Get your heels down. You have heard those words a thousand times before and will continue to hear them as long as you are a student of horsemanship. Your heel is your base, the lowest point of your foundation – that upon which everything else is built. When your horse comes to a screeching halt in fear of the flapping flags, better have your heels down. If you want to create inertia, when your horse needs a little extra oomph in his step; better have your heels dug deep in your stirrup. And similar to the idiom discussed last week, digging in means more than just getting your heels down.
Just as Tiger Woods practices his swing on the driving range for 2 or more hours per day, you must practice drills to keep your base strong. That means a lot of time in the saddle standing in your stirrups, in a two-point or forward position stretching and strengthening your lower leg. The flexibility and strength in your ankle and lower leg is the key to a good connection with your horse. You cannot be a great rider without being connected – at all times – to your horse. All good connections start at the bottom, with your base. When times get tough, it is this base that will keep you anchored on a successful path.
Great riders are never afraid to dig in. They assume that to accomplish their goals, they will have to get their hands dirty — invest time and energy to reach their goals. They are not only unafraid of hard work, they embrace it. They certainly do not run away from it. Instead, great riders give it everything they have, attacking problems as they arise. They do not give up easily or at all. When one door closes, the great ones find advantage behind previously unseen doors.
Great riders see opportunity in setbacks. They accept the challenge that comes with any goal, ready themselves for the uphill climb and become better riders. When others cast doubt, they soldier on. Great riders discover that their faith allows them to stay the course granting the favor needed to accomplish the goal. And when they do fall short of their goals, great riders reassess the circumstances and make adjustments. Changes include amending strategic plans. It takes constant, honest evaluation to progress. Riders must be vigilant and determined; consistent and reliable, loyal to their cause.
It is difficult to maintain your conviction without being prepared. While it is easy to say you will take on the tough jobs, do the dirty work and meet hardships with eagerness, it is impossible to persevere without mental toughness. Mental toughness requires a plan. Negativity abounds – you must develop a positive thought process to fend off the skepticism. Prepare yourself to stay the course by:
- Creating a vision.
- Orchestrating a mental plan then controlling your thoughts.
- Rehearsing a winning thought process.
- Riding with another person who feeds your confidence.
- Finding a go-to exercise that reinstates your faith when things go awry.
Use key words to get you back on track. Say to yourself “I can do this”, “I am strong”, “I have done this before” and “reaching my goal is within my control”. Use action words while you practice such as “flex” while you stand in the stirrups just before you enter the pen; or “chin up” as you stretch your upper body; or “sit deep” as you prepare for a stop; or “dig in” as you prepare for a great ride. It is the one who can dig deep and stick to their beliefs that ends up creating great rides landing them in the winner’s circle time and again.
Expect it. Practice it. Do it.