Creating a Positive Mindset in the Equestrian World
Being a woman can be hard work. Owning horses can be hard work. Don’t we all know it?
We are all aware of the societal pressures put upon women to run a family, a home and try to have a career. But throw in an extremely emotive (but lovable) sport on top of this and it could be a recipe for disaster. Horses have a mind of their own, literally. Many of us use horse riding as an escape from the stresses of our daily lives but what happens when our horses don’t want to play ball? A bad training session, a lame horse, mounting vets bills – these can all add intense pressure to a woman’s already stressful life.
I believe that the equine world should be a sanctuary for women, away from other pressures and external influences. This can be true whether horses are part of your profession or not. There are ways that all of us can learn to take pleasure in riding, and our magnificent horses themselves, to use them as an escape from other anxieties. In fact, most of the women I speak to about confidence issues, or apprehensions, about their riding generally find that they are triggered from other areas of their lives rather than the horse or the riding itself. It’s a complicated process but once we are able to compartmentalise different areas of our lives, we can enjoy the things we are meant to enjoy.
So what if you don’t have all the time in the world to learn these tricks? How can you ensure you have a positive experience with your horse every time you ride? I have put together a list of my favourite ways to achieve this. Let’s put the fun back into riding for all women.
Learn to Set Boundaries
I accept that this is a big one to start with, but I believe it is one of the most valuable skills anyone can learn, in everyday life and with their horses. In the equestrian world we meet a lot of opinionated characters, and rightly so. There’s a lot of experience and knowledge out there with regards to riding style and the correct way to train horses etc. However, being able to say “no” to an instructor who is teaching you to ride in a way you don’t believe in, or a pushy yard owner who has changed your horse's care routine without consulting you, will give you a more enjoyable experience in the end.
In my experience, most anxieties and mental unrest comes from women not staying true to their own values and beliefs because they’re trying to fit in with someone else’s. Spend some time working out exactly what matters to you concerning your horse and stick to your guns with it!
Detox your Social Media
These days we are all aware of the detrimental effects of social media to our mental health. As the famous saying goes “Comparison is the thief of joy” – and this couldn’t be truer when we look at who we follow on platforms such as Instagram.
The greatest advice I can give here is to look for those accounts who give a “warts and all '' account of their riding career. Follow those who show you the bad days as well as the good, and those who give you a behind the scenes look at their successes. It’ll help you feel more encouraged when things don’t go quite the way you planned with your own horse. Those accounts that only show the winning results are, in my opinion, not inspiring at all. They are showing a make-believe side to horses which just doesn’t happen, and are making themselves unrelatable to a huge portion of the equestrian community. Remember, no one has it good 100% of the time – horses tend to make sure of that!
Set your Goals
Having something to aim for, no matter how small, gives you a greater purpose with your riding.
You can break any goal up into smaller steps and keep track of your progress either in your head, on your phone or in a journal. By physically, or mentally, “ticking off” achievements like this will give you something to refer to on days where you feel as though nothing is going right. Having something tangible to show you just how far you’ve come, and how much closer the end goal is, is real positive reinforcement and will definitely help with any worries you have with regards to progress you’re making.
I am sure at some point you will have read something somewhere which talks about the benefits of being able to practice gratitude. Whether it’s part of journaling or something that’s done as a standalone, it is used as a powerful tool in shifting your mindset in a more positive direction. However, I would recommend using this tool specifically for riding.
I have previously recommended to others to write down 3 positive things after each ride. It can be as simple as “it was sunny” or “I had a good chat with a friend” or even “I didn’t fall off today”, but by finding the positives in each and every interaction, even when things don’t feel as though they’re going well, it will help you feel positive about the next ride too.
Find your Cheerleaders
This is my favourite tip of all. Find those who are with you all the way, all of the time, applauding you for every small positive step you make.
These special humans come in many different forms. They could be a friend, a family member, romantic partner, your instructor or even someone you connect with on social media, but everyone needs at least one person who’s always in their corner.
Find the person who’ll dust you off when you fall off and encourage you to get back in the saddle, who will listen to your irrational fears without judgement, and who will offer you the advice you need without being overbearing.
Everybody needs somebody to make them feel part of a “tribe” – and, if you’re lucky, you could be this to someone too.
Lastly, take the pressure off! Spend some quality time with your horse and make the effort to leave the stresses of everyday life at the stable door. The yard should be your “haven” – take steps to keep it that way.