You Are What You Think: The Mindset for a Winning Ride

Photo by Lauren Mauldin


Instead of seeing the world optimistically or pessimistically, I have always seen things realistically. I see people for who they are. I can put one and two together from observation.

One time in college, I sat in the sorority house dining room with some other girls. One talked about how she just “knew” she was going to fail the test she had just taken, but she was extremely smart and got all A’s. We all sat there, and everyone chimed in. Oh stop, you’re doing great! As I sat there, I couldn’t stop wondering why she would say that she was going to fail. Why put that negative thought into your head just to get validation from other people? I have never been like that. The only person I need validation from is myself.

As I grew older, I started to see the same negative connotations within the horse world. Riders would put negative thoughts into their heads before their rides, and would constantly seek validation from others about how great of a rider they are. It’s not my style. I’m determined and I work hard, but I keep quiet about it.

Sometimes I get asked how I have been so successful in the show ring. How often do I ride my horse? For how long? What does he get fed? It’s almost comical to me that people think these are the keys to winning. Sure, riding your horse and making sure they have a proper diet is important, but what is most important is your mindset. 

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Your mindset is what controls you. Your mindset is what controls your horse. Your thinking predicts your actions and outcomes inside and outside of the show ring. When your thinking is pure and clear, the outcomes of the horse shows will be that you win. If your thinking is tainted, the outcome is having a bad ride or losing. 

When I give people this answer they are often times dumbfounded. What do you mean my thinking? You ride four times a week and only feed your horse the very best! Surely that has everything to do with you winning? The answer is no. 

My desire and ability to win stems from my desire to have a positive and clear mindset. It is impossible to win with a negative mindset.  

Every time I trot into the show ring, I mentally eliminate everyone around me. It is just me and my horse in the ring. There are no spectators, no judges, and no other horses. This allows me to completely focus on myself and the ride that I want to have. 

I think this way when I am practicing at home too. Every ride for me is a time to completely forget about the outside world and surroundings and focus on nothing but my horse. 

This all may seem simple, but it’s easy to forget.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

You must have confidence in yourself. No one else is going to have the confidence for you. Our horses are reflections of us. They can feel every emotion in our body. You cannot have a great ride without having confidence in yourself and in your horse.  I will often times be lunging my horse and there will be people watching when he throws a buck or is running wild. They ask me if I am still going to ride him even after he bucked. I smile to them as I get on and ride fearlessly. 

Only you can control your own actions. Your actions predict your outcome. What you do, what you say, and what you think all have an effect on your horse and your ride. Positive thoughts and positive actions will have a better outcome. Negative thoughts will produce negative outcomes. Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. 

You can never get upset at your horse. This is a sign of mental weakness. He is only an animal. They cannot think for themselves. We must think for them. People often say that pets look like or act like their owners, and this is true. We project onto our animals what we think for ourselves. A negative mindset leads to an unhealthy animal. One who is constantly sick or has ailments. A positive mindset leads to a healthy and happy animal. This is true of humans as well. A human with a negative mindset often takes more medication to cope with life than that of someone with a positive mindset. A negative minded horse owner will always project disease onto their horse, while a positive minded horse one can see things for what they are.

Treat everyone with respect. Even the people who may have wronged you in the past. These people want to see you fail. You must always be the bigger person. 

Set goals for yourself. Make plans and map out things you want to accomplish with your horse. You will notice how much better your riding gets when you have a goal to accomplish. 

And most importantly, have fun! Horses are a blessing. Horse showing is supposed to be fun. You are supposed to be having the time of your life out there. Horse shows are for making memories, accomplishing goals, and for learning new things. 

Mindset is about more than positive thinking. It’s the foundation for a successful relationship between you and your horse no matter what kind of riding you do.

Sara and her winning mindset. Photo © Jon McCarthy Photography

Sara Watkiss has been riding and showing Arabian horses since she was 8 years old. She will be graduating in May from the University of Alabama with her degree in business management. She hopes to pursue a career as a horse trainer on the Arabian circuit in the near future. Follow her on instagram at @swattkisss and

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