10 Tips For Maintaining A Positive Mindset

We would like to share some food for thought with you in our blog and newsletter. The content will be information that we have found interesting or useful in our own riding journey, and we hope that you will find it beneficial as well.

Every horse is different. Every rider is different. What works well for one horse may not work for another. There is no one size fits all approach.

You have to select the right exercise, the right seat and aids, and the right strategy for you and your horse and the situation at hand. The more options you know, the more likely you are to find one that works.

With this in mind, we want to share things that have worked in our experience with our horses and our students, but...

...it is up to YOU to think about them and make your own selection that fits you and your horse.

Some of what we share with you will be technical stuff, some of it will be interesting historical details, and some of it will be mindset stuff.

So... here we go!
Highly successful entrepreneurs often like to say that

Success is 20% technique and 80% mindset.

I don’t want to speculate on the percentages in riding. It probably depends on the individual rider’s talent and personality. Some will have to work more on technique, others more on mindset. I had to work on both. Since I was not a natural talent, I focused a lot on the seat and the technical aspects of the aids for many years, because that’s where I faced my biggest challenges.

Actually, it’s more accurate to say I was obsessed with them. I needed to analyze the mechanics in great detail, get a clear picture in my mind of how to do something, and why to do it. Then I was able to acquire the feel and the practical skill through a lot of diligent work. Without this detailed analysis, I would still be a beginner even today.

Other people are luckier in this respect. They can do a lot of things right intuitively, without having to think about them. So, they don’t need the same level of analysis I did. Their challenges start when they have to teach others who may not be as talented as they are, and who need clear, detailed descriptions and explanations in order to acquire the practical skills.

It’s often difficult for these two groups of riders to relate to each other, because they can’t imagine what it is like to be the other one.

What I didn’t understand until much later was that my overwhelming desire to ride well combined with the old tradition of teachers shaming their students with which I grew up created a great deal of stress and feelings of inadequacy and failure every time a ride didn’t go well.

I always felt as good or as bad as my last ride, which created a real emotional roller coaster. After a good ride, I felt on top of the world. After a bad ride, I felt hopeless: I was never going to learn to ride and the horse would be ruined forever.

This is the mindset stuff that I would like to talk about a little more today, because everybody encounters these anxieties, and it is of great importance for your progress, your horse’s progress, your peace of mind, and your relationship with your horse that you learn not get overwhelmed by them.

Needless to say, my mindset during my early years was not very healthy, but it is relatively common, especially among serious, passionate, ambitious riders. These are lessons that took me a very long time to understand and to learn, and they cost me a great deal of emotional pain and worry, which I would like to help you avoid as much as that is possible.

We have to try to resist the temptation of getting on this roller coaster of “I’m invincible - I’m hopeless - I’m great - I’m a disgrace”, etc. because it:

  • kills us emotionally,
  • it holds us back in our learning process,
  • and our horses suffer needlessly along with us.

This requires a change in our thinking in several main areas:

  1. (Most) mistakes are not fatal. They can easily be corrected. They only become a problem IF you keep making the same mistake for a longer period of time.
  2. Mistakes cannot be avoided. Every time we get on a horse we will make mistakes.
  3. Mistakes are important for learning. Without them, there is no progress. We learn from the contrast of getting it wrong and getting it right.
  4. After each good ride, there will be a bad one. After each bad ride, there will be a good one sooner or later.
  5. The harder you try, the harder you fight the bad rides, the longer it takes to get out of the slump. Fighting the bad rides causes both you and your horse stress and tension, which prevents you both from learning and progressing. It’s better to analyze the bad rides objectively to find out what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what you can change in the next ride.
  6. Having a bad ride does not make you a bad rider or a bad person. Having a good ride does not make you an equestrian genius or a superior human being, either.
  7. Every living being has good days and bad days. There are days, when you are in the flow and things come easily, and there are other days when the same things seem impossibly hard. The same thing applies to the horse.
  8. Trust in the process and your ability to learn and figure things out. Put one foot in front of the other and look for things in the simple basics that could use some improvement. There is magic in basic work. The upper level movements will flow naturally from perfecting the basics.
  9. When the horse isn’t doing something that you would like him to do, ask yourself what part of the job he isn’t getting? What is preventing him from doing it? Is your seat supporting and guiding the horse, or are you preventing him from doing it? Are your aids clear, or are there contradictions? What can you change in your seat and aids to help the horse understand better? Which knowledge gaps do you have to fill in the horse’s body awareness, balancing ability, and coordination?
  10. There are learning phases and plateau phases. Learning phases are fun, because you can see and feel the progress you are making. Learning phases make you feel good about yourself and your riding. Plateau phases can be tedious and frustrating, because you seem to be treading water. The plateau phases are important, however, because horse and rider need them to process the new information that you learned during the learning phases.

These 10 points took me many years and a great deal of frustration to figure out.

If I could go back 20 or 30 years and talk to my younger self, I would probably tell myself to relax and enjoy the process of discovery, and that things will work out in the end.

That’s what I tell my students today as well. These ups and downs that you experience are normal, even if they can be unnerving at times. If you can relax into the flow of your learning process and your horse’s learning process, you can greatly reduce the stress level you both experience, you will both have a lot more fun during your rides, and you will probably progress faster than if you obsess too much about the things that didn’t go according to your plans.

Reflect on these 10 points and whether they apply to you. Think of them when you feel frustrated or anxious. I would love to hear from you. Send me an e-mail or contact me on Facebook if you want to add points to this list. Let me know if you can relate, or if this is something that you have never encountered. I am also interested in your own methods of keeping a positive attitude, especially on days when things are not going according to plan.

I will talk to you next week. Enjoy your rides.

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