Balancing horses’ wellbeing with pursuing success

February 10, 2022

This week, equestrian mental coach Annette Paterakis discusses balancing horses’ wellbeing with pursuing success, reflecting on developments in the equestrian world and the cascading effects they have on riders’ mentalities. Annette’s latest book ‘Winning Habits’ is now available for purchase – JDF followers can avail of a 20% discount by using the details listed at the end of this article.

Over the past year I have been pleasantly surprised by how the Equestrian community is able to join forces to protect the welfare of its horses, especially when it’s needed the most. During the outbreak of the EHV virus and again during and after the Olympic games with its change in format. Even though there are unfortunately still enough stories about how horses are not treated with the care and respect they deserve, it becomes evident how many horse people do care.

I have witnessed the same thing when working with my clients. In fact, I have noticed how sometimes the love and respect for their horses leads to fear of making mistakes, or as they call it “fear of ruining my horse”. Even, or sometimes especially at the highest level, the fine line between pushing to become better and reach the top, making the team or getting to the Olympics and protecting the health and wellbeing of the horse creates perhaps the most challenging aspect of our sport. Ideally, reaching for the top and protecting the horse goes hand in hand. However, as we all know, reality doesn’t always work out that way.

Combine the ambition of the rider with the pressure from sponsors, parents, trainers and/or team chefs and you get situations where riders ignore their intuition and decide to ride anyway or do things that do not align with who they really are nor what’s best for their horses. Sometimes, this leads to a breach in trust between horse and rider, injuries or even accidents. So, what to do when you find yourself either under challenged in order to protect your horses or feeling guilty for pushing too far.

Starting with the first, fear of ruining your horse. Take a moment to realise how this fear is impacting you and your horse. Of course, it is important to always have the wellbeing of your horse be number one priority, but also notice that trying to protect your horse may sometimes result in the opposite. What happens when you ride into the arena or towards a fence with fear? You tense up, start over-thinking and as a result disconnect from what is happening in the moment and underneath you. Ironically, staying present and connected is the most helpful thing you can do to prevent mistakes and accidents. The message therefore is, learn to let go of the fearful story in your mind about what could go wrong and instead, when you decide to ride and put your foot in the stirrup, make sure to connect with your horse and stay focused on what you need to do to ride at your best. The moment my clients stop riding “carefully” and instead, completely let go of fear, expectations, and attachments to the outcome, they ride at their best and make far less mistakes.

Sometimes you may be unsure whether you are being too cautious, making a decision based on fear or if it’s your instinct telling you to not push any further. In this case I suggest the following, take a moment to be alone. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Now go back to a moment in time when you made a decision cause you were scared. How did that feel in your body, really explore the physical sensation and location in your body. Now think about a time when you made a decision (or ignored it) based on intuition, how did that feel? How are these two feelings or decisions different? Perhaps knowing how and where in your body these different messages show up, can help you make a better decision in the present or future.

Have you already gone too far and are now suffering the consequences? Recognise that feeling guilty or blaming others doesn’t help to turn back time or prevent this from happening in the future. Instead, and I know it’s easier said than done but do it anyway, forgive yourself (and others), think about how and what it will take to do things differently in next time and commit to being and doing better going forward.

Annette’s new book ‘Winning Habits’ is now available for purchase. Head over to and use the code WH20 at checkout to get 20% off your purchase.

To find out more about Annette and her work as an equestrian mental coach, head over to her website

Direct purchase link: Winning Habits at Routledge

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