Mental Fitness in Riding

PREFACE TO ORIGINAL POST: Originally, I was going to tie this post about mental fitness into a report covering my first horse show of the year. I was scheduled to participate at an indoor horse show at a really cool venue courtesy of the barn where I take riding lessons during the Winter. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled due to the Corona virus pandemic. So, I will be awaiting a hopefully future opportunity to practice my mental fitness while riding in a busy setting. Still, I think what I have to say here applies to riding even in more casual settings, like my own backyard. In fact, I got in a quick bareback ride on Shiloh on Monday, 3/16 just when my two barn cats decided it would be fun to run around the round pen as they were excited by all the Spring bird activity. Great opportunity to keep myself and my horse focused instead of letting the feline antics bulldoze our ride.


One of the toughest parts of riding for me is the mental aspect. I struggle with

  • Keeping myself focused.
  • Keeping myself in tune with my horse in the moment while also thinking ahead to the next movement or the next obstacle.
  • Keeping myself calm under pressure in a busy riding atmosphere or in the show ring.
  • Keeping myself calm during surprise moments in my ride like when my horse spooks.
My horse, Bear, and I at a clinic. We were practicing riding in group formation as we left the arena to go for a spin around the fairgrounds. Bear and I got a little worried about where we were headed.

What bothers me the most about all this is that if I am worrying about myself, I am not really making myself mentally available to the horse. If the horse has spooked or refused, she is clearly struggling with some issue on some level in that moment. I want to be the kind of rider that can reach out to the horse right there and help her through that sticky spot. This is a hard thing to do well when I am fearful.

At this point in my life, I doubt I will ever completely “get over” these issues, but that doesn’t keep me from trying to improve my mental fitness as an equestrian. I still enjoy riding too much to completely give up on myself just yet. I continue to seek out ideas on how I can improve in these areas.

So on that note, a video from Barbara Schulte recently popped into my inbox. Barbara is a Professional Cutting Horse Trainer, Personal Performance Coach, Author, Clinician, and Equine Consultant. She was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2012. The video is entitled “Tune into Your Horse” and discusses a couple of different ways to cope with a horse that “gets big”. You know, when he gets worried about something in the environment and raises his head up and hesitates to go forward, that sort of thing. She filmed the video from the saddle while she was riding her horse in an open field. I don’t see a whole lot of instructional videos filmed this way so it caught my attention. I thought I would share it with you here. Click on the link below to go to the video and a written transcript. I am going to practice channeling my inner Barbra the next time I ride.

I know the photo is dark but maybe you can still see where one of the barn cats finally ended up hanging out during my Monday ride after he got tired of running around. 🙂

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