Become a better rider by reprogramming your mind.
Want to:
  • Improve your riding?
  • Have horses go better for you?
  • Get horses to be more attentive, responsive and safe?
  • Experience less frustration, confusion, fear and even anger?
  • Learn things more quickly?
  • Develop more feel?
positive thinking

See your mind as an aid

People often forget that riding is 50% physical-and 50% mental. Whether you’re trying to learn something new, improve your performance as a rider, build confidence, train a horse to go better, making the best of your and your horse’s mind is the fast lane to getting positive results.

Positive mind power
You may be one of those people who think that positive thinking and NLP are just trendy buzz words and that good riding is all about common sense and natural ability. But in fact riders with a confident and positive attitude actually achieve better results with their horses than riders who may have more technical riding ability but a negative outlook. Horses naturally follow a positive leader (not a bully) both human and equine. A simple example of using positive thinking is getting a horse to jump. If there is a positive commitment from the rider to fly over the obstacle, the horse will most likely go for it. If there is a seed of doubt in the riders mind, the horse might well think “My rider suspects this might be difficult, so I’m not sure if I want to risk hurting myself, so I’ll just stop at the last minute or duck out to the side…”

So how can you be more positive without deluding yourself into thinking you’re totally marvelous by being unrealistic? The answer is you can start to reprogram your mind even if right now it’s telling you that it is impossible and you cant change the way you are.

Think positive
The 7 steps to building a positive attitude

1. Focus on every small success – Expect less from your horse and yourself and be pleased with the smallest success. Even a half a circle or halt done perfectly well is an achievement especially as we all know all horses can be challenging some times. Learn to see and enjoy the tiny elements of progress and tell your self well done, or at least try and be pleased with yourself. Small elements of progress are how most training happens with horse and rider, so try and remember what the good moments felt like, so that you can reproduce them later.

2. Leave the negative things behind – You don’t have to beat yourself up over stuff that goes wrong. Really you don’t! If we never make mistakes, we never learn. We have all had experiences where we have taken away learning’s from some painful moments in our riding, Try not to get attached to these memories and moments by playing them over and over again in your mind like a favourite video. As you leave your stables or school, try and drop all the things that went badly for you and your horse into an imaginary rubbish bin- Go on it won’t hurt! And leave them there - You will be amazed as how quickly you will forget them and start focusing on all the positive things you achieved instead.

3. So it went wrong. So what? – Remember like life itself, every moment you spend riding is unique in its own right, just because your horse spooked and an imaginary squirrel last time, doesn’t mean that it will happen every time. You must learn to picture positive things or at least elements of your ride that have gone well. Develop selective amnesia, where you can’t remember the squirrel episode at all, even if your horse tries to remind you of the situation. Learn to bounce back – not by repeatedly risking your safety, but by not allowing your frustration or failure to overwhelm you, simply move the goal post and have another go.

4. If you are thinking it, it might just happen – Be aware and start registering what you think and say. Often people who say things like” I hope this horse doesn’t buck with me on it, because horses always buck with me” can find that a horse that is not normally a bucker, will buck like crazy with them on it. Or, “the horse won’t bolt with me, will he? And there they go off in to the horizon, with the horse leaving his brains and his friends behind, when normally he is the stable yard’s safe and sound reliable friend. What is happening here is, since none of us like appearing to be weak or proved wrong (especially to ourselves), by saying that a certain thing will happen, our subconscious tries to make it happen. That way, we prove that what we said was right, it might seem bizarre but it’s true. Thinker = conscious mind. Prover = unconscious mind. Being aware and noticing all the limiting, self defending and sometimes down right negative things we say is a big step to making real progress.  

5. Good things happen to positive people – The next step is obvious: Get your ‘Thinker’ to think the right things and your ‘Prover’ will make the right things happen! Sounds easy eh? (Of course you might think that this is all twaddle, and you are entitled to) What’s more your ‘Prover’ will be working over time trying to prove you right. Instead try thinking in the more positive mind set by saying to yourself that “I can hold this horse” I can get over that jump” “I am relaxed and comfortable hacking out.” “It’s easy to get good transitions to canter.” I trust my seat” I’m really good at staying in the saddle.” “I really trust this horse” “Flying changes are easy when I let them happen” “When I’m soft, the horse goes soft too” Etc!

6. Don’t listen to people who put you down – Some people including your riding colleagues and even some instructors will have a bad habit of constantly giving criticism and negative feedback; (Teaching and getting the most from your lesson is a subject on its own – so more on that later) Some people around you may make jokes that can unintentionally also have a negative  effect on your attitude, things like; “ Oh you always get the horse that bucks/bolts or kicks don’t you”, lets see how you cope on this one today, “don’t worry I’ll pick you up if you come off” Such comments feed a negative programme into your sub conscious, which you really don’t need. Politely ask them not to say it, ignore their jesting and if they continue try avoiding them altogether when out riding.

7. Start believing in yourself – By telling yourself you can do it, and listening to positive people around you that are also telling you that you can do it, by visualizing yourself doing it and seeing yourself succeed in small ways, all goes towards building your ability to believe and be confident in yourself. If you make this a habit, who knows what you could do? Try setting yourself little challenges that will assist you in changing your negative patterns, set them over a period of a month: stick to it and you will find that you are becoming a better and happier rider. Fill the period with some exciting challenges that are fun and interesting and that will allow you to discover things about yourself….. You’ll find that Hey you’re OK!  

A word of warning
Horses as you know are big, strong and un-predictable: 
Positive thinking and mind power really can work, so take the middle road: don’t do dangerous things, just because you think you can! Apply common sense at all times around your horse, remember it’s a partnership, so and ask yourself if both you and your horse are ready to cope with change and new things. For instance don’t try mounting an un-broken horse for the first time when there is a wind blowing, or trying to jump 80cm when you are still trying to find your way with 20cm. Developing you mind set and intuition over time will help with you knowing how much and when to take on bigger challenges.

Be good to yourself tips
Attitude quote
• Notice when you are saying or thinking negative things such as “I cant” I’m useless at that”, I’ll never be able to do that” “This is too difficult –and will take me ages to be able to do it properly” I always fall off when I try that”

• The first step is to notice when you do it and then stop yourself, preferably before the words come out, if they come out say another positive sentence straight afterwards – for example if you say I always fall off when I’m jumping, follow it through with “I’m good at staying on when jumping”

• Create yourself a Negative comment penalty box, every time you say something negative about your riding, put a £5 fine in the box and at the end of every month spend it on a treat for you or your horse.

• The more positive experiences you build the more positive you will become. For instance, if you want to do well in competitions, or beat your competition nerves, don’t go straight for the big shows, attend a number of small shows where you can do well time after time, then gradually increase the scale of challenges by cheery picking the shows that allow you to succeed and do well.

• Develop a more generous attitude to yourself and the horses you ride, not by giving them more carrots or yourself more chocolate, but by allowing yourself to enjoy small success and not pushing yourself to hard to achieve great results and big challenges all the time. Remember that you also ride to have fun and enjoyment; it should be a pleasurable experience.

Horses don’t always share our ambitions and perform better when they are enjoying and having fun with what they are learning.

• Accept that riding is at least a 50% mental game and realizing this will help you move on to new heights and challenges that you will succeed at.
 Read more great articles on horse and rider behaviour and the impact they can have on your riding click here