Change This One Thing to Improve Your Horse Riding

Take a moment to look at the photo below and imagine that’s you riding your horse.


What thoughts went through your mind?  Were they mostly positive or negative?  What did you physically feel when you had those thoughts?  Your thoughts affect how you feel not just mentally, but also physically.

The human brain can only hold one thought at a time.  We have an almost constant stream of 20,000 to 60,000 thoughts in a day.  We think at 300 words a minute.  We can’t go any longer than 11 seconds without talking to ourselves.

So, whatever you focus your mind affects the quality of all those thoughts streaming constantly through your mind.

And those thoughts also affect how your horse feels.Your horse is a master of reading even the most subtle body language.  So, even if you don’t recognize that your posture, energy, tension and movements have been affected by your thoughts, your horse picks up on it.

In the scene in the photo, if the rider gets nervous or frightened about the traffic going by, her horse (who might have been ok with cars and bicycles) reacts to her tension and also gets nervous.  With her body tense and her mind focused on the traffic, the rider becomes ineffective as she cannot give clear cues to her horse.  Both horse and rider are in ‘reactive’ mode.  There is no rational thought as the flight instinct kicks in to high gear.

But there is another (a better) option.  The rider can’t stop the flow of thoughts, but she can replace them with more helpful ones.

She can take her focus off the traffic and put it on her horse.  With focused awareness, she knows the vehicle is coming before it is beside her.  She asks her horse to bend away from the car (so if he spooks he will move towards the grass and not into the middle of the road.

With focused awareness, she also knows the cyclists are coming up behind.  She can wave them to pass on the far side, ask them to dismount and walk their bikes by, walk her horse up the driveway just in front of them or even dismount and settle herself and her horse from the ground.

When you focus on a problem, your end up in a negative cycle of thoughts that increases self doubt and decreases your confidence.  When you focus on finding a solution, you recognize there is (or could be) a problem and you look for one thing you can do to improve the situation.  Do that one thing and you will feel better. Then look for another way you can improve the situation.  When you feel better, you can help your horse feel better, too.

You have 20,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day.  Whatever you focus them on is what you will get – positive or negative; problems or solutions; self doubt or confidence.  It’s your choice.

How have your thoughts been affecting your rides?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

Enjoy the journey.

My 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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You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (  

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

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12 thoughts on “Change This One Thing to Improve Your Horse Riding

  1. I’m not a horse rider, but I found your thoughts on focussing on positive thoughts and solutions rather than negative thoughts and problems really interesting and applicable to many other contexts. A really interesting post!

  2. This is a great article and I can relate completely. I used to ride horses, hunters and I knew that whenever my horse refused a jump it was my inner game that he was feeling. With the right attitude, there is a magnificent exchange of understanding and confidence between horse and rider, just like in any relationship built on trust. Thanks for a great post!

    • Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences, Deb. As a fellow hunter rider, I had that experience, as well. My coach at the time reminded us that we had to “ride to the other side of the fence“. She meant that if we focused on getting to the fence or focused on the fence, we would get in our own way. More great lessons we can apply to other areas of our lives.

  3. The first thing I thought was: that horse looks a bit tense, but not frightened. He’s very aware and alert. but the rider seems to have things under control. I notice she has stopped completely (what a luxury, we can’t do that on most American roads) and I think the horse is directing his attention to something just to the left of the person taking the picture. If you hadn’t mentioned that there was a drive way right in front of them, I wouldn’t have known, so I would have said that she was doing the right thing: stopping the horse.
    This post of yours (among the many excellent ones you have written) reminds me of something my mother taught me when she was teaching me to drive. It was: always keep an eye out for an escape route, in case traffic gets dicey, and act accordingly, even if it means slowing down. I learned to focus on the traffic and be aware of what it was doing, and so have the time to react to a situation far ahead of me. Once, while driving, I noticed that traffic had stopped on a stretch of highway ahead of me, for no discernible reason. An exit ramp was immediately available, so without thinking twice, I took it. I sailed up the ramp to the overpass, and continued down the other side back onto the highway, where there was no traffic stopped. The poor folks who WERE stopped in the underpass, beneath the bridge, were up to their windows in water. There’d been a downpour a few minutes earlier, and the water had flooded the low spot under the overpass, just like that.
    I was lucky, but even if I’d not had that exit ramp miraculously appear, I was already slowing down and looking to get off the highway.

    • These days it seems to be a habit for people to NOT be aware of their surroundings – whether they are driving, walking or riding. And yet, our society seems also to be more worried about personal safety and security. In all situations, the best way to be safe is to open up your awareness. Your story is a great example of that. Thank you very much for sharing it.

      Enjoy the journey.


  4. My very first thought was to bend away towards the grass. Looking at the picture the second time I realized I had not seen the whole picture. Both horse and rider are looking at something ahead of them as well. I guess my thoughts are we can never stop learning so having a well qualified coach is very important if you want to ride and be safe.

  5. Really enjoyed this entry. Trail road for a couple of years when I was an adolescent. No lessons. Stupid, ignorant, and luck of the fearless I suppose. Just began English riding lessons a year ago at 60. Went out on trail once last year, quite an experience. The horse I lease spooked, big time, at some deer that launched out of a bush behind him. Luckily, I had not been tense or nervous, and was able to stick with him. Whew!

    Please visit to pick up your award. This is a site which I feel I must share via my nomination! So educational and informative!

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