Losing and Gaining Confidence: Frequently Losing or Having Negative Experiences

After a number of bad rides and being slaughtered in the show pen, how does one even begin to rebuild the confidence they’ve lost in the process?

Horse Nation is excited to announce a new series that will focus on one of the trickier parts of riding: confidence. Confidence is one of those fragile elements that, once shaken, can be hard to regain. In this series, staff writer Marcella Gruchalak will discuss a variety situations that can cause a rider’s confidence to crumble and practical approaches that have helped her rebuild her confidence.

As riders and competitors, we know there is a nearly infinite number of situations that can decrease our confidence level while riding. These situations can be anything from taking a fall to losing a trusted equine partner to browsing other people’s social media successes too often. Any of these factors can create uncertainty, fear, and/or difficulty finding enjoyment in the sport.

In this series, I want to focus on a variety of these situations and discuss ways to work through them. These are all things that I’ve experienced, and the methods I am discussing are things that have helped me regain confidence as a rider. We’ve all been there. The experience of losing confidence — for lack of a better term — sucks. But, if you keep putting yourself in the right situations and state of mind, the confidence does come back.

Photo courtesy of Marcella Gruchalak

Frequently Losing or Having Negative Experiences

This area of confidence breaking brings to mind the process of bringing along youngsters. Starting young horses in their career is not for the weak. Over the past few years, I have been riding a younger horse and many of the days are bad days. The rides have left me crying and put me on the verge of not wanting to ride anymore. I lost confidence because I constantly questioned if I was doing the right thing to make my young horse successful. I was losing in the show arena because I was constantly dealing with the undesirable rides young horses have until they’re seasoned.

My biggest confidence breaker in this area I’d have to say was the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association Four-Year-Old Futurity. All year I prepared for this event to give my horse, Payco, a good showing. Two months prior to the event, I broke my foot and was still in a boot by the time the futurity came around. The doctor allowed me to ride, but I had to put my walking boot on the second I swung off the horse and hit the ground.

It didn’t help that while there, I fell extremely ill. As I warmed up Payco, I was vomiting off the side of him. After briefly riding Payco, I’d go right back to the trailer and sleep. The experience wasn’t at all what I had envisioned in my head. It was embarrassing and completely confidence shattering (you can read about the full experience here).

Photo courtesy of Marcella Gruchalak

After years of bad rides and being slaughtered in the show pen, how does one even begin to rebuild the confidence they’ve lost in the process? Here’s what I have done that has helped me:

  1. Take the pressure off yourself and just ride. Remember the reason you’re in the sport is because you enjoy all parts of horses, not just the competitive aspect of it.
  2. Try something new. If you’re in a rough patch competitively or not enjoying the type of riding you’re participating in, go try a different event or discipline. You might find you and your horse have talent somewhere else. It may also give you the confidence to come back a stronger rider.
  3. Focus on the positive aspects of the day, not the negative ones. Make a point to find the small victories in each ride.


When it comes to rebuilding your confidence with your horse, keep going. There is no one cure-all method to regaining confidence. Riding horses is hard work that takes courage and mental toughness. Every rider, amateur to professional, has points in their riding career where they experience fear, self-doubt, and insecurity. Keep working at it and trying your best and you’ll find the confidence does eventually come back.