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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

Our Extreme Cowgirl

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Sandy Clayton’s place sits on the rolling hills along Hwy 86 outside of Elizabeth and just before you get to the rural community of Kiowa, Colorado.  Like most of the places along 86, Clayton’s is an acreage property with a modest house and more investment in the horse improvements.  For the past two years, the Clayton’s give host to a Craig Cameron week long Working Horsemanship clinic and then finish the week with an “Extreme Cowboy Race” on Saturday.

This year, for the first time ever, our own Heather McWilliams got it in her mind to enter Summer and join the contestants.  Summer – our (technically Asher’s) American Quarter Horse  mare is 17 and the mother of 5 foals, a competition Reiner/Eventer/Gymkhana/working cow horse and all around great South Dakota ranch bred gal – would have the opportunity to add another discipline to her growing repertoire.

Asher and Heather took the opportunity to camp overnight on the grounds so the morning would be a little less hectic, then Shay and I headed out from home just after his morning nap to join them.  I was told not to worry about finding the place along the road to Kiowa – the instruction was to simply “look for the horse trailers”.  Sure enough, upon topping one of the many rises in the road along that stretch, I saw gleaming aluminum and steel, lots of white paint, and horses with riders scattered across the pastures to my right.

Parking the car, Shay and I set out to find Heather and Asher among the array of trailers, trucks, riders and spectators.  It had the beginnings of a hot Colorado morning, a slight breeze in the air, but the temperature was already 75 F by 8:30 a.m.  As we passed the cook cart, the air was heavy with smells of breakfast burritos and fry oil mixing with the scent of pungent fresh horse dung.  Nice.

There were several classes of competition, from 1st Timer to Professional, and Heather had entered both the Novice and the Non-Pro divisions.  Like almost all Western Discipline riding events, strangers meet and become fast friends as the kinship of the horse life and love create quick and fast bonds.  So during the course of the day, spectators and waiting competitors all cheered each run, exhorting riders through tough obstacles and encouraging them both when they failed and succeeded.  Every horse was a “nice horse” and every rider a “pretty good hand”.  That said, every rider also had a passion to win.

Heather was the 11th rider in her first class and as the waiting riders bunched at the entry gate to the course, me and the boys headed for some rare shade along the fence so we could watch for her and cheer her on.  This also gave Shay the opportunity to meet and greet with the array of dogs wandering by looking for pats.  I saw a German Shepherd, an Aussie, a Parsons Russell Terrier, at least two Cattle Dogs, one or three mixes and there also was the – Corgi headed with the ACD body – friendly girl who was available for adoption to a good home.

Before terribly long it was Heather’s turn.  The first challenge was to put Summer through an obstacle that consisted of a vertical PVC rectangular frame with Styrofoam swim tubes reaching inward horizontally and almost touching in the middle.  The horse could not get through without feeling those fingers sliding down her flanks.  Summer had to think about it – needed some extra encouragement – then walked right through.

Following beyond were challenges like: wooden teeter totter bridge; maneuvering through an “S” curve of traffic plastic traffic style barriers; walking into and through a pit with a noisy tarp at the bottom and humming spin wheels on each corner; a freestyle pattern of the rider’s imagination in the arena; various jumps and then – of course – roping the stationary plastic steer head.  Heather and Summer did really well.  After all, it was their very first such event.  By the way, competitors have no idea what the course will look like and which challenges have been picked until a walk through just before the day begins.  Each class has a different course with a different count of challenges.

Soon it was lunch and everyone gathered around the cook cart for freshly made burgers, brats, a ramped up cheese steak sandwich with jalapenos called The Canyon and thick, rough cut potato fries.  New acquaintances and old friends alike jabbed and jawed at each other while waiting to place orders and then even longer as each item was subsequently made to order.  One rider had traveled from as far as Kansas; several folks came from the Western Slope and another competitor used to live nearby but now calls Missouri home – for whatever reason that may be.

After lunch a youth class went and finally it was time for Heather’s second round of competition, with the Non Pro’s.  This course with 13 obstacles also started with a run through the swim tube fingers, then a canter around the barn and trips through tube fingers hanging and swinging from overhead: then a set of three jumps and into a roping arena to kick a huge red and white soccer ball down and between cones set up at the other end.  After the soccer ball the horse and rider had to ride over a tarp on the ground that was being actively soaked by a large donut shaped sprinkler attached to a garden hose.  I was pleased to see that Summer was the first in her class to actually get through this one – the horses  before deciding this set up was too weird and scary.  This time the rider had to drag two tires attached to a rope around a cone that and now the plastic steer head moved!  It was attached to a motorized (and squeaky) arm that sent it into a circle.

What a day!  Heat forgotten.  Beautiful horses, kind and gracious people, friendly dogs and rare shade from the sun.  Heather and Summer won a ribbon in the Non Pro group – Yay!

You may have heard of the Colorado Corral/MtnHomes4Horses.com Ranch Race.  Well, the seed was planted for that idea in Heather’s mind while watching a video of one of these Extreme Cowboy Races.  Heather explained it all last month, but you will want to mark your calendars and join us for our fourth year on September 14-15th.  Either as a spectator – or a competitor.  It should be cooler day  – maybe fewer friendly dogs.  But kind and gracious people, beautiful horses, and maybe even a cook cart.  Andrew McWilliams (c) 2013.

For more about Hall of Fame trainer Craig Cameron and the Extreme Cowboy Race Association, visit http://craigcameron.com and http://www.extremecowboyraces.com.