“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”

 C.G. Jung

While Jung certainly had a point, for many horsewomen, the most terrifying thing to accept about ourselves is our relationship with that 1,000 lb essential part of our lives, our horse.

While confidence can be elusive, especially if we’ve had a challenging or frightening event, it is a skill. It can be developed like a muscle – with light weight and a few reps first, gradually moving on to heavier weights and more repetitions. 

Here are a few tips for developing confidence in yourself, and your horse.

Don’t wait until you’re confident to show up, show up until you’re confident.

Confidence comes from action. While “fake it till you make it” is kind of trite, it’s also kind of true. I’m not advocating galloping off into the sunset across a huge field on a horse you haven’t actually ridden outside a ring, but I am suggesting that maybe it’s time to strengthen that confidence muscle just a bit. Perhaps ask a friend to hack with you from the ring to the field and back. 

Even having someone walk with you on foot can help lessen your nerves and make the experience more enjoyable for you and your horse. Bonus –  you’ll have a few minutes to chat with a friend while you’re at it!

“Self-confidence is contagious.”―Stephen Richards

We know horses are herd animals, and if one spooks, they all want to spook. Humans are the same – we can easily get into that crowd mentality that has caused young women to faint at the sight of their favorite rock star ever since there have been rock stars – actually – way before that… I love Frank Sinatra’s music, but I don’t really think of him as a rock star…

The good thing is that we can use crowd mentality to our benefit. If you have a friend who is a confident rider, try hanging around her more. Watch how she does things. Talk to her about why she’s confident. Borrow one or two of her strategies and try them on for size. 

Caveat – If your friend suggests galloping off into the sunset across a huge field on a horse you haven’t actually ridden outside a ring – ask her to back it up a step (or six). You’re trying to develop confidence, not shatter it (and possibly some bones) by doing something so far out of your comfort zone that it’s in a different zip code.

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” –Vincent Van Gogh

Humans can be the most contrary of creatures. We often want something madly (like being a confident rider), only to have that boringly repetitive, and often nasty, voice in our head insist that we’ll never be able to pull it off, we’re stupid to even consider it, and perhaps we should take up knitting instead of riding while we’re at it.

Remember, confidence is a skill – you can develop it the same way you can develop the skill to paint, cook, dance, or go rock climbing. The first step is to summon it to you when that voice within you says ‘you cannot be a confident rider’. Go out and do the thing – tackle an exercise that’s a half-millimeter outside of your comfort zone. And when you succeed, come up with something pithy and mature to say to that nasty voice (like nah nah nah nah nah – I did it – you lose!!), and listen to the blissful silence that follows.

“Have confidence that if you have done a little thing well, you can do a bigger thing well too.”

David Storey

Imagining confidence is a bit like summoning it, but there’s a great exercise you can do even when you’re nowhere near your horse that will help turn you into that confident rider you want to be. Visualization.

Yeah, I know – it sounds like new-agey bull-oney, yada yada yada. But, truth is, a lot of that new-agey stuff is actually backed by science, and visualization is one of those things.

In an article in The Scientific American, author Jim Lohr said:

Visualization and action are intimately connected, involving the motor cortex. Thinking about our body doing something—raising an arm or walking forward—activates the motor cortex directly.

In this article, Lohr focuses mainly on the power of visualization to affect movement, and its possible usefulness in helping stroke patients recover some of their motor function. He goes on to say, 

Imagining allows us to remember and mentally rehearse our intended movements. In fact, visualizing movement changes how our brain networks are organized, creating more connections among different regions.

Consider the impact this could have on your ability to create a more confident approach to riding. If you can imagine the physical state of being a confident rider, you can, with practice, imagine that physical state into reality.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”―J. M. Barrie

We’ve all seen the cartoons where Wile E Coyote is chasing the Road Runner and runs off the edge of a cliff. All is well… until he looks down… 

Looking down is something we’re all prone to do in one form or another. I can’t think of anyone who worked hard to develop confidence only to see it slip a bit at some later date. I don’t think you’ll “cease forever to be able to do it”, but safeguarding your confidence in the early stages seems prudent. Who knows how far Wile E Coyote could have run if he had just stopped looking down?

Confidence in women is often seen as a bad thing (at least by insecure men and other women who may be a tad bit jealous), but it’s essential to our health and well-being, whether we have horses in our lives or not.

So get out there, pick one or two suggestions from this post and start working that confidence muscle!

Want to learn even more ways to develop confidence? Download a free copy of my helpful little guide, “The 10-Minute Toolkit – A Collection of Quick, Powerful, and Portable Exercises to Help Overcome Feelings of Frustration, Fear, and Failure in the Barn & Beyond”!