As anyone reading my show recap earlier this week may have noticed, I was feeling super low-pressure about the whole thing. This is certainly a departure from how I’ve been about this stuff in the past, when I would be up all night tossing and turning with anxiety, or worried about getting the score/placing I needed to qualify for something, or so focused on the outcome that I was too paralyzed to enjoy the journey. I have to say, feeling no pressure about anything certainly makes the whole experience much more enjoyable.
I think the pressure we feel as riders can be really complex. People don’t have the same performance expectations of us amateurs as they do of professionals, necessarily, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have those expectations of ourselves. There’s also the guilt of spending all that money on a show. Spending so much time away from work and family not just when we’re showing, but also just trying to ride every day. The fact that we usually only have one show horse to focus on, so everything that happens seems like a much bigger deal. We generally don’t get to show that much either, which can make us feel like every single one is super duper important and we really have to make it count. We have so much time, money, sacrifice, blood, sweat, and tears tied up into this sport.
Add being a blogger/relatively public person on top of it and that means there’s more scrutiny too. We’ve chosen to put ourselves out there in a public way, for all the good and bad that that entails. If you have a bad show it’s not as easy to hide and just not talk about it, you always have to answer to someone and explain. Not to mention that a lot of people at shows know who you are (for better or worse!), and attention is often the last thing you want in that situation. So… it’s very easy to see how the pressure starts to add up.
I think this last Pine Hill show was the first time I really felt NO pressure. It was pretty damn liberating, to tell you the truth. I think a big part of it is all the time I’ve invested lately into changing my mindset and addressing the mental aspect of riding, I really can’t express how important that’s been for me. It’s changed my whole perspective. But also I have to admit that there’s something really freeing for me about showing at a level I never in a million years expected to reach. I’m still very much in the “can you even believe this shit???” phase where I’m kind of just delighted to be here. I doubt we’re impressing anyone, but I don’t really care. My only regret is that I wish I’d figured all of this out a lot sooner… why haven’t I always just felt delighted to be here? It’s a freakin horse show, after all.
For the first time in a long time I have no particular expectations of myself or my horse. I don’t go into a show with pre-conceived notions of how we should score. For so long I kind of let the score define me, like it was some kind of barometer of my worth as a rider. Which is absolutely moronic, at best, in a sport like this.
These days I’m not trying to qualify for anything or prove myself to anyone. Honestly my only goal for last weekend’s show was just to complete, because I really felt like my horse deserved to have a recognized Prelim on his record (yes, I recognize how silly that sounds). We definitely take everything one show at a time now, and whatever happens is what happens. We show up, we try our best, we hopefully learn from it, and we move on. I guess that might sound aimless in a way, but after chasing big goals year after year with this horse, it feels like I can finally just… take a deep breath. I’ve spent so long trying to prove to myself that we can do this, and that we belong here, I’ve kind of forgotten to stop and take a look around and realize that we ARE here and we ARE doing this. What exactly am I trying to prove to myself at this point?
It also helps to realize that despite what other people may sometimes think, my horse is not a robot and neither am I. Sometimes he’ll get worked up and throw in a clunker of a dressage test, sometimes I’ll mess up and take a rail (or 3) with me. It happens. That’s eventing. None of us are perfect (or even all that great) all the time. If anyone wants to criticize me for that, they’re more than welcome. Along with having nothing to prove to myself, I sure don’t have anything to prove to anyone else either. The only opinions that matter in my world are my horse’s and my trainer’s.
I was scrolling through facebook the other day and came across this post from MuddyMayhem that pretty much summed it up perfectly. It’s a little long, but 100% worth the read.
This part, in particular, is freaking brilliant:
Y’see We spend so long in Eventing worrying:
worrying we are getting it wrong, worrying we aren’t good enough, worrying what our record looks like, worrying about MERs & levels, worrying about what we’re going to put on Social Media,
worrying that we might die [wry laugh]. I had a chance for those 5 minutes to throw off those worries & just live & love the moment I was in. On that course I had left behind the feelings of inadequacy that I seem to battle with constantly & fuck me I was grabbing that feeling by the big hairy balls.
Go ahead judge me for it, think I’m fool, that I’m ‘embarrassing’ because I don’t give a shitting toss!
By putting the worries and pressures aside, my whole world has changed. The self-doubt, the criticism, the never-ending comparison… girl, bye. We’re living in the moment, and loving every minute of this new challenge. I wish I’d learned how to not give a shitting toss a hell of a lot sooner.
