Anyone ever feel that way? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? I do. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. We live in this fast paced, over-achieving, have it all exactly the way you want it exactly when you want it society. And if you don’t get what you want when you want it or God forbid, you make a mistake about what you want, then it’s plastered all over Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Just pick your social media poison. It’s there. Sigh. Life can be relentless. And it can lead to feelings of inadequacy.
I read something recently about the nature of equestrian sports and how trying they can be mentally. The author of the article pointed out how difficult it is to win if you’re an equestrian, and how after awhile it can really begin to frustrate and even depress you. It sounds like such a simple concept, but really think about that for a second. If you participate in a team sport, i.e. basketball, baseball, volleyball, etc…chances are good that you will at some point be part of a winning team, more than likely within a season. And even if you did not directly contribute to the win, you still reap the benefits of it because you are part of the team. In equestrian sports you might compete for seasons or even years without winning a blue ribbon. Even the best of the best come up short more than they win. (Unless of course, you’re Michael Jung.) I’m no psychologist, but that has got to affect your attitude and mental state at some point, right?!
So how do you get past it? How do you stop those feelings of “I’m not good enough?” Well, you don’t. They will come. But you can defeat them. There is an old saying about knowing being half the battle. It’s true! If you know those negative, dream killing thoughts are coming, just be ready for them! And learn to find your own “wins.”
It’s not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard, especially if you are lacking in confidence to begin with. However, a good place to start is by focusing on the small things you’ve achieved. Yes, have big goals and dreams, but have small, baby step ones too! The small, day-to-day victories are what keep you going and set you up for the larger, big dream goals. It truly is the small things that get you there!
A dressage clinician once told me that when you are headed to a show, break everything down into little pieces of the overall puzzle and find the blue ribbons in the small details. For instance, if your horse struggles to pick up his right lead canter, but you ask, and get it immediately, blue ribbon for you! If you struggle to get a square halt, make that your goal for the show. If you get it, winner winner chicken dinner! Don’t worry so much about your score; set a small goal for yourself and your horse. When you achieve it, reward yourself and your horse for a job well done. Allow yourself to revel in that small victory and then move on to the next issue. Eventually, those small victories will add up to a better dressage score overall. (And as eventers, isn’t that something we could ALL use?! Again, unless you’re Michael Jung.)
When I first started eventing again as an adult, I had issues and problems and things to fix out the wazoo. (Check out my last blog “Doubt Doubt“) “Never-ending” is the word that comes to mind. Once I really got going and showing, I consistently struggled to make time on cross country. I had lingering fear issues from all sorts of past craziness that had nothing to do with my current wonderful partner, I just couldn’t seem to get past them.
Part of the problem was the number of problems. I felt like I had so many things to fix that I was always putting off my speed issue. I was always fixing this, that, or the other, and not dealing with my optimum time factor. Finally it just came down to letting that pony run and taking care of it once and for all. It was a HUGE mental challenge to be sure. But the entire weekend of that fateful event, I literally thought of nothing else. I didn’t worry about my dressage (!); I didn’t worry about my stadium; I didn’t even worry about that one booger of a fence on cross country. I just constantly saw myself crossing the cross country finish line within the optimum time. It was my one and only goal for that particular event. I did not allow myself to hear the “you’re not good enoughs” or the “you can’t do its.”
I truly believe that because I focused solely on that one issue, on that particular day, I WAS good enough. I not only crossed the finish line well within the optimum time, but I finished the event on my dressage score for a third place finish and a ribbon! It might have been a yellow ribbon instead of a blue one, but for me and my pony it was a win! A BIG win!
My point in all this? Yes, equestrian sports and eventing are hard. Very hard. No matter what level you are competing in, the difficulty comes in the battlefield of your mind. Begin to teach yourself to revel in the small victories and the big ones will follow. They may not follow immediately, or all the time, but they will follow. You just have to teach yourself to look for them and truly enjoy them when they arrive.