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Confidence in Riding

Published: 7/11/2012
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By Maddy Butcher

How many of us struggle with confidence?
How many of us let this struggle impact our horsemanship?

The issue hit me full force this summer as I contemplated riding new horses. Sure, I was worried about getting bucked off. But more significantly, I was worried about being worried. Since horses are so darned sensitive, I knew they'd would feel my insecurity.

Confidence is a that vital yet elusive quality affecting many of us in our horsemanship journey. You cannot get it from a tack shop. You cannot get it from working out or taking lessons. Having the gear, knowledge, and experience are all mighty helpful, but confidence is an Inside Job.

Thankfully, I stumbled upon a few sources of inspiration.

1. A Commencement speech by author and artist Neil Gaiman.

Click here for video

 “Be wise,” he told his audience. “And if you cannot be wise, then pretend to be someone wise and then just behave as they would.”


Most people who struggle with confidence think they’re just not as good as they actually are. Most of their friends tell them, “You’re holding yourself back!”

So, I pretended to be the Queen of Everything. I pretended to be Miss  Horsewoman Extraordinaire as I tacked up Comet. [Comet was one tough customer when my boyfriend Steve Peters rescued her several years ago. Up until this summer, only Peters had ridden her.]

2. The second inspiration came from Elijah Moore.
One day last summer, I was riding Brooke and working with Elijah. He told me gently, “I think you’d do better and have more fun if you smiled.”
I did.
It worked.
I hadn’t realized how tense I’d gotten.

Recently, I've placed a Smiley Face on the horn of my saddle. Ok, it’s an imaginary one, but when I glance down at the broad, circular horn, it reminds me to SMILE and BREATHE.

Smiling and breathing for humans is not unlike licking lips and chewing for horses: they are all physical manifestations of a better mental place.
Sure, I’m playing Therapist For A Day. But these head games have helped make my first rides with Comet some of the best rides ever.

In the process, I’ve acquired some new horsemanship skills – not roping a cow or tying a special knot  - but life skills gained through horse work. I've learned that you’re only a tense and average rider if you let yourself be. I've learned that pretending to have fun and ride well often results in Real Fun and Fine Riding.

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7/16/2012 Jane
Some valid points Maddy but for some humans, the 'fake it til you make it' or 'feal the fear and do it any way' deal is not the best decision aboard a 1000lb chicken! I know certainly for me the moment I feel the uh oh! and oh boy! - my primeval survival flight instinct, I am off my horse toot sweet! giving myself permission to get off at any time I feel the fear has somehow made me smarter and braver in situations that could have turned really bad. Re-treat and re-approach allows me and my horse time to think and find relaxation again. Instinctual self-confidence around horses is the holy grail :)
7/19/2016 Jai Sequoia
Great article thank you! I have ptsd and have delt with fear when I feel fear under me (the horse). I think the first go to, if within reasonable limits (I'm not about to lose my mind with the fear) are FANTASTIC and remembering to breathe and smile and tell yourself (and your horse) "you're okay" is something that can be embedded in the basil ganglia of the brain (read 'your brain at work by David Rock... great understanding about the brain and how we use it to learn, work and live). The basil ganglia is the place where we embed pathways to physical and emotionals steps. It then becomes the automatic 'go to'. So this is wheere I whole heartedly agree with what you've written here :-) I also do agree with Jane in her comment if I don't feel I'm able to keep it together and help my horse get through what is happening from the saddle, I go to the ground where I know I can manage the situation and keep us both safe and keep our relationship in good standing. Many people (and yes me on occasion) get angry when they are afraid (self protection mode) so that is another scenario where I will get off and figure out what is going on and what I need to be a good leader again. Thanks for the opportunity for this conversation! Jai Sequoia - MyHorseIsMyGuru ;-)

"Practice sharpens, but overschooling blunts the edge. If your horse isn't doing right, the first place to look is yourself" - Joe Heim