Equestrians are always on the pursuit of perfection. Having exceptional rides, perfect equitation and a horse who always does what it is told. Often times, we buy into watching the videos of other riders, professionals and junior/amateurs alike. We watch the progress of other riders on social media, mainly watching what realistically is their highlight reels, and apply it to ourselves. We look at people riding horses with different levels of experience, varying quirks and completely different talents but choose to hold ourselves and our horses to similar standards. Instead of appreciating the few steps of improvement that occur per ride, as is usual with green horses and in our riding skills, we focus on what we are not doing. What other people are doing with their own mounts that we have yet to do with ours. We focus on the end goal and forget all about the journey to get there.
Such mindsets are far too often bred by the unrealistic expectations that equestrians impose on each other. It seems like nowadays, people would rather pretend that they never experience hardships or plateaus in their riding and choose to target those who may share the reality of their riding online. Even in cases where riders are experiencing difficulties due to lack of support, equestrians often turn to attacking each other rather than remaining understanding and offering a helping hand. The fact of the matter is that riding is hard. There is a ridiculous amount of things that riders learn over the course of many many years and no matter how much you improve or how good you get, there are always ways to be better. Do better. It is a constant competition, a race with ourselves, but instead of competing with ourselves, many of us choose to compare our learning journey to that of people we largely do not know. Or, even if we do, who in most cases are on an entirely different path than us in one way or another. This leads to poor self esteem and riders being too hard on themselves, forgetting about the things they’ve done correctly, gotten better at or what they’ve learned recently. They negate their improvements that are specific to their riding and instead focus on what they can’t do. What other riders are doing better. It is so ridiculously hard to stay motivated if the focus is on others and what they’re doing.
By shifting away from what you have improved on and how you’ve grown as a rider in the weeks, months, or years you have been riding, you are choosing to stall your progress with negative thinking. Staying motivated in riding is so much about being aware of more than just your weaknesses. You need to know your strengths. Instead of constantly reminding yourself of what you have yet to fix in your riding, think about what you’ve improved. What you’ve mastered. The little things that you’ve done that sets you apart from the rider that you used to be previously. It can be something as small as getting a nice stride of sitting trot, getting that much better at posting the trot. Sitting your first canter. Cantering over your first ground pole. Anything from the basics to the upper levels of mastery in the horse world such as starting to understand the building blocks to developing good lead changes, jumping around large tracks or teaching a horse the piaffe. Improvement is totally relative to where you are in your riding career and what sort of obstacles yourself and your horse experience that are specific to BOTH OF YOU. No one else will be the exact same as you. Horses and riders have different mental blocks or physical blocks. Your friend, Stacy, may have lovely heels that always stay down while you struggle with keeping your weight in your heels. Some people have greater flexibility and thus have an easier means of achieving certain aspects of equitation, while some riders may have an easier time getting their legs in the correct position, perhaps your strengths lie in your shoulders, your seat or your hands. That is totally okay.
Try to break the negative mindset. While remaining mindful of what the most pressing areas for improvement are is something that is important, also remind yourself of your strengths at the same time. Break the negative cycle. Yes, you may need work on tightening up your leg. That’s great that you are aware of it and focused on fixing it, you should be proud of your level of motivation and ability to self critique. Good for you. Wanting to improve is such an important aspect of good horsemanship. Now, remind yourself of what you’ve gotten better at. Perhaps, you’re having an easier time controlling your horse’s speed or getting the correct distance. Applaud yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back. Riding is hard, some people will never swing their leg over a horse in fear of riding. You’re doing something a lot of people will never attempt. You are focused and motivated and want to improve in a sport where many people give up or grow out of it. YOU ARE SPECIAL.
Stop seeking the approval of others. There will always be critics. Realistically, if you have a positive outlook on riding, are kind to your horses and want to improve, what reason do people ACTUALLY have to critique you. Sure, they can be petty, but they’re taking time out of their day to be rude to someone who is actively bettering themselves while they are horses out there suffering because of the people who refuse to do the same. They are choosing to say ugly words instead of focusing on themselves and being aware of the fact that other riders are doing the exact same and do not need harsh criticism. Why did you get into riding? I’m guessing for yourself, not other people. Anyone who serves only to belittle you and make you feel bad about yourself is not out to help you improve or better your riding. Look to those in your life who are motivated to make you a better rider and who elevate you, not knock you down.
Set realistic goals. Don’t beat yourself up for bad rides or setbacks. Everyone has them. Everyone. Many people just like to pretend they don’t. Even the best riders you know have had their struggles or felt stuck in their riding. No one is on a constant upward trend of improvement. If this sport were that easy, it would be a lot more boring. Having self worth is important and do not be afraid to be proud of yourself. Do not be ashamed for celebrating goals. Anyone who puts down your personal growth because of how it compares to theirs is not someone you want in your life. Everyone in the horse world was once a beginner and frankly, the best riders out there do not waste their time going out of their way to try to make those who are learning feel small.
In horses, ignorance is not bliss. No question you will ever ask is a stupid question. Anyone who makes you feel dumb for seeking knowledge, for wanting to educate yourself, is the person at fault. Not you. By asking questions and actually looking for the correct answers to things you’ve yet to learn, you are merely broadening your perspective on the horse world and filling in what would otherwise be holes in your knowledge base. So, please, ask lots of questions. Bring other riders up instead of down and, most importantly, remind yourself of how awesome you are and what things you are doing great. Don’t be afraid to celebrate your progress. Don’t be afraid to remind yourself you are worthy of success and that great things will happen if you keep working hard and being motivated to learn. Instead of fixating on beating other riders, focus on beating the rider you were yesterday.