By John Haime
I think you’ll agree that fear isn’t fun. It makes you feel anxious, unsure of yourself and can have a big impact on how much you enjoy your riding. It also shrinks your confidence – a secret weapon you need to ride your best. And, don’t forget, your fear will become a part of your partner’s ride too – so addressing your fears is important for you and your partner!
What is it you’re afraid of in your riding?
Well … it could be many things from the real, tangible fear of falling off or getting hurt, to less tangible fears of failure, not reaching expectations set for you, or a rather lengthy list of reasons that can cause those uncomfortable feelings and take the enjoyment out of your riding.
But fear not! There’s help on the way for you to address any fear you have and bring a more relaxed, carefree mindset to your passion.
First – What is Fear?
Working with some of the world’s leading performers, the primary cause of fear that I address is a projection of what an athlete believes might happen – what we call the “what ifs”. The tendency is projecting out that something negative may happen and that makes you anxious in the moment telling yourself things like:
“I can’t do it” or “I don’t want to do this.”
An example might be … you enter a class, arrive at the show ring, everyone is watching and the voice inside you starts acting up …
“what if I look dumb in front of everyone?”
“what if I fall off?”
“what if I let my coach and parents down?”
“what if I’m my ride isn’t perfect?”
This creates the anxious feeling, and depending on the intensity of the feeling, it can be a real distraction … and sometimes even overwhelming.
There are many “what if” scenarios that could distract you from your purpose – enjoying your riding and developing into the rider you want to be!
The thing is that although you believe these things might happen, they almost always never do – and that’s important for you to remember.
Experiences from the past can also create feelings of fear – negative memories can be brought forward to cause the anxious feelings and also distract you from today’s performance. Experiences in the past are real and a part of you – but your focus must be on all of the great, positive experiences and leave the negative ones behind.
Is there anything wrong with you for feeling fear?
No! Fear can be real and it’s normal. Let’s talk about some ways you can address your fears and I’ll recommend some ideas that might help you deal with fear and take it out of the show ring.
Tame Your Fears with Some Practical Strategies
- Address your fears directly. What are you afraid of and what might be the reasons? When you understand what might be causing your fear and acknowledge it, it will help you consider ideas how to address it.
- Always remember your purpose for riding. “I love riding because I love the animal and I love being at the barn”. Write your purpose down and keep it front and center – always! Your purpose will help you create perspective about what’s REALLY important in your riding and why you are doing it. Remember also that have a feeling of gratitude about the opportunity to ride and do what you love to do can fill you with positive energy and dampen the feelings of fear.
- Perfection is not the goal – Excellence is! – Excellence should always be your goal – it is an objective you can control – doing the best you can do. Perfection is outside of your control – it is not achievable and usually tied to other’s expectations of you.
- Learn to manage the most important voice in your riding … and your life – your own! Sometimes our own voice doesn’t help and tells you things you really don’t want to hear. It’s important to develop your own Emotional Caddie – a friendly, supportive voice that you might use if your best friend was having troubles. Try the same language and tone with yourself. Try these …
“I can’t wait to test what we’ve been working on in our lessons.”
“Everyone’s behind me. I’ll treat them to some some great riding.”
“My best effort is all I can do – being perfect doesn’t exist.”
“Pressure really gives my riding meaning – this is where I want to be!”
- Confidence and constantly building it is a secret weapon to overcome fear. Creating a feeling of “knowing” you can do it in your practice and preparation will help keep those fearful thoughts from taking over. After all, you’ve done great work in your lessons and training – you know you can do it – so bring the same feelings and approach to the show ring.
- Work hard to enjoy and stay in the moment. The future is where your goals are – but you don’t achieve them without staying in the moment and paying attention to the steps that will get you to those goals. Choose to bring the positive experiences from the past forward to support your confidence – and leave the few negative ones where they belong – behind you!
- Know the difference between prove vs improve – The goal in your riding should always be trying to improve your skills and your attitude. Sometimes when our goal is to “prove” ourselves to others, fear will creep in – the fear of the “what ifs” and trying to meet other’s expectations of you. Ribbons and winning are great, but they will come if you are doing the right things – enjoying yourself and trying to become a better rider each day.
- Address any fear in training with your coach. You and your coach can structure your lessons – so that when feelings of fear might arrive in the lesson, you pause and use your strategies to shift into a more positive, proactive place. This will help you bring your work on your fear from the practice ring to the show ring.
So, if fear is holding you back from really enjoying your riding and using all of your abilities, fear not! Remember that you are in control of your fears and there are practical actions that can douse the flames of fear helping you to be a more confident, proactive rider.