Equestrian self-confidence

Riders often criticise themselves when things don’t go to plan and many others frequently doubt their  own ability. Whenever I've taught riders giving them more confidence and belief in themselves has always been the thing that I've worked hardest on, because it's always been the one that they needed most support for. I've heard so many people wondering if they’re doing their horse justice, if they’re making the people who support them proud, if they’re really a good enough rider to achieve their goals 💫 Often this leads to perfectionism, overthinking or over-riding... Does this sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone! I wanted to share with you how to develop your self-confidence/self-belief, because I know so many riders who aren’t pursuing their dreams because of self limiting beliefs and their fear of the judgment, defeat or embarrassment - and I do include myself in this group. Why do you think it's taken me YEARS to get back out competing again? Out of fear of the judgement of others and from crippling attacks on my self-confidence. It's a feeling I know so well.
Essentially, there are two elements that affect your riding confidence: the technical skill/your ability and the mental skill/your mindset. Have you ever seen a less technically skilled rider get better results than someone with more skill at a competition? I've seen it a lot! Whilst it can be due to a lot of reasons, it could also be because your mindset is so incredibly important. And here I have point out that self-confidence is not something that you inherently have or don’t have! Self confidence has nothing to do with talent. Self-confidence and self-belief come from hard work and from your willingness to experience vulnerability. It comes from your willingness to experience judgment from other people, failure and embarrassment at a show, at a clinic or at your yard. Which is why the more you go out, whether it be competing or training, the less nerve wracking it becomes as you get used to it. 

Personally, my biggest problem has always been focusing on the million things that could go wrong. ​My mind starts running in circles about all the bad things that could happen and how everything could go wrong and therefore it’s impossible to actually focus on what is actually happening in the present moment, which means I'm slow to react to anything my horse does as I'm so far away in my own head 💭 To cope with this particular problem, what works best for me is to mentally rehearse situations ahead of time - this makes the situation easier to deal with. I have Plan A right through to Plan Z ready in my head, which make me prepared for every eventuality which in turn means I stress less and can actually focus on my riding rather than the what-ifs and worries!
I made the biggest change in my own mindset when I realised that I just had to stop being a perfectionist. It's totally unreasonable to look for perfection in yourself, your horse or your riding. Perfection is entirely a fantasy. Not even the dressage world champions get 100% scores from their tests and they are the best of the best. What we must do our utmost to remember is that riding really is a journey. And it can be even life long one for the most lucky people, and therefore through simple logic you know that you will have good days as much as you'll have bad days. So will your horse. Sometimes, you'll both have a bad day. Sometimes it'll be just one of you and sometimes you'll both have a good day. So stop striving for perfection, because with riding there will always be room for improvement. We as riders need to recognise where improvement is needed without beating yourself up and killing your self-confidence, because when your focus is on trying to get the perfect result, you miss out on the journey. You miss important steps that are needed in the process of getting there. Now this may seem like something that is so incredibly simple and maybe I am just incredibly thick headed, but it has taken me years to really realise and recognise the fact that it is indeed the journey and the learning that is more important than that one result from a single competition. At the end of my life, will I care about a single bad result from a competition or the journeys and adventures I went on with my horses? I think you know the answer.
The secret to developing more self-confidence and allowing yourself to grow and chase your dreams as a rider is to stop anticipating problems, giving power to the opinions of people that don’t matter to you, and more importantly by starting to have your own back. We are terrible support to ourselves! We are actually the first ones to beat ourselves up for a failed attempt. The horrible things you tell yourself after an okay test are things you simply would never tell anyone else. The key is to develop the willingness to have your own support. Be kind to yourself. Regardless of what happens to me at a competition or in a lesson, I don't make it reflect bad on myself as a rider or a trainer, I try to be kind to myself. Even if I fail miserably, it still means that I tried my best and that I will get back up 👊🏻

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