07 Jun Becoming a Confident Horseback Rider: Complete Guide
Tips For Becoming a Confident Horseback Rider
No matter how experienced you are as a horseback rider, we’ve all had those moments where we didn’t feel so confident when riding. While some of us are naturally more bold than others, your confidence is something you can always improve if you put your mind to it.
So, what are some ways you can become a more confident horseback rider? You can become a more confident horseback rider by:
- Learning how horses think and communicate.
- Mastering groundwork with your horse to improve your abilities in the saddle.
- Riding your horse more frequently to develop a stronger bond with them.
- Taking riding lessons from someone more experienced than yourself.
- Riding many different horses so you become used to a variety of personalities and quirks.
- Knowing how to position yourself correctly in the saddle.
- Mastering the basics of horse riding.
- Making having fun a priority when working with horses.
Horseback riding is a sport that demands confidence from both the horse and the rider. Your confidence can help influence your horse to be more confident, whether you’re approaching an intimidating jump or taking them away from home for the first time. Keep reading to get an in-depth look at how to become a more confident horseback rider.
Learn How Horses Think and Communicate to Become More Confident
One thing that will make you feel more confident around horses altogether is understanding how the horse thinks, reacts, and communicates. Although horses can’t talk like humans can, they are constantly communicating with us through a swivel of the ear, the flick of a tail, and even the look of an eye.
Knowledge is power, and in this case, having the knowledge of how your horse thinks and communicates will give you the power of confidence. When you know a lot about something, you feel more confident when it comes to facing challenges that relate to the area you’ve studied.
If you are feeling insecure and timid when it comes to horseback riding, you can build your knowledge by talking to a riding instructor, other experienced horse people in your life, or reading books and articles that give you more information you need to know.
Understanding How Horses Think
The first thing to know in helping you better understand your horse is how they think. The way an animal thinks determines how they will react to both you and their surroundings.
A Horse Is A Prey Animal
First and foremost, a horse is a prey animal; this means their response to most things will come from their prey animal instincts. There are certain things a horse does that derive straight from this prey instinct; always being alert, not wanting to stand still, and even living in a herd and always wanting to be with other horses.
With this being said, it’s important to recognize that your horse’s first instinct in a scary situation will be flight. Likewise, if a horse is in a situation that they don’t like, they will want to move their feet and not want to stand still. When a horse is forced to stand still, then they don’t have the ability to escape if a “predator” shows up.
A Horse is a Herd Animal
A horse feels safer with a herd; this may be why your horse wants to run back to the pasture or whinnies repeatedly when you take them away from the other horses.
Horses have always been herd animals, as most prey animals are. Living in a herd allows there to be constant eyes on the perimeter to watch for predators. Herds have protectors that will watch over and protect the other horses.
A horse that’s away from its herd feels vulnerable and could be extra jumpy and cautious. In their mind, danger could be lurking around every corner, and the herd isn’t there to sense it or help protect them.
Understanding these two specific things about horses can completely alter your training methods and approach to working with horses. As humans, we tend to forget the natural nature of horses and force them into uncomfortable situations, expecting them to behave perfectly.
If you’ve found yourself in these situations and your confidence has been shaken, taking the time to better understand the thought patterns and instincts of your horse can help you feel more confident and achieve greater results with your horse.
Become a Confident Rider By Master Groundwork and Control
Another great way to gain confidence when it comes to riding your horse is to first feel confident managing your horse on the ground.
Groundwork is any training you do with your horse on the ground; it is considered the foundation of horse training. If you think about horses in the wild, they learn from each other at ground level, face-to-face; this means that teaching something to your horse from your saddle is more unnatural to them compared to learning it on the ground first.
Groundwork is great for teaching your horse to yield to pressure, respect your personal space, and stay focused on you. It’s also great for building the relationship between you and your horse where you establish yourself as a good leader.
When working with a beginner rider, the first thing I teach them is the basics of groundwork. They learn to lead and lunge the horse in a round pen before they are allowed to get on. This helps them to see how the horse moves and communicates as well as allowing them to get to know the horse a little more before they get on.
If you’re feeling insecure in the saddle, try staying on the ground and focusing on groundwork. Groundwork helps build trust between you and your horse, and I know I’m much more confident to get on a horse I trust versus one I don’t.
If you want some good exercises to work on with your horse, check out my article, 5 Best Groundwork Exercises For Your Horse.
Ride Frequently to Become a More Confident Rider
Have you ever heard the saying “practice makes perfect?” I remember starting a new job and feeling really insecure about my abilities and what I was supposed to be doing; however, by the end of the week, after doing my tasks every day, I was so confident that I could do them with my eyes closed! The same thing applies to horseback riding!
One reason you may find yourself feeling insecure in the saddle is that you aren’t riding enough. When I first started taking riding lessons, I only took one lesson a week.
So much time passed between lessons that I wasn’t able to retain and put information together like I needed to. It wasn’t until I started leasing my first horse and riding every day that I really started to feel confident in the saddle.
This can apply to those who have just gotten a new horse. Do you feel as if you’re not confident about riding this new horse? I bet if you ride the horse every day for a week, even for just 20 minutes at a time, you’ll feel much more confident to control the horse and understand how it thinks at the end of the week.
