BY NANCY BUZZETTA
You don’t have to spend a lot of time at horse shows to start to get the feeling that a lot of adult amateurs really don’t appreciate themselves very much. For the amount of effort that it takes the average adult hunter rider to be able to keep a horse—pay his bills, care for him, and learn how to ride him well enough to even think about horse showing—a person could probably excel at just about any other sport. For that matter, she could probably also start a business, raise a family, buy a vacation home somewhere nice, or engage in some other, very worthy enterprise.
Despite the extraordinary commitment made by most equestrians, and the amount of guts it takes to even get on a horse (not to mention jump around a course of any size), I’m often saddened by the conversations that I overhear at the ring. Things like, “My horse hates tents and the judge is sitting right next to one. Why God, why?” Or, “A bending line? Are they trying to kill us?!” The first step in admitting that maybe you have a problem is learning how to mentally flush that negative self-talk down the toilet—whether it is coming from your own mind, or from an outside source.
There’s plenty of evidence to support the fact that our thoughts and words can have a big impact on our performance. I’m not especially well-versed on the Bible, but I do know that numerous references describe the power of our thoughts and words. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof,” for example (Proverbs 18:21). Many other books on success and athletic achievement echo this sentiment. One of the best is, As a Man Thinketh by James Allen. It’s a simple read, and the fifth chapter begins with the statement, “All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts.” To put it more bluntly, we can talk ourselves into just about anything. So why not harness that power, instead of letting it become our undoing?
About five years ago, I came to a turning point in my own riding. My mom had just passed away after a somewhat sudden and heartbreaking illness. I was sad and, as so often happens after a major life event, I took a hard look at where I was spending my time and efforts. When I studied the factors that were holding me back, I quickly saw that it wasn’t about training time, budget, or motivation. The problem was, I didn’t really believe in my abilities. I didn’t look at myself as a winner, or even as a good rider, necessarily. I was just hoping to “get around”. My self-talk had been accurately reflecting my opinion of myself, but now that I’d recognized it, how could I change it? Here’s what I discovered.
Step 1: Decide to Be the Change
Decide, right now, that the ‘old you’ (the negative talker), is a goner. The ‘new you’, Ms. (or Mr.) Positive, has moved into your body and will now only allow affirmative talk and thoughts to infiltrate your mind. That recent, lousy performance creeping into your head? Force yourself to think of something constructive—or even something funny. Get onto YouTube and search for videos of riders you admire for inspiration. If you pass your usual group at the horse show, and they are bent over their coffee cups, tearing down fellow riders, keep on walking! Deciding is a very freeing thing.
Step 2: Commit Your Goals to Paper
Once you’ve committed, you are giving yourself the internal green light to move on up—whatever that may mean to you. Put your goals on paper and review and revisit them often, especially when you are competing. For each goal, write down three things you can do to help yourself achieve them. Make each entry concise and realistic, but include an ideal timeframe for yourself. Some goals can and should be very short-term. (Think: “In three months, I hope to be confidently cantering around a 2’6” course in my Saturday morning lesson.”) Some might be longer term. Of course, if you are tending to your objectives as you now should be, you’ll find yourself constantly making additions and adjustments to your lists. That’s okay! The goal is your intention. After all, it’s really hard to get somewhere when you have no road map for where you’re going.
Step 3: Follow Through (Just Do It!)
Once you’ve set your goals set, work like hell on their achievement. How? Start by never letting anyone tell you “you can’t.” Picture negative words as a kind of swirling whirlpool, then imagine them being flushed into oblivion where they belong. Use all the tools available to you. Read books, watch videos, and take advantage of online training platforms. Consider getting a mental skills coach (I did and it made a world of difference!). Give it your all in lessons. Attend a clinic and get out of your training comfort zone. Each of us is different, and so are our training needs. But one thing is for sure: To get a different result, you need to differentiate your routine.
This year, 2021, can be your year, so get excited! Your change in outlook and performance has plenty of added benefits—not the least of which is what your new confidence will do for your four-legged best friend. It all starts with a little extra belief in you. Remember, if you put this much into just about any other area of your life, you’d demand a big return. Don’t let riding be any different.
Nancy Buzzetta is an amateur rider from Long Island, NY. She competes in the Adult Jumpers, the Amateur Owner Hunters, and Adult Medal Divisions. Nancy’s show horses live at home at her farm in Long Island’s Pine Barrens region, along with a pot-bellied pig, 2 rescued mini’s, an OTTB currently in training, and several rescue dogs as well. When not working or riding, Nancy greatly enjoys spending free time with her family and dogs at home.