Mentally Connect with Your Riding Abilities

Sports psychologist Jenny Susser explains how to ride with more awareness.

This month’s column is going to take a little deeper dive into a part of our thinking and how it impacts our riding. The concept of connection is very important in riding and in life. When I say “connection” this month, I don’t mean our physical connection with the bit or the reins that we feel in our hands. I’m talking about the mental, emotional and spiritual connections we feel in any and every relationship. Connection is vitally important and something that we all seek, whether we realize it or not. It is a foundation for relationships, performance and feeling positive. When you are connected to another person, it creates a feeling of well-being. When you are connected to your skills, it gives you complete access to your abilities. Without it, you are throwing darts in the dark, and success then comes with luck instead of intention. “Connection” means that there is something special that exists between two entities: There is a line, an energy, a meaning, a purpose, a back and forth, an understanding and a feel between two people, a horse and human, a person and an idea, a person and an action, a person and his or her purpose. As you can see, it is challenging to define and describe this seemingly simple word, connection. 

If you are having trouble imagining connection, think about a device such as your phone, cable and plug to the wall outlet. To charge the phone, it has to be connected to the power outlet. If the cable is connected to the outlet but not your phone, there is not a complete connection. The connection must be complete for power to become available. 

Let’s relate this to riding with an analogy: Say you are the phone and the wall outlet is your riding skill set. If your metaphorical cable (your thoughts) is not connected to the phone, you cannot access the power. You know that the power is there, but you aren’t able to access it, which means there is a missing connection. The system must all be connected in order to work. I love the power-cord metaphor because when you connect with someone or something, it can feel electric. 

The result of a strong connection is wonderful. It is powerful, feels good or even great and stimulates you to want more. Take a minute and think about connection in your own life. Connection with your horse should be an easy one to recall, so start there. It can be as simple as him whinnying when you walk in the barn or it can be as complex as the two of you connecting on a challenging movement for the first time.

You might have a great connection with someone you live or work with. You can also be connected to concepts, like your skills as a rider or parent or in your work. You can be connected to your knowledge of something like cooking or horse care or sales and marketing. When you are connected to something, the knowledge is readily available when you need it. When you are connected to a person or your horse, creating something new becomes available. It is a feeling that is always positive. 

The key to connection is awareness. When you can connect to something, you can create power. If you were to be able to create power, what do you think might become possible? What if, for one month, you focused on your connection with your horse in multiple dimensions—physical, mental and emotional? What if you connected more and more to your skill set, so that when you came up against a challenge you could easily reach into your arsenal of skills and find a solution instead of thinking you don’t know an answer? 

Many riders have fear, unfortunately, and it keeps them paralyzed, ineffective and not enjoying their horse. If you are sitting on your horse, frightened about something and focusing on what you are not good at or unable to do, you are setting yourself up for failure. When you become connected to your skills and abilities, then you always have an action to take or a technique to try. It is an immediate change from resigned and powerless to positive and resourceful. 

Become a detective and investigate your connections in your riding and your life in general. You will find some connections that are good and some that need some work, but don’t let that stop you. Examine the good connections to give you the recipe for how you connect and then take that to the ones that need a little help. Look for how to make them better instead of getting stuck because they are not perfect. Once you connect with your abilities, you will be surprised at how awesome and capable you are.

Next month: Exploring physical fitness and how it can impact your riding and your confidence. 

Jenny Susser has a doctoral degree and is licensed in clinical health psychology, specializing in sport psychology. A four-year All-American swimmer at UCLA, she swam on two national teams and at the 1988 Olympic Trials. She has worked with collegiate, professional, international and amateur athletes of all sports and ages. She was the sport psychologist for the 2010 WEG South African ParaDressage Team and the 2012 U.S. Olympic Dressage Team. Dr. Jenny is also a performance coach with the Human Performance Institute, delivering corporate trainings. She remains active out of the pool these days by running and riding her horses. (

Credit: Coco/Firefly Fotos






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