Take Lessons From an Experienced Horseback Rider
Let’s face it, none of us are perfect! The great thing about the horse world is that there is always something more to learn, and there is always going to be someone who knows more than you. Whether you feel like you need lessons or not, having a lesson every now and then can help boost your confidence.
One thing that puts me at ease about having an instructor or more experienced horse people around is that I can get a second opinion if I am struggling with something with my horse.
If I’m not feeling confident in my own knowledge and ability to solve the problem, I can share with my friend or instructor what’s been going on. They may have an approach to use that I’ve never thought about before.
While many may shy away because lessons often come with constructive criticism, just remember that this criticism is constructive; it’s meant to help you! Try and absorb all the knowledge you can from your instructor; ask questions and do your own research so you can come back later and have more to talk about!
If you’re planning on taking horseback riding lessons, check out my article for How to Prepare for Horseback Riding Lessons.
Ride Many Different Types of Horses to Improve Your Confidence
I remember any time my riding instructor would put me on a new horse, I would be so nervous. They moved differently, acted differently, and I wasn’t confident in my abilities to handle them. I’m sure there are many riders out there who have shared in this experience!
Up until I was 14, I mostly rode hunter horses; they had steady gaits and tended to be more “whoa than go.” But then I purchased a fat little project pony named Bella, and she was the complete opposite. She had tons of energy, could get strong, and was very bold. At first, I had no idea how to handle such a little horse.
Looking back, I realize that learning how to control and handle Bella lead me to be a much more confident rider. I wasn’t scared of the energetic horses anymore; in fact, I preferred them! Riding many different horses and learning how to handle many different personalities, abilities, and quirks made me much more confident to get on new horses.
If you feel insecure getting on new horses, make yourself ride different horses! While this may go against all your senses of self-preservation, it’s a great way to become a bolder and more confident rider.
Check Your Position and What It’s Communicating to Your Horse
This point isn’t really about feeling confident; it’s more about communicating confidence to your horse. Horses can pick up on our insecurities by even the slightest change in our seats.
When you start to feel nervous on a horse, you may subconsciously tighten your reins, lean forward, and squeeze with your knees. The horse can feel you tensing up, and this makes them get tense.
Even if you are feeling nervous on your horse, you can control what you’re communicating to your horse. I had a horse who had a rearing problem, so every time she would start to get nervous, I would subconsciously tense up on her back.
Well, this never helped the situation and it usually ended badly. Then one day, my instructor (ahem, read tip #4) pointed out that I was doing this and I should try to relax instead. Low and behold, it worked.
One thing you do when you’re on a horse and you start to get nervous is that you stop breathing. This makes your heart rate faster. If you’ve ever seen a scared horse and felt their heartbeat, their heart is racing.
If your horse feels your heartbeat start to pick up, theirs will as well. So, start by taking deep breaths. This naturally will help you relax your seat and sit back. Focus on keeping your weight down in your heels, but not gripping with your legs.
This is one of the most beneficial things I have learned when it comes to horseback riding. By communicating confidence to your horse, your horse will be more confident (which will make you even more confident!) Even if you’re feeling insecure about something, always take time to check your position and see what it’s communicating to your horse.
Become Confident By Mastering the Basics of Horseback Riding
One reason you may be feeling insecure about your horseback riding abilities is that it’s been a while since you’ve revisited the basics.
There are things you learn as a beginner rider that will translate to even the most experienced horse person. Learning to steer, stop, go, use your seat, your legs, and your reins; these are called “the basics,” because you must understand these principles in order to properly ride a horse.
If you’re nervous about jumping a bigger jump, start out your session by reviewing the basics of jumping. Jump some crossrails, trot and canter in your two-point, and do what you need to do to help you feel confident about advancing forward.
This can also help your horse feel more confident. There have been many times when I can feel my horse getting frustrated with something we’re doing, so I go back to the basic principle and stay there until I feel the horse’s confidence return.
There is no shame in taking a step back and going back to the basics if you need to. Realizing you need to do this makes you a better horse person altogether. Sometimes, going back to the basics can mean going all the way back to groundwork to help re-establish the trust between you and your horse.
Have Fun With Your Horse to Become a Confident Rider
While this point may be cliche, it’s totally true! Nothing will communicate confidence to your horse better than simply having fun and enjoying your time on horseback. Fun is contagious, and if you’re having a good time, your horse can have a good time as well!
Sometimes when my horse or I am frustrated or just getting tired of doing the same things, we’ll change it up and do something fun. This helps both of us get back in the right mindset and get back to where we feel confident in our abilities.
If you are constantly focusing on training and improving, it can sometimes become too much for you or your horse to bear. Suddenly, you’re only noticing your faults, which can make you less confident in your abilities.
Take time to return to why you ride horses in the first place! I ride because I enjoy working with such magnificent creatures. When I lose sight of that, I lose confidence in why I’m doing what I’m doing.
I hope this article was helpful for you and will help you build confidence in the saddle. Did you know you can train your horse to be more confident too? Check out our article Making Your Horse More Confident!
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.