The Road to Rider Confidence with Barbra Schulte

10 Steps to Grow Rider Confidence with Road to the Horse Judge Barbra Schulte

Here are 10 steps to riding with more confidence. They are based on sports science and approach riding from many sides.

The 10 steps are guidelines that include three realms: the mental, the emotional and the physical. Each one is simple, but it is the combination of them all, over time, that unlocks your potential. Challenges become tremendous opportunities to learn, excel and have fun.

These steps can help you relax, enjoy your own journey and go for it. It is ultimately a condition within and your approach to your journey, which determines your joy.

Understand these ten steps, commit to training to be your best, and follow through with action. I promise you will discover more joy, fun, calmness, and confidence in your riding and in your life.

Step 1 is cultivating the ability to call up a specific state of emotion that allows you to ride at your best. You feel in control no matter how crazy things are around you. You feel confident, calm, energized and focused all at the same time. Most of all, you’re having fun. Some refer to this as the “zone.”

Step 2 is about creating who you want to be as a rider in your mind and on paper. Dream in detail about the elegant, controlled, focused, confident rider you want to be. This exercise forces you to decide exactly how you want to ride. Then, your subconscious goes to work on its own to bring reality in line with the image.

Step 3 is about identifying any negative feelings you have and then replacing them with positive feelings. This is where the real training begins. You substitute old ways of thinking and feeling with new thought patterns and powerful positive emotions.

Step 4 is about using your body to call up positive emotions. You control your emotions by controlling your body. When you train on the outside you automatically train on the inside. When you act like a calm, confident and successful rider, you become that rider. There are three main acting skills: breathing, eye control, and posture control.

Step 5 is about using two thinking tools to call up positive emotions. The first is talking to yourself about what you want to happen in feeling words. The second is seeing in your mind how you want to ride before you ride. These skills also help you handle errors and distractions in a positive way.

Step 6 is all about triggering positive emotional states with habitual ways of thinking and acting called rituals before and during your ride. These rituals call up positive feelings in an instant. They serve as anchors. They prepare you to do your best. They are extremely personal. Condition what works for you and be consistent in doing a pre-ride ritual.

Step 7 is about conditioning yourself in an instant to lower your heart rate and excessive muscle tension (due to nerves or over-excitement). Every time you pause when you ride, stop and wait until your heart rate comes down. Breathe. Soon every time you pause or stop, your heart rate will automatically lower. Wait on your horse to do the same.

Step 8 is about strengthening your physical body. This includes core strengthening, interval aerobic exercise, upper and lower body strengthening, and flexibility training. Physical strengthening also equates to mental and emotional strengthening.

Step 9 is about developing a plan for your ride every time you ride. Take the time to write out a script for talking to yourself as well as a plan for your acting, and ritual skills. Without a plan, most riders will not be focused on integrating thinking and acting skills into their technical skills.

Step 10 is about understanding that becoming stronger is a process that never ends. It’s a commitment to become the best you can be indefinitely. No matter how old you are, how young you are, or how strong or weak you are, you can get stronger. Keep training your mind, body, and soul. Enjoy the journey. Results happen on their own.


Barbra Schulte is a respected author, trainer and clinician who has had a lifetime involvement with horses. Schulte earned a master’s degree from Western Washington University in speech pathology and audiology. Upon graduation she taught at the University of Arizona, but it wasn’t long before Barbra found herself back with horses as she developed a career as a horse trainer. Barbra has published four books, Cutting, One Run at a Time; The Gift, The Little Book of Cutting Tips; and Healing Thoughts on Loss, Grief and Horses. In 2000 Schulte was presented with the National Female Equestrian of the Year Award given by the AQHA and the Women’s Sports Foundation. In 2012, Barbra was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. She has judged both Road to the Horse and the Road to the Horse 2020 Collegiate Colt Starting Challenge. Barbra currently lives in Texas with her husband, Tom, where she trains and continues to show cutting horses.