Are Negative Core Beliefs Holding Your Riding Back?

Photo © Erin Gilmore Photography


Core beliefs aren’t about religion, though I imagine most of us have cantered to a single oxer in a “Jesus take the wheel” situation at least once. I’d be lying if this kind of divine intervention hasn’t helped me through a sticky spot or two, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Core beliefs are the most central ideas that you hold about yourself, others, and the world. The phrase never popped into my mind before I started therapy. That’s when I first began to realize that I had some not-so-positive core beliefs about myself. Let’s start with an example we can all likely relate to—cleaning. 

Like many of us, I have a lot on my plate and not a ton of extra free time (because ponies). So my house doesn’t exactly maintain the spotless, pristine condition I prefer (because ponies). At the end of a long day, sometimes I just don’t have enough power to conquer those dirty dishes in the sink or an unfolded pile of laundry. 

I used to look at undone chores or messes waiting to be clean and think to myself, “Ugh you are such a slob. Tomorrow you need to stop being lazy and clean up.” 

This happened a lot, but it’s not a very nice way to talk to myself. I had this core belief that if I didn’t accomplish everything on my to-do list for the day, that I was lazy and unable to anything right. But what’s the truth here? The reality is I do a lot, like many of us, and some days I put more time into work, friends, or yes—ponies—than I do cleaning. It doesn’t mean I’m lazy or even a slob, but I have prioritzed something else more that day. Once I started to strip away and shed that core belief about myself, I started feeling less stressed about the state of my house.

But what does this have to do with horses? Well, at least for me, everything. 

Photo © Erin Gilmore Photography

As I started looking into more core beliefs that I held, I realized that there were a lot of deeply rooted thoughts that really limited what I believed I could accomplish with horses. For years, I thought some variation of the following:

  • I don’t have any natural talent for this sport. 
  • I’m a big ol’ weenie. 
  • I am fat, and will never be as good as thinner riders.

These core beliefs limit what I believe I can achieve. And if we don’t believe in ourselves, how can our horses or anyone else? When I begin to look at these beliefs more closely, I can reframe the narrative into something that isn’t so self-deprreciating. 

I don’t have any natural talent for this sport.

I was not born with perfect posture or a leg that effortlessly hangs still. I’ve had to work really hard for my riding skills, and I still have so much to learn. But I do have a good feel with horses—something that’s hard to teach. I might not have been riding from the womb, but I am talented in some areas of this sport and have the motivation to try harder in the areas where I am weak. 

I’m a big ol’ weenie.

It’s true that I’m not the bravest rider. I will probably never, ever want to show 3’6”… or 3’3”… and honestly 3’ looks pretty big too. But I am not a weenie. Swinging a leg over any horse for any ride takes an element of bravery. And I know that when I am setup for success on a horse I trust, the jumps seem doable—even fun. 

I am fat, and will never be as good as thinner riders.

You know what? I have seen many, many thin riders who didn’t exactly know what they were doing up on a horse. Size, type, and body shape is not the only indicator of success. I will likely always feel somewhat insecure about having a bigger body in this sport, but it has nothing to do with whether I can be good or not. 

Core beliefs are often so deeply ingrained in our psyche that it can be hard to pull them out individually for a good, hard look. This is where a therapist is key, or a sports psychologist if you’re thinking about riding specifically. In lieu of that, try to pay attention to your self-talk. Are you being your own cheerleader, or constantly hard on yourself? Would you talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself? You may stumble across a core belief that’s doing you more harm than good. 

About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.

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