Ride with Purpose

Spending time in the saddle is the best way to build confidence. Richard Winters explains the importance of having purpose for every ride.

When it comes to confidence in the saddle, there’s no substitute for experience. If you don’t spend lots of hours in the saddle, you can’t expect yourself to get better. Gaining knowledge, owning knowledge, and applying that knowledge in practice is a huge part of becoming confident in the saddle. But you must put in the time to gather the knowledge in the first place. 

It’s a great time to be involved with horses today, because there are so many opportunities to gather knowledge. We live in an information age. You can go to clinics, and online resources and training videos are available at your fingertips. (Visit HorseandRider.com and OnDemand.HorseandRider.com for more training resources.) There’s this wonderful free flow of information within the professional horse community and the tools are available for you to use. You just have to reach out and find them. 

Find Your Match

Before you even go to work on your confidence in the saddle, make sure that you’re well-matched with your horse. Photo by Nichole Chirico.

Before you even start to work on your confidence in the saddle, you need to make sure you’re well-matched with your horse. The best way to build confidence is by spending a lot of time riding your horse. If your horse is too green, or needs a more advanced rider, you’re not going to be very successful in the saddle. 

You need to recognize when a horse is or isn’t a good fit for you. That might mean enlisting the help of a professional, and that’s not a bad thing! Get good, qualified help to come in and let you know that yes, this horse is a good fit for you and here’s what you should do, or no, this horse isn’t a good fit for you, and here’s how to fix this issue. You aren’t going to get very far in your riding career if you’re too scared to ride your horse. 

I’d encourage anyone who’s struggling with building their confidence to find a professional. If you can work that out and learn what your trainer is doing with your horse and with you, that’s going to help you ride better. That’s going to make you feel more confident. And in the long run, it’s probably going to be the best horse investment you’ve ever made. Don’t be afraid of asking for help.

When Things Go Wrong

When you’re working with horses, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. And that’s OK! But you need to prepare for those situations. I’m not saying you need to sit around and wait for something bad to happen or have negative thoughts flood your head before you ride, but you do need to prepare for when things don’t always go right so that you can fix the situation. Being able to anticipate what’s going to happen next is going to give you the confidence to work your horse through any problem areas you come across. 

An accident is more likely to happen If you’re complacent in the saddle and not thinking one step ahead.

And if an accident happens, suddenly, everything is a little scary. But if you invest in your knowledge and your understanding, you can think ahead. You can practice and prepare for that contingency. And when the unexpected happens, you can handle it much more confidently. You’re leading your horse through any problems, and that’s confidence and good horsemanship.

Don’t just saddle up and ride. Develop a purpose for your day at the barn, and have a plan. Photo by Nichole Chirico.

Develop a Pre-Ride Checklist

A pre-ride checklist helps set you up for success and gets your horse prepared before you get on him.

Perform an assessment.


Ask yourself, “What is my horse feeling today? Is he flighty? Or is he feeling good? Is he feeling laid-back?” Take that time to prepare your horse on the ground before you get on. Develop a consistent warm-up routine with your horse. This is especially important if you don’t ride that frequently. The more time your horse has spent off, the more time you need spend checking him out and warming him up and feeling him out. The ride you had three weeks ago is not necessarily the ride you’ll have today. Horses change, just like we do, and it’s important to be aware and be present.

Give Your Ride Purpose

Don’t just saddle up and “go ride.” Develop a purpose for your day at the barn, and have a plan. Give yourself and your horse a job. The next time you’re riding with your buddies, perform some socialization games in a controlled environment. You can play “follow the leader,” where you all follow one horse and rider through a pattern or around the arena. You can play “the passing game,” where you’re all trotting in a line on the trail and you each take turns passing and taking the lead. These are all great ways to practice riding in a world where things are bound to happen.

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