At the end of the day, horse shows really just aren’t that big of a deal. We all want to do well, of course, that’s why we’re there. But this sport is so much more than that. No matter what happens, there will always be another horse show. I think that, at the end of the day, if you asked each of us what it is that keeps us showing up at the barn every day and putting the time in, pretty much none of us would say ribbons. We’d say it was the love of the horse, the love of the sport, and that feeling we get when we’re out there doing something so ridiculously freaking fun on a horse that we love so ridiculously freaking much. When you start thinking about it that way, and focusing on why we really do this, it’s funny how all the worries and pressures start to just fade away.
8 thoughts on “Low Pressure”
Blah. I needed this. I have a lot of “impostor syndrome” at events. Like my short, fat pony and I don’t really belong among all the tall, sleek thoroughbreds. When I let it get into my head, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Then, it gets worse because now I am riding, what at least looks like, the easiest horse in the ring, and I still can’t make it work. Next time out, I am going to make a real effort to put all those feelings aside and just relish in the joy of being at an event with my pony.
I’m trying to think of it as – what would I say to a friend who felt the way I’m feeling? I guarantee it’s something different than what we tend to say to ourselves. It’s so funny how we tend to hold ourselves to a different regard (and treat ourselves with much less kindness) than we do other people. Like I see you and May out there being badass and I have nothing but admiration. You work hard and deserve to be there, and find success, just as much as anyone else. Does May look different from most? Maybe. But I think that makes her pretty cool, personally. You clearly love your horse and she clearly loves her job, so you’ve got nothing but respect from me. I think it’s pretty cool to see people making the most of the horse they’ve got!
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I am happy to hear that you could enjoy your last show this much!
Congrats on making this much progress this fast! That in itself is an amazing feat.
Well written. Thank you for sharing as it’s always good to read things like this and remind myself to release those worries and enjoy the moment.
And I concur with your reply about ‘what would I say to a friend feeling the way I’m feeling?’ I’ve asked myself that (and answered myself!) countless times over the past year or so. Funnily enough, now instead of asking myself that question so often, my knee-jerk reaction in my head is to just start encouraging myself and praising all the little things. It’s a much nicer place to be.
When I got my schoolmaster it was INSANE the amount of pressure I had on me at the time (put on by myself). I’ve shown forever, coached forever, and had pushed through the nerves and throwing up before the show period so I was surprised to see it happen again. Honestly it was when I was taking him up the levels and hit second level that I learned to let it go. I felt like EVERYONE was watching me on this bought horse that I rode all the time and we practiced until I could do it in my sleep (I thought) so WHY was it a big deal now? Basically, I HAD to ride now. I HAD to watch out for our best interests – IN the ring not what the railbirds were doing/saying if that was even happening. I rode him the best I could on any given day, focused on the job at hand, and we did the things. Sometimes he was a hot demon and we made errors but I started fixing them… in the ring… and being more and more competent and that’s when people started giving me compliments on how I rode. I wasn’t just doing the things, I was doing what was best for him AND being in the moment as a trainer/rider. And you’re right, it is INSANELY liberating to evolve your mental mindset. When I made a rider error in I-1 at a CDI I caught it before the judge, circled, and then knocked the move out of the park. No freak outs, no crying, no worries, I just did the things. I made the error because I’d learned to GO FOR IT and well, sometimes going for it means mistakes. Brilliant, sorry, not sorry mistakes. Now with my green horses I’m much calmer, focused, and tactful when we’re riding or showing because of those experiences. The evolution of the mindset is amazing and fun to watch. So glad you guys are doing so well and it’s hard to put yourself out there but you’re rocking it!
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Right there with you, this year is feeling different in a good way. It’s been amazing to climb the levels with Frankie and I’m so glad we strived so hard for so many cool adventures, but there’s something liberating about saying “screw it, I’m going to do whatever sounds fun this week because my horse is a total bro and I love doing things with him.”
Love all of this. I had a realization awhile back, I think it was after college when I had a real job and all that, how utterly ridiculous the horse show world really is. All those “famous” riders are really nobodies in the “real” world. At the end of the day, nothing about horse showing really matters. And I think after that momentary epiphany my perspective changed too. I still LOVE to horse show (ugh, I miss it so much), but it’s not the be all end all of my life anymore. Not to say it’s not worth working for, of course it is! But not for the ribbons or the classes. Just for the rider growth and bond with my horse.
Honestly, the blogging about riding was definitely a double edged sword. When I was actively showing, it was easy to see that I had a negative mindset coming out of a lot of shows, but there was additional pressure to do well, come home, and write a great post. Not to say that I don’t love blogging, but everything comes with a cost. Between this post and the on that A Yankee In Paris did a while back, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the mental side of things. I feel like these types of articles have very slowly creeped into more professional rings, but the personal stories do better at pulling the curtain back.