Am I Enough of a Rider? Finding Joy Through Fear and Doubt

BY ELLISON NEUMANN

An article can’t tell you if you’re “enough” for this sport. I have no clue if I am myself.

I’m young, I should feel confident and ready to conquer anything. My parents bought me every little girl’s dream horse for my sixteenth birthday. I have a great trainer. I have an amazing support system, both at the barn and at home. But still, I’m scared.

It’s not the big jumps or being in the show ring that I’m scared of. I’m scared that my best will always fall short. I’m scared I’ll disappoint everyone who believes in me. I’m scared that I’ll dedicate my life to this sport I love, and come to resent it. I’m scared I am not tough enough. I’m scared I will not be happy. I’m scared that all of the voices in my head will be right.

Most of all, I’m scared that I am scared.

Photo © Grace Salmon

All of my insecurities are problems. But perhaps a bigger problem is that I am not the only one who feels this way. Juniors, amateurs, professionals—so many of us are scared we won’t measure up where it counts.

It’s not that I’ve lost “the joy.” I find it riding my horse through grass fields, grooming until my arms feel like they’re going to fall off, figuring out technical exercises, and feeling an in-utero foal kick its mother’s side. I think many of us still find joy in horses—even in riding and competing—but we have lost sight of why we fell in love with this sport. We let other’s ideas of success define our definition of accomplishments.

Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

There are so many people telling us what success should be. USHJA defines it with divisions and awards. Judges define it with numerical scores. We can’t escape being told what we should be. But most of us aren’t rising to these standards for so many reasons. Of course, it’s not a bad thing to have success defined in these says, but what if we looked at success on a more personal level?

For some of us, success is jumping the big green box in the outdoor. For others, it’s going double clean in a Grand Prix. More still want to walk their horse across the scary bridge on a trail ride. Everyone’s success is valid. We should all celebrate it, because at the end of the day your opinion of yourself is the only one that matters.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be scared. I have spent so much time trying to get rid myself of these feelings, but that only made them stronger. I am scared and I have no idea how my life will turn out, but I am going to hold on to the small victories and cheer on everyone else who does too.

Photo © Emily Lucibello

So let’s all celebrate the success of the little girl in the walk-trot class. Celebrate the success of the professional who won the 1.45m. Celebrate the success of the amateur working long hours to afford their horse in the barn. Celebrate the success of the junior who stopped showing, and just wants to ride and be around horses.

I still don’t know if I am “enough,” but isn’t it better to be each other’s biggest fans than to harbor our fears? Isn’t that a good way to be successful in this sport?

Ellison Neumann lives in Chicago, Illinois. You can find her hanging out with her horse, baking, and catching up on true crime shows.