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  • Writer's picture Rachel Smith

10 Ways to Become a Mentally Stronger Rider

Updated: May 31

Strengthen Your Mental Game to Ride Better Every Day



Becoming a stronger rider isn't just about physical strength, it's about mental strength as well. As riders, we often underestimate the power of our minds in the saddle.We focus so much on the ins and outs of working with horses, paying board, vet bills, whens the next farrier appointment, I need to get this supplement or that for my horse, what’s the next training marker we’re trying to hit, but we need to focus on ourselves just as much and make sure that we are ready for our rides and creating success on our side. Cultivating a strong mindset and working outside of the saddle is just as essential for overcoming obstacles, pushing boundaries, and achieving our riding goals as putting on the miles in the saddle.


Here are ten effective techniques that will help you build that essential mental fortitude that will take your riding game to the next level. 


1. Overcome Fear:

Fear is a common hurdle that many riders face. To conquer fear, equip yourself with powerful techniques such as visualization, deep breathing exercises, and positive affirmations. By confronting your fears head-on and reframing them as opportunities for growth, you can regain control of your emotions and ride with newfound confidence.


2. Build Confidence:

Confidence is key in any sport, but especially in riding and working with horses. As prey animals, they need a confident leader they can trust and depend on. Confidence is the cornerstone of successful riding. Building your confidence comes from starting with small steps and building momentum,  by setting achievable goals, celebrating your progress, and surrounding yourself with supportive peers and mentors, who can offer feedback and advice. As your confidence grows over time, you'll find yourself more willing to tackle new challenges and push past your comfort zone in the saddle.


3. Enhance Focus:

Riding demands focus and concentration. A focused rider is a successful rider. As riders we need to learn how to stay present during our rides and let go of outside distractions so that we can tune into our horse’s body language and cues.  The next time you ride, try practicing a few mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, counting in your head or even out loud or doing a body scan and feeling the sensations in each limb. Turn your phone off, quiet conversations, pay attention to your area of riding. When you can maintain your focus, and be present in the moments of your ride,  you’ll communicate more effectively with your horse and make quick, confident decisions in the arena..


4. Set the stage for your ride

We want to set ourselves and our horses up for success before and during every ride. This will optimize your performance and lead to more positive outcomes. When we come in scattered from our day, from the stressors of life, we aren’t preparing for our ride properly.  I always recommend developing a pre-ride routine such as a long intentional grooming session, stretching your body, and putting some music on to get you in a good frame of mind. Prime your mind and let go of everything else in life but the here and now with your horse. Set yourself up before every ride and you'll enter the saddle with a clear sense of purpose and determination. 


5. Practice Positive Self-Talk:

Your inner dialogue has a significant impact on your riding performance. What you believe about yourself, your horse, and your riding capabilities is what will become your truth. Your mindset shapes your reality both in and out of the saddle. One of the biggest things that will transform your riding is replacing negative self-talk with positive affirmations and encouraging statements. Before and during your rides, remind yourself of your strengths, past successes, and the progress you've made with your horse. By reinforcing a positive self-image and focusing on your capabilities, you'll boost your confidence and maintain a constructive mindset in the saddle. Here’s an excellent exercise I made to help you with this, if you find you struggle with this when riding. It’s called the brave script exercise. Click here to try it. 


6. Practice Visualization:

Harness the power of visualization to enhance your riding performance. Before mounting up, take a few moments to mentally rehearse your ride.This ties in with speaking positively about your skills, but actually visualizing those actions, gives your mind an even more powerful way to anchor into this and create it in real time for you. Close your eyes and visualize yourself executing flawless transitions, navigating your jump course or barrel pattern, and riding with confidence, poise, ease. Engage all your senses to create a vivid mental image of success. Visualization primes your mind and body for peak performance, boosting your confidence and reducing anxiety in the saddle.


7. Set Realistic Expectations:

Make sure you’re creating realistic expectations for your riding journey. While it's essential to push yourself outside your comfort zone, be mindful of setting goals that are attainable and within your current skill level. Lofty goals are admirable, but you’ll feel discouraged if you’re not progressing fast enough. Break larger goals into smaller, manageable steps, and celebrate each little milestone along the way. Savour the small goals you complete. When you set realistic expectations for you and your horse, you'll maintain your motivation and patience, and prevent feelings of overwhelm or frustration.


8. Adopt a Growth Mindset:

As riders we need to constantly be growing and adapting. There are an infinite number of resources out there for riders, for horse care, for training. Do not trust one single source, open your mind and LEARN. Constantly foster a growth mindset and seek new information, whether it be from your peers, equine professionals such as veterinarians, farriers, equine therapists, trainers, coaches. See every obstacle as an opportunity for growth and learning. Invest in your learning more than anything else. Make it your priority to develop and evolve as a rider. 


9. Develop Unwavering Trust:

In order to become a mentally strong rider, you need to learn how to develop trust in your gut, your instincts, your intuition and your horse. There are a lot of opinions and conflicting information out there in the horse world, and while it can all be very helpful it can also be confusing. You need to take all that you learn into account, and use that growth mindset, but at the end of the day, you as the rider, the horse owner, need to choose what feels right for you and your horse. You need to make decisions for your horse and your training. You need to learn to trust your horse and listen to your own intuition and find strength in your own convictions. Make the best choices you can make, do your research, listen to trusted professionals, but above all, develop an unwavering trust in yourself and your horse.


10. Foster Mental Toughness:

Building mental toughness is essential for navigating the challenges of riding with confidence and composure. Horses get injured, training regressions happen, personal injuries happen, unknown factors WILL come up. You are constantly going to face new challenges and setbacks with your horses. I’m sorry to say this, but you’ll never get anywhere with horses if you aren’t willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone, take on tough situations, and embrace the discomfort, uncertainty and unpredictability in working with horses. Know that by learning to overcome these obstacles and not getting too worked up by them, will actually fortify your mental resilience and make you a better rider and horse person. I know it's hard during the setbacks, but trust me, you’ll be grateful for them later on, when you learn the lesson you were meant to learn. By cultivating that mental toughness and trusting that you’ll get through hard times, you'll develop the grit and determination needed to excel as a rider, both in training and competition.



Becoming a mentally stronger rider is a journey that requires dedication, practice, and a commitment to self-improvement. But I believe in you, Rider. And I hope that after reading this article you are ready to believe in yourself a little more. 


Remember, your mindset is a powerful tool that can elevate your riding performance and deepen your bond with your horse. So, embrace these strategies, persevere through challenges, and watch yourself evolve into a stronger, more resilient rider!


~Rachel

Have you checked out the Resources for Riders page yet? There are MULTIPLE resources that can help riders like you to gain confidence in the saddle, release anxiety, connect more deeply with their horse, set goals for their riding and more. Everything you need to become a stronger rider!



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