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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

Be In The Arena

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 the process of 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 seven years that I have been showing, 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 may 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.

Although, 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 horse’s fault.

Heather & Molly Sept 2018

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 and be a team.  We work with them to do what they were made to do, but 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 participating seems too intimidating at first, start by volunteering and see what it’s like.  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.  heather@mtnhomes4horses.com.  Heather McWilliams © 2018.

Coming Together, Tootie Boudreau and Zoe

In 2010, Littleton/Conifer local Tootie Boudreau heard of a mare in one of the many barns of a wealthy Manhattan man, who was about to be put down. She had been abused by an outside trainer hired to start her. Once the farm owner found out, the trainer was fired, but the damage to Zoe was already done. People at the farm tried to work with her again, but she was deemed dangerous, unhandleable and unrideable. Tootie bought the 8 year old Registered Irish Draught for $10, now named She’s Got Game aka “Zoe”. As a trained physical therapist and experienced horse trainer in several disciplines, Tootie felt she was up to the challenge and wanted to give Zoe one last chance.

Tootie was living in Massachusetts at the time and began working diligently to gain Zoe’s trust. At times, every aspect of daily life was a challenge: trailering; housing; health issues between the both of them; ground manners and even other handlers. But all of the experiences led to the unbreakable trust that they now share. In just a couple months, Zoe and Tootie were winning ribbons in the Jumper ring and soon after in Eventing.

Zoe turned out to be a natural and effortless jumper and Tootie had the experience and talent to hold on as the horse rose up the levels in Jumping and Eventing. As some Eventer’s joke, “I’m just here for the jumps”. For Tootie and Zoe that may have been their comfort zone, but their dedication to improve in all aspects of the sport has kept them progressing in their Dressage training and scoring as well.

As a testament to the versatility of this large Irish Draught mare, while living in Pennsylvania, Tootie and Zoe won the 2013 National Old People’s Riding Club Versatility contest by scoring highest in the Dressage test and Gambler’s Choice Jumper classes, out of more than 20 total entries, plus they came in second in the western trail, barrel racing, and pole bending classes that same day. When scores were tallied for over ~150 NOPRC clubs all over the nation, Tootie and Zoe were ranked number one in Gambler’s Choice Jumpers, Dressage and then they came in 4th in pole bending and 5th in barrel racing.  All without having any experience or e exposure to the Western events prior to that show day!

After a year of living in the Eventing mecca of Pennsylvania, Tootie and Zoe moved to Colorado to be with Tootie’s boyfriend Gary in October of 2013. Also a horseman, Gary had several horses of his own at his place. At her new home in Colorado, Zoe fell into a AEC14brinkman9-26xtt-10323 (1)mysterious cycle of colic episodes and strange health issues that several local veterinarians had difficulty putting a finger on. Possibly, along with some other east coast horses moving to Colorado, Zoe may have ultimately had a hard time adjusting to the climate, elevation and fluxuating temperatures. She was endoscoped once and no ulcers were seen, but later a second scope revealed that she did have significant ulcers, which helped to explain some of the problems.

With ulcer treatment underway, Tootie came to the realization that she was just not able to ride like she needed and wanted to at home and Zoe needed her own large area with shelter and free choice hay. Tootie found just that for her and moved Zoe to Jean & Skip Boettcher’s Meadow Ridge Ranch in Conifer. Zoe and Tootie have thrived there with excellent care and a great facility that offers an indoor arena.

Moving from Pennsylvania to Colorado has presented a stark contrast in local horse cultures, but the pair had an excellent year in 2014 – coming in 2nd place at Training Level at the Colorado Horse Park August 21st -24th and receiving 2nd place for the Charles Owen Technical Merit Award for Best Cross County Rider at the FEI level event. This qualified them for the American Eventing Championships in September in Tyler, Texas. Supported by the financial help of several new friends in Colorado and old friends and family back East, Tootie and Zoe headed to Texas and finished with a top 20 placing against the best in the country, jumping clear in cross country and double clear in stadium jumping.

This past Christmas, Gary gave Tootie the book How Good Riders Get Good by Denny Emerson. The book has been revolutionary for Tootie in her riding and personal life. It has helped her see where she can improve and identifies what she already has going her way. As with many, if not all aspects of living life intentionally, riding truths intersect, compliment and are in harmony with overall life truths. A couple of significant points of emphasis have risen to the top for 2015. 1) to set specific riding goals, and 2), to find an upper level Eventing mentor. Already in place are her persistence, a supportive partner and a job that allows her the flexibility to ride and compete. Tootie works as a Physical Therapist in the Jefferson County School District and enjoys a school schedule which allows her to ride in the afternoons, during breaks and to compete in the summer months. Of course having an amazingly talented horse partner is the icing on the cake!

Zoe and Tootie are spending the winter in the indoor arena honing their Dressage skills and preparing for the 2015 Eventing season. They have set their sights on seeking out sponsorships as well. Zoe still will only accept Tootie as her rider, unless it is to take a kid out for a spin!

Tootie has 33+ years experience riding in Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation, with an extensive list of accomplishments in the show ring, but she is also a student of Monty Roberts, Clinton Anderson, John and Josh Lyons. In 2004 she was chosen to work with Monty Roberts at the Massachusetts Equine Affaire. She is also seasoned in farm management, rehabilitation, breeding, sport horse evaluations and horse sales and fitting.  Tootie can be reached at 518-312-2947 or journeysendfarm.com@gmail.com.

Shannon Brinkman Photography.