How to Stop Over Thinking While Riding Your Horse

keep moving forward

“When in doubt, go forward” was a phrase my hunter/jumper coach often used when we were schooling over fences.  If we didn’t see a distance, then riding forward to the jump was a better option than hesitating and holding back.  We were taught to ‘ride forward and ride the rhythm’ rather than focusing on seeing the perfect taking spot.

That meant that we didn’t hesitate or get stuck.  By riding positively forward, we helped our horse maintain the impulsion needed to get over the jump – even if the take off spot wasn’t ideal.  Holding back or hesitating because we weren’t sure meant our horse would either chip in (resulting in a bad take off), stop before the jump or run out at the jump.  Our hesitation got in the way.

Hesitation is what happens when riders over think a situation or process.  I often see this when I’m coaching – particularly in adult riders.  They get physically and mentally ‘stuck’ (and so do their horses).  They have stopped moving forward because they are over thinking.  As these riders get frustrated with their lack of progress, they develop more self doubt and less confidence.

Over thinking causes gridlock in your brain.  This busy-ness in your brain prevents you from making decisions as you get stuck in circling thoughts. 

Over thinking takes you out of the present moment and out of the physical connection with your horse.  Your focus is on the problem or the potential problem and keeps your thinking in the past or on the future.   This doesn’t work well when working with horses where – because horses live in the present moment – the situation changes moment to moment.  You need to be able to focus on solutions, but over thinking prevents that.

There is a cure for over thinking.  Get out of your head and into your body.  Feel what’s happening in your body and in your horse’s body.  Be aware of what’s happening in the environment around you. This is what your horse is doing.  

I can hear you saying ‘easier said than done’.

Here are seven suggestions of ways to help you stop over thinking, be in the moment and have more physical awareness and connection:

  1. Focus on your horse’s rhythm and maintaining it.
  2. Play background music and match your horse’s rhthym to the music.
  3. Count your horse’s steps – identify which foot is stepping when.
  4. Notice the movement of your seat – do you feel your hips drop and then swing forward (left and then right, left and then right)?
  5. Notice where your horse has put his focus.  Is it on you or something else? If it’s somewhere else, bring it back to you by keeping him busy with transitions or changes of direction.
  6. Make up patterns to ride in the arena. Don’t ride around and around the outside. Be like a figure skater or ballroom dancer – cover the centre of the arena with changes of direction. If there are objects (i.e. dressage letters, pylons, poles, jumps, barrels, etc.) in the arena, make patterns going to, around  and between them.  Keep changing the pattern.
  7. Wiggle your toes in your boots.  Wiggle your fingers without moving your reins.  Roll your shoulders without moving your hands.

As you let go of the over thinking, you will become more aware of the subtle changes happening in the moment:

  • in your body (I’ve lost my contact. I need to release the tension in my shoulders, again),
  • in your horse’s body (His head just came up. What did he notice? Now I’d better help him come back into a calmer frame), and
  • in the environment around you (the wind’s picking up, I’d better watch for blowing leaves that might unsettle my horse).

When you quiet your mind, you will decrease your stress and tension, become more connected with your horse, and even enjoy your rides more.  You might just notice that you’re moving forward.

Are you struggling with over thinking? Are you a reformed over thinker?  Share your experiences with over thinking by posting a comment below.  

BorderMy book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order.

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Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage

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16 thoughts on “How to Stop Over Thinking While Riding Your Horse

  1. I rode a very fresh mare last weekend on her first trail ride of the season. I am not going to lie I was very nervous as she was dancing around as they let me take her to the mounting block myself. I started using the methods you have taught me and as she became calm so did I. The ride was wonderful and uneventful inspite of cars, dogs & A.T.V.’s. Afterwards my sister said to me ” You must have been using your Anne Gage as you looked really frightened for about ten minutes then you looked just fine as we started out …

  2. Pingback: Confident Rider Tip #2 – Decreasing Uncertainty Builds Confidence | Confident Horsemanship – The Blog

  3. Pingback: Confident Rider Tips – 7 Tips to Help Improve Your Riding by Improving Your Mindset | Confident Horsemanship – The Blog

  4. struggling with confidence when jumping, i seem to just think about all the bad things that might happen, going to try these techniques in my lesson tomorrow 🙂

  5. Hi, Hollie … I hope these techniques are helpful. Did you know that your brain can only hold one thought at a time. So, if you can put your awareness on checking in with your body your brain will be focused on that rather than running off with the negative thoughts. Like any new skill, it takes practice. So, be patient with yourself.

    Enjoy your journey.

  6. Pingback: Confident Rider Tips – 7 Tips to Help Improve Your Riding by Improving Your Mindset | Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

  7. Pingback: Confident Rider Tip #2 – Decreasing Uncertainty Builds Confidence | Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

  8. Ive had horses for just about 4 years now started as a new owner with almost no experience with horses what so ever .. my first horse was a 22 year old geilding i had to push to move forward …my second horse a mare that is extreamly senstive to everything is my soul mate but after a few bad rides im afraid of what may happen on a ride (im told shes not for me …im still begginer she is expert) i love her and did intense reabilatation on her for 8 months we had great rides i even got her over the fear of tractors (we passed under the bucket of one )but today every ride with her im terrified ..i know very well its my mistake but the fear i have now and lost courage im not sure i can do it again( when scared she bolts home out of 4 times i managed her once and honestly i think it was more because she wanted to give in…i have 2 trainers but even though they cant do the work for me this is my challenge… i with work hard on your thinking methodes hope it works for us 🙂

  9. I get anxiety on the days of my lesson. I visualize jumping all day and it’s never a good visualization – rather refusals and duck outs. My horse is super honest, I just over think everything! I’m usually ok once I get over every fence in the ring once, but until then, it’s like I’ve got a giant convention in my head… millions of voices screaming and talking. “The striding is off”. “My pace is too slow”. “We’ll never get that three stride”. “He might stop at that oder”. Sometimes I even stress about things while over the jump that haven’t even come yet – like getting a lead change after a line.

    I just always make sure to tell myself to smile and chill over the jumps. I like this entry about quieting the over thinking, and focusing on the rhythm or something else.


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