Smile Your Way to Success as a Confident, Effective Rider

Smile Your Way to Success as a Confident, Effective Rider

Become a more confident, effective rider by creating a supportive vibe around your practice sessions.

Become a more confident, effective rider by creating a supportive vibe around your practice sessions.
A cheering, supportive group can boost your performance at a show—and you can create this same effect in your practice sessions at home, as well. | Russell James, TAMU Athletics


When you feel good, it shows on your face. And when you feel good, you perform at your best—because it’s easier to access the skills you’ve practiced so hard to acquire to be a confident rider.

Best of all, when you feel good can be controlled—because you can prompt yourself to feel great by creating an environment that puts a smile on your face. It’s true: Science tells us we can actually act our way into becoming a more confident, effective rider.

This is the reality behind the strategy I use with the students I coach on Texas A&M’s equestrian team. At every practice, we create a vibe that encourages every girl to grin and feel terrific. We do this by cheering for each other—because you can’t keep from smiling when someone is boisterously rooting for you.

I’m going to explain how you can create the same supportive, confidence-boosting vibe around your own practice sessions at home.

Why This Matters

Apart from boosting your confidence any time you ride, a genuine smile creates a terrific first impression when you enter the show ring at the start of a class. Believe me, as a judge for over 20 years, I can tell you I’m so “over” the phenomenon of a rider wearing a $10,000 jacket and a yucky look on her face. It’s unpleasantly jarring!

Nowadays the emphasis in the show pen is getting away from the bling anyway, so the one thing you can still accentuate that’s always to your benefit is your smile. Practicing it in advance means it’s there when you need it, making a good impression with the judge in addition to psyching you into riding your best.

Here’s how to go about it.

Find a Fan

To get the cheers that generate a bona fide smile, you need a booster. A friend, your riding buddy, or even your riding coach can perform this function for you whenever you want to practice this strategy.

My team members cheer for each other at every practice, which is ideal. But any amount of smile-and-confidence-boosting will be helpful, even if you do it only in the run-up to a show, or only when you can bring a friend or family member to watch you ride.

LEFT: Looks good, feels good—a genuine smile makes a great impression on a judge, plus it automatically makes you a more confident, effective rider. RIGHT: We start all our practice sessions with confidence-boosting displays of support—here I’m giving my student an “attagirl” high-five. | Russell James, TAMU Athletics
Simulate Reality

To make this strategy effective, you must imagine you’re entering a real class as you ride your horse into the arena for your practice session. As your booster claps and cheers for you, let the good feelings that automatically result well up inside you. Being cheered for goes straight to the heart of how you feel, so it’ll be easy to let it put a real smile on your face.

‘Pull the String’

As you enter the arena and begin your ride, check your overall position in the saddle. I tell my girls to imagine they’re a marionette being pulled up by a string from the top of their head. This generates the heads-up, spine-straight posture that promotes a feeling of confidence. Eyes up, chest up, chin and shoulders back—all this will build on that good feeling of can-do courage.

Then, try to maintain that same vibe throughout your ride, come what may. Smile your way through the pattern you’re riding, or over and through the obstacles you’re tackling. This is a lot harder than it sounds, because this kind of consistent attitude control doesn’t come naturally. The long-term rewards, however, are worth it.

As each student begins her practice, the others cheer from the sidelines, creating a reinforcing loop of positive attitude. | Russell James, TAMU Athletics

Whenever you notice yourself losing the feeling—and the smile—just come back to it. Your booster can add a few well-timed additional cheers to help you keep or recapture the vibe.

With enough practice, eventually the response will become second nature, and you’ll find yourself smiling all the way to a blue ribbon. Keep at it. With enough consistent practice, eventually the sit-up-and-smile response will become second nature to you, and you’ll find yourself smiling all the way to a blue ribbon.