Wisdom from a Wimpy Eventer
Riding Should Be Fun! Part Seven:
SmartPaker Jess’ healthy respect for the sport.
As a middle-aged low-level mediocre “Eventer,” I feel a certain relatability to all those amateurs out there just trying to make it and (not) break it. I think sometimes we could all use some reminders to help us “stay the course” (literally), and not get wrapped up in our fear. While it’s great to get out there and push the limits sometimes, it’s all too easy to lose sight of why we do this. I hope these simple tips help to lighten the load a bit, and that my fellow average equestrians can channel their inner fierceness.
Inhale Courage, Exhale Fear
These are the words written on my favorite water bottle that was a prize from one of my events. It has become my favorite mantra for sure. Every time we climb onto our horse’s back, whether for a quick hack down the driveway or a 14-jump cross country course, we put our trust and our life in the hands of a 1,000 lb. animal. Sometimes just remembering to breathe is half the battle. Dig deep and remember that you got this. Look how far you’ve come to where you are now. You, my friend, are on the back of a horse! It’s a privilege and an honor and let’s not take it for granted.
Trust the Process, and Your Horse
There are all different levels of nerves that we feel as riders and horsemen and for varying reasons. Everyone has a different way of dealing with these nerves. I know that personally, I try not to overthink the situation and focus more on the reward. If I start thinking about what a long way down it is off my 17-hand horse and how badly I could get hurt if I fell, then forget it! Sometimes it’s best to just try to do your best to block those thoughts out and instead focus on the adrenaline rush when you cross the cross-country line, or the wind in your hair as you’re galloping along. To do this, we must trust our partners implicitly. Try to be as mindful as possible and let those negative thoughts flow right out of your head. You’ve built an incredible partnership with your horse and you have trust in each other. Don’t forget that your horse is looking to you as his leader just as much as you’re depending on him, and you certainly don’t want to let him down.
Be Your Own Hero
When I tell people that I’m an Eventer, their first reaction is always something like “oh, you’re one of those super brave people!” or “you must be an adrenaline junky.” Fact is, that’s not the case at all. Maybe the riders at the upper levels are, but I’m content jumping Beginner Novice and Novice and have no grand plans to go to Land Rover next year. I trust my horse and know my limits, and honestly just remembering my dressage test, cross country course, stadium course, my times, and all my gear for the 3 phases is enough for me. Celebrate the small victories that no one sees. Maybe just getting out of bed and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone was a small step for you. Maybe this is the first time you got your horse on the trailer in one shot. Maybe you made it through your course or pattern without any major blunders. Maybe you and your horse navigated around for the first time like seasoned pros. I don’t think there’s any valor in pushing the limits of your comfort zone into a place of fear. While it’s great to challenge yourself, it’s so very important to not push yourself to the point of getting so nervous that you’re sick to your stomach and terrified. We need to remember that we do this for FUN!
Sit with Your Fear
Mark Twain once said, “I am a very old man and have suffered a great many misfortunes, most of which never happened.” Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is to sit with your fear. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling for 2-3 minutes and then move on. Recognize the legitimacy and realness of that fear, and then let it go. If you dwell on the “what if’s,” you’ll never accomplish anything. You have every right to be cautious, apprehensive, and nervous, but you also have a right to feel proud, accomplished, and deserving. One of my other favorite quotes is from John Wayne; “courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”
Be Prepared and Set Realistic Goals
Personally, I feel the most confident when I’ve prepared to the best of my ability. I ride my dressage test repeatedly and try and work on the parts that we struggle with the most. I jump my stadium course in my head over and over again and count strides. I take pictures of each cross-country jump on the course and go through them one by one the day before the event. Being prepared leaves room in your mind to remember all those little important details and helps to eliminate the feelings of anxiousness and unsettledness. Don’t put yourself at a level you’re not ready for and set yourself up for failure. Move along when you’re ready to challenge yourself but be realistic about what you and your horse are ready for.
Remember Why You Do This
We all share a common theme here, and that’s our love for the animal first, and the sport second. Whatever it is that you do, whether it’s taking care of your backyard retired horses or competing at upper levels in whatever discipline you ride, keep it in your heart. Remember that you choose to spend your time, money, (and sanity!) with these large herbivorous flight animals that give us their whole heart. As any hobby or sport, there is a level of danger – especially when our counterparts have a mind of their own, but we justify it in everything we get back and would not feel complete without it. Horses don’t need to get in a small metal box on wheels and arrive at a strange place, only to carry us around and do whatever it is we ask. They also don’t need to lay their head on our shoulders in our times of need and comfort us, but they do that too. We take the risk with the reward every day.
At the end of the day, give yourself some credit for doing what you do. How many people can say they have a true passion that drives them? Keep on keepin’ on and be sure to give your horse a pat after every ride and thank him for taking care of you.