By Margie Sugarman
Last year I accomplished so many of my goals with my horse. We qualified for WCHR, The Pennsylvania National Horse Show and the Washington International Horse Show—in a very competitive division. We even earned a few ribbons indoors! Now I’m in the middle of the 2023 season not doing nearly as well and wanting to qualify for indoors again this year. I think that the pressure I’m putting on myself is affecting me, but I don’t know how to get over it. Help!
Confidence is the single most important factor when it comes to sports. There are so many things that can affect our confidence: family pressures, negative thinking, having ridden poorly in a previous class, and issues at the barn, just to name a few.
Confidence is a belief in yourself, a belief in your ability to achieve and accomplish your goals. It’s one thing to have the capability to achieve a task, both technically and physically, but without the emotional conviction of having that ability, we often fall short.
As riders, we can sometimes be our own worst enemy. You must remember that the other riders are thinking about their own performance—they, too, want to win. If you’re against ‘you,’ you’re negatively impacting your own outcome and literally helping everyone else in the class.
An important thing to remember, however, is that despite one’s faith in their ability and their excellent preparation, being too focused on winning, rather then on performing one’s best, can cause excessive pressure and a fear of failure that ultimately works against reaching your goals.
Let’s face it, most of us have probably been caught, at some point, in the vicious cycle that starts with a show where we just didn’t ride well. That experience can cause us to start having negative self-talk: “I am a horrible rider. I should give this up. I’m wasting money.”
You have now won the prize of being your own worst enemy!
In turn, you get anxious and nervous when you ride or show. You feel physically uncomfortable as your negative feelings envelop you. Having these feelings dominate your thoughts can only cause you to continue your negative performance—it has become a self-fulling prophesy. Your ability to focus on the important things that have, in the past, helped you to win are not even in your field of vision or thought. You just want to vanish and get out of there.
Stop! Think back to last year when you were riding so well. Think back to all the showing you did and where you ended up—indoors! What was your self-talk like then? Wasn’t it more positive? Didn’t you think things like I’m pretty good, I can do this, I’m gonna go in there and show them all?
You have the ability to change the negative downward spiral to an upward and positive spiral, a spiral of high confidence and positive performance.
Positive Thinking = Improved Performance
More Positive Thinking = Better Performance
We know that when we hear or think positive things, our body responds by relaxing and our energy level increases. Excitement and inspiration follow, and the release of hormones helps our focus to change and become more positive. When everything is properly aligned in our mind and body, competing becomes an enjoyable challenge once again.
Go back and think about your most positive rides. Watch videos if you have them. Re-ride those rounds in your mind, visualizing jumping each fence. Restate your negative thoughts in a positive way. Enforce those thoughts in your mind. Speak with your trainer and ask what they think your positive qualities are as a rider. Think about those characteristics—they had a lot to do with your success last year.
Remember, success is a concept as well as an experience. Success is a moment as well as an evolution. As Malcom Forbes so aptly put it, “Failure is a success if we learn from it.”
Learn from this challenging time and employ the 4 C’s of success:
- Critical thinking—Look at what’s causing you to feel and ride as you are.
- Creativity—Be open to changing your thought process; be creative.
- Collaboration—Speak with your trainer and get input.
- Communication—Ask questions and don’t let anything go unanswered.
Dust off the confidence. The success will shine through.
Photo by Ali Kelman