A friend and fellow trainer once told me “you ride into the pen looking like second place”. He was referring to my showing in hunter under saddle classes at big shows, such as the Congress or World Show. At first I took offense to his words, got angry and thought he was just plain mean. But after ditching my defensive response, I realized he was right.
It was not easy information to swallow. Of course I wanted to win – every time. Why else would I enter the show ring if not to win? After all, I did win; just not at the big ones. I always felt like the underdog; under horsed, underfunded, un-marketed. In my heart, I knew I was good. In fact, I was good enough for second place.
I did not grow up in a family that constantly gave praise for accomplishments or stroked my ego. Instead, my family’s doctrine was keep your nose to the grindstone, do your work properly and if you are really good, people will take notice; you will not have to tell them about it. Frankly, my father would say, “if you have to tell someone how good you are, perhaps you are not that good.”
While that may be well and good advice for daily living, it does not work well for those who want to win in a judged competition – of any kind! Whether on skates, on the dance floor, in a pageant or a horse show, judges pick up on a competitor’s confidence with their very first glimpse of the competitor. And yet a confident rider is not conceited, smug or arrogant. Confident people know some things that the insecure have not YET learned. But these traits are and can be learned.
In order to have confidence a person must:
- Practice correctly until responses are automatic
o Tiger Woods starts his day with 1 ½ hours of cardio and weight training then practices golf for an average of eight (8!) hours a day! 2 -3 hours on the range working on his swing, 30 minutes to an hour on putting, 9 holes, then another 2 to 3 hours on the course. Does that sound like what you do? How many hours do you spend riding without stirrups? In your two-point? Practicing the set-up for Showmanship…..
- Tune out the noise
o Everyone has a naysayer around them. DO NOT listen to them. In fact, distance yourself from anyone who drags you down. When someone tries to take you to the gutter with their conversation, pleasantly change the subject then extricate yourself from the situation. My favorite “so how is your mother (father, sister, horse, dog, cat, husband) ” or “when do you leave for …..” or “what did you do for supper last night?”. No matter, just change the subject. Detach yourself from toxic relationships.
- Give it their best effort with their current skill set
o If you have practiced this will be easy. You will know that you have done all that you could to prepare. But you must practice first then give whatever you do your best effort. Don’t just try – do.
- Be unafraid to fail
o Do not ride for third place. Go for it – push your personal envelope. The learning opportunities that come from mistakes are invaluable and cannot be understood from the sidelines. Nobody will remember your first attempt at a flying lead change was two strides late or even missed completely when you successfully change leads a month later.
- Only pay attention to opinions that truly matter
o Everyone on the outside of the fence is happy to give their opinion. And many of the opinions that come from inside the walls are just that – one opinion that should not be taken too seriously. Define who truly matters in your world and tune out the opinions of others. Earn the respect and trust of the few who are of genuine significance.
- Put a game face on all they do
o No matter your level, whether or not you practiced, put on your game face from the minute you wake up on game day. Today is the day. Today is the day you think like a winner, act like a winner and remember you are a winner. Don’t let a wrong lead, missed diagonal or over-spin wipe that game face away. Check mistakes off like something on a to-do list. They bring you one step closer to achieving your goals.
- Be grateful for all they have
o There are no victims in the winner’s circle. People who exude confidence (not to be mistaken for arrogance or conceit) are grateful people. Confident people accept what others bring or take to the table. They are not envious. They are not owned by their emotions. They accept their shortcomings and work to improve their areas of limitations. Confident people are grateful for the opportunity to learn, experience and compete.
- Relish change
o Confident people are never satisfied with status quo. They seek a better result; reach for greater heights. The world is not static for a champion. And confidence results from embracing the change that knowledge brings forth.
If a rider does not think they are good enough for first place, why should a judge? A judge has only seconds to formulate an opinion about a rider. If the rider looks as if they are hiding, tentative in their approach or doubtful in their presentation, the judge will move on. Confidence breeds success. Believe in yourself. Have faith in your ability. Take action: the consequence is confidence.
Happy New Year – make this be the year you ride with confidence.