The Power of Perception – Tips for Equestrians in staying positive

I recently spent a day doing a workshop with second level students on self-confidence and the power of perception. Although it was a used in a personal development context, it can be easily applied to anything. It’s validity from an equestrian perspective really hit home the following weekend, when a friend asked me to come along and support her while she battled some pre-showjumping jitters.

This was not an inexperienced rider. She has been riding for many years and was had been very successful with previous horses. She had, however, had an unfortunate bad experience with a horse that didn’t suit, who regularly tried to turn her off riding for life by means of attempted murder. Luckily, he didn’t succeed either way (in killing her or turning her off) and ironically this horse, along with fate, led her to her real equine life partner; a talented little mare with a sweet disposition. Perfect, right?

I’ve spoken before in earlier posts about my own inner critic (IC). The gigantic A-hole who lives in my head and gives me a hard time every time I make a mistake. Well, everyone has an IC (they just come under various names and descriptions). Some of you may have already met yours and those who haven’t will, at some point, cross paths. It seems that my friend’s IC crept in quietly and convinced her that she couldn’t jump, that her horse was a bit off and that the mare would stop.

When it came to getting in the ring, low and behold, the IC took the reins! The jumps looked huge and it was just as if IC looked into the future and predicted it – because the mare stopped (is this beginning to sound familiar? It did to me, it’s basically my story too).

So where did this little B*****d come from and how did this happen?

At some point we allow ourselves to succumb to the pressure of expectation. We place our horses on pedestals and believe that we should be getting amazing results; moving up the ladder as quick as lightening and competing at the highest level possible.

Social media is a killer. We follow other riders who post regular photos of themselves doing amazing things and we all get a bit of FOMO or FONDE (I made that up. It’s the “fear of not doing enough”). This is a bad rabbit hole to get sucked into because no matter how honest someone says they are being about their journey, we all know that most people only post the good stuff. But our perception is still influenced all the same.

It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others. We often perceive that others are doing better than us, that others are more capable than us and that others are more deserving than we are because we perceive them to be working harder or that they have access to better opportunities than we do.

Then comes a day that you push those feeling to the back of your mind and you force yourself to be motivated do some training (cue epic Instagram opportunity). You arrive at the venue and someone comes along commenting on how fabulous your horse is looking and how you’ll have no bother doing X, Y and Z because, sure, hasn’t your horse done all that before?

Already by now you’re putting extra pressure on yourself to look cool and calm, but someone else has either purposely, or inadvertently, fed into your own self-doubt – cue IC. You’re feeling a bit queasy because you don’t find this easy, breezy or beautiful and now the IC is questioning should you really have gotten out of bed today, let alone got up on your horse in public?

Unconsciously, we develop the perception that others are willing us to do badly and that we are not capable of doing what it is we want to do. And here we are heading hand in hand with our ICs, swiftly skipping down the road of self-criticism and self-doubt; Beautifully chipping away at our own self-confidence.

Ultimately, when we’re in this mind frame, we get into the arena and our horse stops. Because we stop believing that we can do it and at the end of the day, our horses are only as confident as we are.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to recognize my own IC. I am aware of how my perceptions can effect my self-confidence and outcomes. I now manage to drown that son-of-a-biocht out by trying to take a positive from every situation, no matter how small. This is something that I’ve had to teach myself to do. It’s easier pointing it out to others of course, like I did for my friend, who after a brief chat on what the real issues were and what adjustments needed to be made, went on to jump a beautifully positive clear round.

The Power of Perception – Tips for Change


For some people being positive comes naturally, but others need to train their brains and learn to focus on the good things – and ultimately focus on the task at hand.

It’s a simple formula really. By paying attention to both your own and your horse’s needs, and by adding a pinch of praise into the mix = a GOOD EXPERIENCE, which in turn = Self Confidence, ultimately leading to POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT and/or a willingness to try.

On the flip side – negativity and criticism = BAD EXPERIENCE = No self confidence = Negative REINFORCEMENT – Thriving conditions for the IC to flourish.

So here are a few basic tips that can help to re-train your perception (and shut the IC up!).

  1. BE HONEST about how your feeling. Confide in someone you trust. I know it sounds like a cliche, but a problem shared really is a problem halved.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ASK FOR HELP. No man is an island, as they say. Asking for help is not a reflection on your ability, even Olympians still get training. So get someone new on the ground. They wont judge you and they might spot something as simple as a dropped outside rein that will make all the difference to those turns.
  3. READ – I cannot stress how good it is to read. If you’re struggling to understand something or need some inspiration, reading calms the mind and helps to refocus and clarify your thoughts. (Try to read an actual book, as the temptation to scroll through your social media might lead to the feelings of FONDE hahaha)
  4. GOAL SETTING – the correct way. Short term and long term goals. Many of us fall into the trap of focusing solely on the big goal, the one you really really want to achieve. In doing so we forget the importance of planning and achieving our short term goals. Short term goals are a positive way to achieving your ultimate goals.
  5. PLAN – Goes with Goals. Make realistic plans to match your goals. Consult with your coach and tell them what you want to achieve. Setting unrealistic goals and poor planning lead to failure which is always going to impact your self confidence.
  6. LEARN TO TAKE A COMPLIMENT – learn to listen to the words and say thank you; ” Yes, my mare is looking class, thank you,” “I did ride well, thank you”, “Yes, that was a good round, thank you.” Even if you only acknowledge it in your head, listening to the words and repeating the compliment back reaffirms the positive.
  7. If someone is negative towards you, ask yourself WHY? It’s fairly simple, either they are not a nice person or they’re insecure that you are up there giving it a go (especially if they’re on the ground looking up at you on your horse!).
  8. Be open TO CHANGE and pay attention to your HORSE. Too often we blame our horses or we assume they’re not up for it. If something isn’t working, you need to change it up and try a different approach.
  9. Even when things go badly, recognize that YOU’RE ONLY HUMAN and your horse is well, a horse. We can’t be perfect every time, and even Andrew Nicholson has fallen off (True story – I didn’t make that up).

Catherine x


2 thoughts on “The Power of Perception – Tips for Equestrians in staying positive

  1. Thanks for this reminder. I had an HORRIFIC ride on Tuesday. Basically jumped around with my internal voice screaming at me the whole time. Definitely going to be utilizing some of your tips for our next go-round!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s all too easy to be hard on ourselves. Always remind yourself of what you’d say to a friend in that situation – you’d encourage and support them! Let us know how the next ride goes – it will be better xx


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