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Rider Confidence – Can I really do this?

May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears.  – Nelson Mandela

Horse goals for each of us can vary greatly.  For some it may be to just get on and feel safe, to trail ride around the block, to rope a calf, to correctly complete a barrel pattern, to remember the drill team routine, to make it to one show to just be in the warm up arena, to qualify for a national competition, or even the Olympics.  Break the big goal down into smaller steps and goals and then get started.  No matter the goal, the first step is courage.

Being courageous is not the absence of fear, but in the face of fear, choosing to act with courage anyway.  Throughout history, monumental moments happened because a person, a group or a country chose to ignore the odds, push past their doubts and fears and charge ahead anyway – think the movie Bravehart!

Maybe we are not defending our country and our freedoms, but sometimes our fears can seem that big.  With horses, our fears are not just about being judged or making a fool of ourselves, but they also apply to our health and safety.  Here is the disclaimer; we need the equine partner who is the right fit for us.  There are always stories that make exceptions to the rule, but have a professional horse person help you evaluate that you have the right horse to be safe and accomplish your goal, no matter what it is.  If not, there is a better partner out there for both of you.

With fears, we can stall and overthink.  But we have to have the courage to act.  The longer we wait, the more power fear has.  What you resist, persists, but what you step into dissipates.  The only way to conquer your fears is to step into them.  Avoiding them just makes them stronger and scarier.

As Les Brown said, what you think about is what you are.  Be intentional about what you put in your brain.

I recently was at the threshold of a big goal this year.  Rain delayed part of the goal by a day and my brain was racing with “what ifs”.   I needed to recall quotes and encouragements in my brain, I needed my husband, sons and friends to encourage me, I listened to music that gave me warrior-like confidence, I took lots of deep breaths and when the moment arrived I said, “I am going to be the best I can be for my horse and make it fun for her”.

I believe all riders struggle with confidence (as you can see, I certainly do), all people do for that matter, but here we are talking about riders.  The first step to confidence is commitment.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
― Winston S. Churchill

We have to be committed to the goal we want to achieve.  We have to have the motive to stick with the goal.  Darren Hardy defined commitment as, doing the thing you said you were going to do long after to mood you were in when you originally said it has left you.  Lack of consistency is the subtle killer of dreams and goals.  Have the grit to show up even when it is hard.

Once you are committed to the goal, next is courage.  Courage is doing what is uncomfortable, stretching yourself and stepping into the unknown.   To build courage, we need to be foolish.  Steve Jobs said, “don’t fear failure.”  True courage is risky and our egos are fragile, but true personal growth only happens when we stretch our current limits and comfort zone.  The size of the problem you take on determines the size for the results.

That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do it has increased. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Once we have stepped into the unknown with courage and continue to persist and strive toward our goal, our capabilities improve.  As Emerson stated, our task becomes easier and our ability to do it increases.  The repetition and time spent moves us past our fears and we develop new capabilities and skills we did not have before.

Don’t keep re-reading the last chapter – believe in yourself & the ability to write your own story. 

Down the line of your commitment, courage and new capabilities you will find yourself at confidence!  You didn’t start with confidence, it was a process to get there.  We do what we want to do, admit it.  You have to want it.  Commit to a goal and the steps to accomplish that goal.  Maybe your goal is big.  Maybe you want to go to the Olympics, the Nationals or the Futurity and not just go, but win.  The bigger the dream, the more important the team – find help through friends and family to encourage and support you and professionals to help you keep learning to be a better partner for your horse.

What will your goals be for 2019?  Dream big!  Heather McWilliams © 2018

Failure and Success in Competition

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;  who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. Theodore Roosevelt

I did not grow up showing much, just a little during a couple summers on a friend’s horses that she wasn’t riding.  You could never paint us with any discipline brush because we entered as many classes as we could English or Western, including any sort of Gymkhana classes.  Then a little showing again in college on the equestrian team.  I don’t remember any great successes, but I really enjoy showing, similar to the way I enjoy horses.

