Facing Fear in Riding

Do the thing you fear the most and the death of fear is assured.  – Eleanor Roosevelt

Having fears can cripple us.  Fears are nothing to hold on to or live with.  In order to be the best version of ourselves, we have to face our fears in all parts of life and take action toward them.  Step into them in a healthy way.  Recently in my own life, I had a fairly significant fall aka unplanned dismount, while competing my horse cross country jumping.  I actually flew into the jump at about 15-20 mph with my head and cracked my helmet.  Fortunately, I was wearing all of the gear required in competition such as a helmet and body protector and was mainly just sore with a little whiplash. 

Two weeks later I had another competition coming up.  Those two weeks were full of “mental gymnastics” and fear and the desire to find some excuse not to go, but I knew that is all it was and I had to take action and get my mindset right to not let those fears grow.  I knew that if I did not push into it, it would be very detrimental to my confidence and for that matter, the best version of myself. 

There is a healthy fear that comes with working with an animal that is ten times your size.  If you say you are not afraid of horses, you may want to rethink that.  Non-horse people often tell me that horses scare them and my answer is, that’s okay, they scare me too!  But, if horses are your passion, you accept that risk and working with a large animal that has their own ideas, just like we accept risk when we walk out our door everyday, but that is part of really living.  We cannot live in fear of the “what ifs”.

First, take action.  Break down the fear into what you are afraid of.  Is it a real fear and what can you do to minimize that risk.  Everybody feels fear.  The most accomplished riders feel fear.  I don’t know any competitive riders who don’t have butterflies and nerves at a competition.  Often they learn to turn that adrenaline into an advantage of a sharp mind and reflexes that produces an excellent performance.   

When we take action on fear, we come out of it with confidence. True quiet confidence comes from, I felt this fear and these emotions, I didn’t give into them.  I took action in the midst of it.  Fear cannot win out.  John Wooden wisely stated, “The greatest failure of all is the failure to act when action is needed.”

Keep your confidence bank replenished.  If you have been riding long, you have had bad rides and bad falls.  Confidence is fragile.  It is built up over many rides and the passage of time and experience, but one fall or scare can destroy that confidence in a second.  Not only do we need to protect our bodies, we need to protect our minds.  Surround yourself with people who encourage you and push you at the same time.  Give yourself credit for a good ride, an excellent lesson and a successful competition.  Just like we thank others for a good job, thank yourself!  Change your self-talk from “that is too hard for me to do” to “I am working hard to be able to do that”.  Phrase your self-talk in a positive way. 

Most importantly, Have the right mindset.  Choose courage over comfort.  Courage is nothing more than taking one step more than you think you can take.  Holding onto fear only keeps us from being the best version of ourselves.  Turning and facing any fear in life is the only way to grow and become more confident.  As General Patton said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the action taken in the midst of fear.” 

Two weeks later, I faced my fear and I am now safely past that next competition and my confidence is healing.  My goal for the competition was to ride well and not even think about where I was in the placings.  That should be my goal every time, right?!  But competing and learning your mindset in different situations and the pressures we put on ourselves, it affects our performance.  I am learning the balance between putting all my horse and I have learned together into play in the moments at a competition and at the same time slowing my brain down when I have the added adrenaline that comes with competition.  Are you struggling with fear?  It is time to take action!  Email me if I can help you figure out the next step – heather@mtnhomes4horses.com.

The adversity we face in life is the making of us.  It is a test, dig in and dig in hard. – Brian Buffini

Heather McWilliams © 2020