In sports psychology, we often talk about mental toughness and how to cultivate those characteristics as a rider.

Here is what mental toughness is not.

1. Mentally tough riders are not always positive.

Mentally strong riders may have a tendency to be optimistic, but it doesn’t mean they are always positive. Actually, none of us are. Being able to see the negative is essential to our survival, we just don’t want to get lost there without any other perspective. Strong minded riders are clear-headed ones, problem solvers if you will. They work their way through challenges by maintaining a balance in their perspective.

2. Mental toughness doesn’t mean aggressiveness

Sometimes we observe riders who are “tough” on their horses. “He will not let that horse put a hoof out of place. He insists the master approach is the best one to get results.” They demand compliance, and when they don’t get it step up their forcefulness. They may believe in domination over their mounts instead of building a relationship with their mount. Often they can be hard on the people around them as well, given an attitude of control usually extends itself into a way of approaching the world.

Toughness does not mean aggressiveness or getting an outcome by any means possible. Brute force is not mental toughness. It is bullying and it is born from fear. It will get you a temporary result but not a lasting change.

3. Building mental strength doesn’t necessarily mean more wins

All too often, toughness is equated with winning. A tough competitor is a winning competitor. But how can you keep winning? And when you don’t win, does that mean you were not tough enough?

Of course not.

Toughness is not an outcome; it is a way of conducting yourself. It is something you want to make part of your riding identity, your performer self. Toughness is smarts, it’s about learning and executing. About being the best problem solver you can be.

Mental toughness, you will be pleased to know, is something you can control. It is not in your genes but in your habits. It may be influenced by your past but it is not determined by it. Anyone can up their toughness potential.

april clayAbout the Author

April Clay is a rider and sports psychologist in Calgary, Alberta. Want to learn more about mental toughness? Check out the Resilient Rider Online Course and the Confidence Factor at