I love every part of horses.  Hauling hay, cleaning stalls, their smell, the way they move and talk to each other, grooming, caring and riding them, just being a part of their world.  With showing, I love the show preparation of packing, laundering pads and show clothes, cleaning tack, bathing the horses, getting up super early and spending the entire day/s immersed in horse.

Looking back on the last six recent years that I have been showing (the mid part of my forties), I have learned many lessons about myself and my horses.  My horses seem to enjoy getting out and they are different at a show.  More engaged.  Sometimes the engagement comes out in underlying tension and nerves.  You learn your horses.  They many need less time to warm up or more time.  They may need time to just walk around and let it all soak in.  Shows are a great way to bond with your horse and rely on each other.   They learn to be around lots of other horses, cars, people, signs, loudspeakers.  They see new arenas, new scenery, new obstacles.

I learn the most about me.  Being the “doer of deeds” and at most shows my face is definitely “marred by dust, sweat and blood”.  There were times I did it for the color of the ribbon.    But just wait, partnering with a large animal with their own brain will fix your ego.  Then there is the liability of my brain.  Doing the wrong pattern, forgetting the rules, going off course, “because there is not effort without error and shortcoming.” I don’t take much for granted anymore.  The most important lesson I have learned is that it is never the horses fault.

Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat; it’s understanding the necessity of both; its engaging. It’s being all in.  Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

I want to be “all in” for my horses.  It is really all about them and they are without question a “worthy cause”.  We, horses and people, were created to partner.  We work with them to do what they were made to do in a certain sequence.  We add value to who they are in their life with people by exposing them to new environments and by partnering with them to reach their potential as well as ours.

Now I show partly because it gives me goals and a reason to, “actually strive to do the deeds.”  Life is busy and I have to have something I have invested in coming on the calendar to make me get out, ride and improve myself.  I owe it to the horses to continue to better myself through time riding, lessons and by showing to get evaluated on my progress and goals.  I want to ride at the best of my ability in order to show my horse to the best of their ability.  You will rarely be ready or prepared, but go anyway.  Show day is not a day to fix anything, don’t worry about the judge/s, do your best in that moment.  It’s is just a horse show, whatever happens, happens, I guarantee you will both learn, grow and many times surprise yourself.  Most importantly, HAVE FUN and make it a great experience for your horse.

“Competition does not have to be a horse show or a race against another horse.  Competition can be a set of standards by which we measure ourselves.  Your standards have great influence on your perceived results.  Choose them carefully.  It is not about the blue ribbon.  It is about evaluating the direction of our work and establishing deadlines for reaching goals… I will always compete, as I need to be challenged and held to an honest evaluation of my progress.  I don’t have to win the blue ribbon, but I need to know if I’m as good as I think I am.”  Trainers Aaron Ralston in “Ride Up:  Live your adventure.”  Co-written with Edgall Franklin Pyles.

Set goals, challenge, push and stretch yourself.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Don’t just do what’s necessary, do what’s possible.  Be relentless, because it is not how you start something, but how you continue.  Expect to fail.  Success does not come without failure.  Then accept your failures.  After all, we connect with each other through our flaws.     

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.  Martin Luther King Jr.

As we reach the end of the summer show season, I encourage riders to set some goals for next year, to find a couple shows or trail rides or team events to participate in.  If it seems too intimidating at first, start by volunteering.  There is a kind of horse sport, competition or group for everyone with any shape or size of horse that you will enjoy and meet new horse people along the way.  Encourage each other and the strangers you will meet along the way who will become your friends.  You will see new places and know victories “and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly”.

Feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping you find a challenge or to share your horse story.  [email protected]  Heather McWilliams © 2016.

Foothills Dressage Schooling Show

dressage and western dressage classes

Centaur Rising Dressage Show #2

Centaur Rising Dressage Show #1