You can help make horse riding fun for nervous riders. It starts with boosting confidence.
The size and unpredictability of horses (understandably) causes many people anxiety. Even those who have ridden for years often go through periods when their confidence in the saddle takes a downturn. We’ve all been there!
Horse riding should be fun, and intentional steps can help you swing into the saddle with confidence, a positive outlook, and a mind that’s ready to learn. In this article, we’ll talk about three ideas that can help you gain more confidence while riding:
With a little faith, and a good dose of self-awareness, you can become the confident rider you long to be.
Thanks to Emily Harris for our feature photo!
Want (a lot) more tips? Check out our 32 Things You Can Do Now to Calm Your Riding Nerves Forever.
Nerves are Normal
Making the move from the ground to the saddle can be intimidating, regardless of your age, experience, or chosen riding activity.
Before we dig into a few ways to boost your confidence riding horses, let’s talk about a few of the reasons you might crave that boost in the first place.
There’s a lot going on
Not only are you trying to balance on a giant moving object, you’re simultaneously coordinating your hands, legs, and steering.
Unlike a car, your horse also has opinions of his own and may think he’d make better decisions or pick a better path and pace than you’ve dictated.
Add speed to that equation, and there’s a lot of movement taking place! Worrying about your horse “taking over,” feeling unbalanced, or trying to control the situation can feel overwhelming.
No judgement there! It can be really hard to relax while riding horses, especially when you’re dealing with the constantly shifting co-pilot we just talked about.
It’s absolutely natural to find yourself bracing against your horse’s movements versus flowing with them. Once your horse picks up on you tension, he’ll get stiff and worried, too.
You’re thinking all the time
Just like riding a bike or practicing other skills, horse riding involves a lot of muscle memory that takes years (ahem, decades) to master. No one expects you to be completely chill while you’re learning where all the buttons are and what they do!
Believe it or not, even the best of riders started out with dorky moments, uncoordinated goofs, and tight muscles. Our brains shift into overdrive when we feel insecure, and negative self-talk can erode confidence.
That’s a big reason why we love Andrea Monsarrat Waldo’s book Brain Training for Riders. She goes deep on how your mind works, why it tries to protect you in some unhelpful ways, and how you can tame your lizard brain to unlock your potential.
Feeling nervous about getting on your horse? Read our post about being Scared to Ride Your Horse: How to Get Your Mojo Back.
3 Ways to Boost Your Confidence
There are a lot of exercises and tools you can use to increase your riding confidence. You’ll learn about three of our favorites below, but you’ll also want to check out our deep-dive article about 32 tips for nervous riders.
Add bareback riding to your repertoire
If you have the opportunity, and you and/or your trainer agree your horse is calm enough, try to ride bareback as much as possible.
You might be thinking: “Bareback?! Why would I do that if I’m nervous as it is?”
It’s counterintuitive, but removing the sense of security a saddle and stirrups provide is a fantastic way to develop a truly secure seat and become comfortable with the movement of your horse.
Pro Tip: Thinline makes a really comfortable bareback pad that cushions seat contact points, protects your clothes from horse hair and sweat, and even features a set of D-rings so you can easily attach a grab strap for insecure moments.
Begin with lots of walking and casual bareback rides. You can also have someone lead your horse at first, then graduate to riding on a lunge line if you want to take things slower.
You’ll start to get a feel for how your horse’s muscles move beneath you, and your sense of balance will grow with every step. The more comfortable you become, the less inclined you’ll be to grip for dear life and clamp your legs around your horse.
Go slowly. Appreciate the small changes in your horse as you make turns and change speeds.
Bareback riding also helps you learn to pick up on your horse’s emotions so you can tell when he’s feeling anxious, tired, or happy. Understanding your horse’s mental state helps you feel far more in control while you ride.
Here’s a great video from CRK Training that introduces you to the idea. Looks fun, right?[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHBVzQpTd6A]
Get past the urge to over-analyze every step your horse takes or every “what if” your brain concocts by trying some visualization exercises.
These mental images calm your breathing and nervous system so your ‘lizard brain’ understands you’re safe.
- Imagine that your legs are so long they reach the ground while you ride, and that you’re trying to gently drag your toes along the sand.
- Try to think about what it would feel like to have a balloon tied between your shoulder blades, lifting your back gently upward.
- Pretend your reins are three inches thick, and stuffed with feathers.
- Imagine the arena is a giant colorful ball pit, like you’d see at a kids party. If you fell off your horse, it wouldn’t hurt at all — it’d be funny!
- Think about there being a balloon inside your belly that you need to fully inflate and deflate with deep breaths.
Each of these will encourage you to loosen up, keep your mind focused, while remember that riding is supposed to be fun!
Shift how you view your horse
It isn’t your horse’s job to behave perfectly and ensure you have a good ride.
Your horse isn’t a machine. He’s your partner.
Your horse has good days, bad days, and opinions and fears about what’s going on from minute to minute–like you do. Respect that his perception is his reality.
The more you can do to exude calm, joy, and comfort while you’re riding, the more he’ll believe that life is good and he’s safe, too.
Look between those adorable fuzzy ears, and focus on helping your equine partner enjoy the ride!
Calm, Cool & Connected
Riding is for everyone, especially those of us who get anxious or feel like we lack some necessary skills. Horses have the benefit of living truly in the present. They aren’t worried about what happened yesterday or might happen tomorrow.
So much of our worry, as riders, is based on the past or the future. When we focus on staying present with our horses, much of your anxiety will fade away.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- 32 Things You Can Do Today to Calm Your Riding Nerves Forever
- Scared to Ride Your Horse? Here’s How to Get Your Mojo Back
- Will an air vest help if I’m scared to ride my horse?
- 5 Yoga Poses Equestrians Should Do Before Every Ride
- Myth Busters: Do Horses Actually Like Being Ridden?
- Keep Calm & Ride On: Meet the 3 Calmest Horse Breeds