I went back and forth about self esteem for days, because my last post was meant to be a sort of lead in to addressing self-esteem in the hunter and equitation rings, and it is a massive problem. It seeps through on every level from pony land all the way up to the top, recognized to unrecognized competition, doesn’t matter, it is everywhere and it needs to be considered.
I asked friends all over the world how to cope with this major issue in the sport and asked them to contribute to what their insights might be, because I literally cannot relate. I am a huge cynic. I can’t help it, I was born this way. I truly believe in my perspective of ‘we are playing with horses’ because it is true. I don’t mean to belittle everything you are doing, but when I watch what happens outside of the horse world bubble, I gotta admit, I am basically just thinking how lucky I am to have carved out a little place in the world surrounded by animals. 85% of the world ‘ain’t so lucky’. When my friends responded with how they had watched people deal with low self esteem, I wasn’t sure their answers were right either. I know what people in Europe do, they generally go around, at whatever levels they are competing in that day, and whatever ever happens happens, they put their horses on the trailer and go for a beer in the beer tent and commiserate together. It is not as rampant over there. Conceit may be a bigger problem.
I am HUGE loner, I know this, I spend hours in the truck alone driving all over the country with my horses and I literally could care less what other people think about where I go, what I do or win. I do, however, strive for being a good person, friendly, supportive, sort of considerate with non-stupid people, etc. etc. It is good for business, and people remember you for your friendliness, not what your success was in the ring. I think about the people worried about letting a trainer down. Don’t worry about pleasing your trainer, he/she gets paid at the end of the day no matter what happens, they have their own personal issues to deal with, and could be downing a bottle of vodka every night for all you know (not that there is anything wrong with that), juggling two mortgage payments and that awesome car payment on a sports car. If your parents make you feel bad, because they spent all that money on a horse and expect perfect results with said horse, that is simple, find new parents. They should have known better in the first place.
I literally have no idea exactly how to handle the issue of low self esteem, and my only response is the same every time – knock it off, you deserve to be here. I don’t encourage to go full swing the other way and become a total arrogant prick, but maybe just try to find that happy medium, ok? I am not even sure how we got to the point of so much emphasis put on the Big Eq just to witness teenagers starving themselves like runway models. It seems odd for a rider to do that. Doesn’t starving just make you weaker? Aren’t you riding a horse?? How did these classes get insanely popular recently? Are we scrambling through the motions hoping to find our future Olympians in the Equitation Finals? Shouldn’t a future Olympian like to eat and already know what a spider wrap is by this point? DO any of them? 20 people are about to google spider wrap. eh, maybe 10.
Nervous energy is fabulous energy. It happens to every competitor on the planet, no matter the sport. People that never participate in a competition probably only feel this kind of energy on a blind date. or when robbing a house. It is normal adrenalin that courses through your veins when you are trying to make a good impression, and I love every second of it. It evaporates too quickly, but for those few seconds when I stand on deck at the In-gate, I think it is pretty awesome. It returns to all business as I approach the first fence, but for those fleeting seconds, I tend to embrace the butterflies, not fear them, they are butterflies for pete’s sake, I mean really. Maybe I should ink one of those little bugs, eh, idk. that might be weird. Anyway, learn to shed the fear, and accept the nervous energy. Fear is getting kidnapped, thrown into the trunk of a car, and stored in some lunatic’s house not knowing if you will ever see your family again. Standing at the In-gate of the Walnut ring wondering if you will go off course again is not a legitimate fear.
Trainers have a history of being mean, I could go on for days about the detrimental practices of various trainers in the sport, but it wouldn’t really solve anything. They would still be mean. Lining your own future up with a good perspective is probably the best way to go. Or find a nice trainer that responds well to your needs. If you are an evil person, by all means you certainly have my permission to stay with whatever crazy trainer you have (let’s face it I don’t care about evil people, this may or may not include spoiled brats that cry a lot), however, no one should feel like they cannot leave a bad situation just because rumors might or might not spread about them. Yes, many trainers are also judges, we can’t escape this fact, but deal with it. Lift your chin up, you will be fine. Accept the fact that you are ultimately going to have to compete in front of someone that you chose to leave two, five, or ten years ago and get over it. You are not the first person to experience this and who knows, maybe you get a lucky break that day and actually win a class, or ok, get fourth, whatever. Who really cares, in the end, all it does is make for a story at a cocktail party. (Notice I didn’t say good story.)
On any level, in any discipline, if you happen to be scared of the horse you are riding and are frozen into speechlessness for fear of letting someone else down, this line of thinking is going to get you hurt in a big way. It’s not funny. This is one of most damaging behaviors very few trainers can predict or see until it is far too late. Be honest with yourself and your coach, it is the only way. EVEN if you think a trainer will shame you, let them know when you are scared of your horse. It is NOT your problem if your trainer blows a gasket, and that person may just need a certain wake up call. Putting on a brave face when you literally can’t feel anything but sheer terror will affect everyone around you. It is dangerous. Remember: the level you are competing on does not define you as a person, being a person defines you as being a person.
If you ARE the kind of cool individual that has a really good perspective, and would love to make the world a better place, or could use a little boost in your self-esteem, here is a pretty good way you can help. A couple of years ago a student of Virginia Intermont tragically lost her life in a car accident on the trip home from a horse show in Virginia and now an incredibly special person has gone to great lengths to keep her memory alive for her family through a scholarship fund. It is important! she was amazing. click here and give. and work on your perspective.