending on your mood, past experiences, and the your horse’s state of mind and work ethic any given day.

Even when life is going well, are you constantly in the Best Mood Ever? Nope, every day has its differences, and outside influences are going to influence how you feel.

For example, you may be getting better with every riding lesson, but your drive to the barn today seemed filled with crazy drivers. Or, maybe your day at work was so stressful and busy that your window of opportunity to go see your horse shrinks dramatically.

By the time you pull into the barn parking lot, you’re already anxious and frustrated.

This is normal.

The important thing to remember is that the emotions you bring to the barn typically have very little to do with your furry friend over there at the hitching rail. 

Want to read a detailed account of how we manage our nerves? Check out our blog about 32 things you can do today to calm your riding nerves forever.

Focus is your friend

Think about the details of getting your horse ready, and you’ll stand a better chance of working out of your nervous state.

grooming-horseBreak down every task into smaller steps, and remind yourself to remain present for each activity. 

Grooming is relaxing for horse and rider, and this can help both of you lower your blood pressure and get in a better mood.

If you’re thinking about making your horse happy, you’ll be too busy to feel anxious. Grooming is also a wonderful bonding activity. Even if you run out of time to ride altogether that day, fear not.

No minute spent brushing and bonding with your equine partner is wasted. 

When time allows, I try to arrive an hour before I ride. This gives me a lot of time to groom my horse, tack up at a leisurely pace, and get in-tune with my horse.

Learn to visualize success

Visualization is not just for professional athletes! Taking the time to mentally picture yourself having a calm, assured ride is a great way to relax and get yourself ready for a good outing.

Close your eyes and see yourself in the saddle, feeling the movement, and guiding your horse confidently.

If you’ve been learning some new skills, imagine yourself performing them perfectly. Don’t let any thoughts about mistakes, doubts, or fears creep into your daydream. 

Whenever a rogue thought worms its way into your visualization, calmly thank it for stopping by and imagine releasing it into the wind!

Don’t Stop There

One of the best ways to rein in mental anxiety is with physical movement. That’s why even a quick “warm up” before you even set foot in the stirrup can help calm your nerves.

As you know, horseback riding uses a lot of muscles — you may have even discovered some new muscles you didn’t know existed once they got sore!

You can help prevent physical discomfort by always using a warm-up routine.

As a bonus, a brief warm up will get you in the right mental zone for your ride!

Start with stretches

Watch the video below for a quick set of stretches that’s perfect before you hop on your horse. You don’t get tired, like after a full workout at the gym, but you’ll get important areas like the legs, back, and shoulders ready to ride.

Focus on breathing deeply throughout, and make this part of your pre-ride routine.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFZdP6G2_78]

Find balance through yoga

If you enjoy yoga, or are open to trying it, there are several poses that can help you feel loose and balanced before your ride.

Check out our blog about the 5 yoga poses equestrians should do before every ride and 5 yoga tips for equestrians to get started!

The art of yoga focuses on breathing, balance, and suppleness. We can all agree those are key requirements for any productive ride with your horse, too!


You perform like you practice

At the end of the day, you need to treat your riding sessions like any sports practice. Every ride is a chance to improve your skills, bond with your teammates (in our cases, horses!), and train your body and mind for competition.

The more intentional you are about managing your nerves, the more calm and confident you’ll feel swinging into the saddle. Go get ‘em!

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About the author

Horse Rookie

I began riding horses at age six, and I'm just as infatuated (OK, more!) with the sport decades later. My AQHA gelding exemplifies the versatility of the breed -- reined cow horse, reining, roping, ranch riding, trail, dressage, and jumping. We're also dipping our toes (hooves) into Working Equitation!