I’m often asked what the most important mental skill is for helping riders achieve success at competition. My answer? Self-belief. It drives your confidence, focus and motivation. Once you improve your self-belief, you’ll find your confidence grows, making you more able to ride positively.
Training events like the Baileys Horse Feeds JAS & JT series and indoor dressage clinics over the winter are great opportunities to focus your attention on what you do well and improve your skills. This is a great initial step to building your self-belief. There are also other steps you can take to create stronger self-belief, which can be done away from your horse, allowing you to focus completely on improving your mindset.
Here are 5 simple steps to help you create stronger self-belief so you can ride more confidently and positively.

Step 1: Make time for mental preparation
Self-belief plays an important role at competition because it provides you with more confidence about your skill and ability under pressure. Because there is less self-doubt, you’ll worry less, which means that you’ll feel much less nervous and anxious. It provides you with more mental space to focus on riding positively and being in the moment, which ultimately will help you ride well, improving your performance and results at competition.
Yet working on self-belief or any aspect of your mindset when you are competing is extremely difficult, because your focus has to be on riding not self-reflection. So it is important to use time in between competitions to focus on mental preparation and creating stronger self-belief and a more resilient mindset. I recommend you set aside 30 minutes a day to focus on exercises to build your self-belief.
Step 2: Give more power to your positive beliefs
Developing self-belief isn’t about eliminating all your negative beliefs because that’s an unrealistic goal. Everyone has positive and negative beliefs. It’s just that when your negative beliefs are more dominant, they have more power and direct your focus on to the negatives of a situation. This results in loss of self-belief and confidence.
By focusing on your positive beliefs, reflecting on the evidence that supports them and reminding yourself of those positive beliefs every day, you’ll start to notice that your positive beliefs become more powerful. This will create more positive focus and confidence when you ride and compete.

Step 3: Focus on what you do well
One of the signs that a rider is struggling with low self-belief is when they struggle to tell me what they do well as a rider. These are often simple things like having a secure seat, being effective with aids, and having good feel. Yet riders often find it difficult to identify the things they do well. When you focus more on what you do well, you’ll build self-belief and confidence. It’s important to balance this with also focusing on what you need to improve so you continue to develop as a rider.
Knowing what makes you successful is as important as knowing what you need to work on so that you can ride to the best of your ability.
To help you focus on what you do well, I recommend you think about a time when you rode well. Reflect on what you did that helped you to ride well. What were you thinking about? What did you focus on? How did you feel?

Step 4: Challenge limiting beliefs
It’s important to challenge limiting beliefs to help you breakthrough negative thinking and create more positive focus and self-belief. The fundamental problem with limiting beliefs is that they limit your potential to achieve goals. One of the ways to create motivation to challenge these beliefs is to reflect on what would be possible if you didn’t have limiting beliefs. When reviewing a limiting belief with a rider, I will often ask “what would you be able to achieve if you didn’t have this limiting belief?”
A good first step to challenging limiting beliefs is to list each of them and then review each one, asking yourself “is this belief 100% true?” It is unlikely that the belief is 100% true all of the time and opens up the possibility that it might be false. This exercise will help reduce the power of your negative limiting beliefs.

Step 5: See opportunity in every difficulty
Typically riders who lack self-belief will focus on the negatives, particularly when they experience a setback. This only serves to reinforce their negative beliefs, resulting in a negative cycle, making it more likely that riders will experience further setbacks and loss of confidence.
Riders who have resilient mindsets and strong self-belief are those who can see the opportunity in every difficulty. They focus on what they can learn to make it more likely that they will be successful next time.

When reviewing a challenging situation or setback, I recommend you ask yourself “what can I learn from this to make myself more successful next time?” Use this question regularly and you’ll soon start to notice your focus shifting away from the negatives and on to what you can do differently, which will give you more positive focus and help you progress more quickly.
Building self-belief takes time and consistency. It may feel tough at first because overcoming any negative pattern of thinking can be difficult. If you are persistent though and commit to working on your self-belief every day, you’ll soon start to notice a shift how you think, feel and ride.