Here’s How You Build Your Horse’s Confidence

Matt Mills shows you the steps to building your horse's confidence so that you can make horse showing a fun experience.

Photos Courtesy of Matt Mills

This Confidence Building article is brought to you by SmartPak.

Before you start building on your horse’s confidence, make sure that yours is where it needs to be. Read the first part of my tips for confidence building here.

Once you’ve put in the work at home to build confidence in yourself, it’s time to pivot your focus to help your horse build his. Here I’m going to cover the different things I do before a horse show, during a horse show, and after a horse show to help build my horse’s confidence.

If your horse gets nervous when you’re at a horse show, don’t try to amp up the intensity to get him ready. Instead working on cruising him around the arena until he relaxes.

Pre-Show Prep

The first thing you need to make sure you know is your horse’s ability—both physically and mentally. If you’re trying to push your horse past what he can physically or mentally do at that point in his career, you’re just going to frustrate him and potentially cause additional problems. Knowing your horse’s capabilities is the first step to building up his confidence to be show ready.

As you get closer to show time, try not to maximize your horse’s capabilities on one maneuver. If he’s a horse that can run a plus-one set of circles, try to ride him at 80% of his potential. You want him to be able to cruise around at home and realize that it’s not overly difficult.

At the Show

Matt Mills builds confidence in his horses by practicing patterns at home.
Practicing your patterns at home is a great way to help build confidence in your horse.

When it comes time to show, ensure your horse has a good experience by not pushing him past what he’s comfortable doing. If you only practice spinning a certain speed at home, don’t go to the horse show and ask him to go past what he’s familiar with. If you put too much pressure on him in the show pen, he’s going to let you know. And horses are smart, they’re going to remember that experience the next time you go to a horse show.

Reading your horse’s body language is also going to help you boost his confidence in the show pen. If your horse is telling you he gets nervous at horse shows, take time to ease him around the arena. Don’t start drilling maneuvers and amping up the intensity right away. It takes a long time to put confidence in your horse, but it’s easy to take it away. Focus on keeping him in a relaxed state. His body language will tell you when, and if, he’s ready for more intense, or higher degree of difficulty, maneuvers.

After the Show

Returning home from a horse show is a great time reevaluate where your horse is at. If I had a few errors in the show pen, I’m going to address those first. This gives my horse the chance to build his confidence in that maneuver and maybe even go from a zero to a plus-half score the next time we show.

I’ll also spending a lot of time patterning on my horse. Just as practicing your patterns at home helps you gain confidence; it’s also going to help your horse gain his. If you find yourself struggling with a certain part of a pattern, now is the time to practice at home so you feel confident in that maneuver when it’s time to horse show.

More on confidence building:

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!