To realize your potential — at horse shows and beyond — you sometimes need to adjust your perspective.
By Annise Montplaisir, AQHA spring 2015 intern
Horse showing is just as much a test of mental strength and endurance as a physical one. Of course, raw talent will give you an edge, hard work will improve your abilities and a constructive trainer will sharpen you up. But when you walk into that arena, the one thing that ties it all together is your state of mind.
As I mentioned in one of my previous blog articles, at the beginning of March I flew home to compete in an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association horse show with the North Dakota State University hunt seat equestrian team. For those of you not familiar with IHSA, here’s how it works: Universities host horse shows and provide the horses. Competitors are paired with horses at random by drawing names. You don’t have any warm up time – you mount your horse in the arena and immediately begin a jumping course or a flat class. The idea is to level the playing field by putting all the riders on horses they’ve never ridden and judge them on their equitation and skill. Riders are divided into different categories, including open, intermediate and novice, depending on their riding experience.
In the weeks leading up to my show in March, I prepared like crazy, taking lessons from three different instructors and working out on a regular basis. I watched equitation videos with a friend, visualized jumping courses and imagined myself riding successfully at the show.
Throughout my years of competing in horse shows, one of my greatest weaknesses as a rider has been a lack of confidence in myself and my abilities. No matter how much I practiced, I always felt slightly threatened by riders who exuded confidence and had more experience. What I’ve learned is that, wherever you go in life, there will probably be someone with a greater amount of skill and experience than you. However, there’s no reason you should doubt yourself because of this. It’s important to embrace your talents for what they are and continue accepting advice that will help you improve.
By channeling the support of my friends and family and the positivity from my riding instructors, I found a new sense of determination and belief in myself. This reformed attitude helped me immensely, and I believe my IHSA regional show was a success because of it. My jumping course went lovely, and I qualified for zones later in March.
I prepared for zones the same way as I had for regionals, but I learned a different lesson about mental strength. My jumping round was … let’s just say, not so hot. I knew as soon as I left the arena that I could have ridden better.
But even in defeat, we’re presented with an opportunity. You can act bitter and blame the judge or your horse, or you can gracefully congratulate the winner, high five the other riders and tell yourself you won’t make the same mistakes again. It’s easy to congratulate those you beat when you’re the winner, but far more difficult to swallow your pride, smile warmly and congratulate the winner when you’re the, well … not winner. For every disappointment I’ve encountered in life, I always end up finding a reason behind it. Perhaps it just wasn’t the right time, or maybe there was a lesson to be learned that will guide me in the future.
Regardless, it was a fantastic IHSA season. I didn’t win everything, but I learned a lot. And not only am I a stronger competitor, but a stronger sportsman.