I went through a period this winter when I was contemplating whether it was time to give up and throw in the reins, so to speak. I seriously considered selling my beautiful, well-behaved Quarter Horse gelding and becoming a horseless rider.
As a person who deals with anxiety on a regular basis, my negative thinking was gnawing away at me. I had almost convinced myself that I could actually follow through with selling my near-perfect gelding and driving off into the sunset.
Thankfully, I gave myself the time and attention this life-changing type of decision takes. I started soul-searching and asking myself a few simple questions, and was surprised to learn a number of things about myself in the process.
The first question I asked myself was, what does owning a horse do for me that nothing else does?
Well, I love the fact that it sets me apart as an individual. I live in a ski town, but guess what? I don’t ski! I ride horses. I ask my husband about his day of skiing and he asks about my day at the barn.
I love the fact that it always puts me out of my comfort zone. Every time I am around my horse I put myself out there. He’s big and powerful and he puts up with me. I feel so accomplished when I get on and work through something that comes so natural to others, but I struggle with constantly.
I am proud of the fact that I’ve worked so long and hard to educate myself and love sharing my knowledge with others. I love chatting about horses and have bored more than a few of my not-so-horsey friends with my endless enthusiasm, even after 20 years.
Why would I ever give up something I’m so passionate about? What was I thinking? By the time I had the answer to this question written out, I was nearly having a panic attack at the mere prospect of stepping away from it. Somehow seeing all of the positive aspects riding has brought to my life written down really struck me.
Next question, and a big one, was why am I so frustrated? Well, the answer is: I expect too much. Fear is a constant struggle for me, in almost all aspects of life. I live my life with a string of “what-ifs” daily, along with the occasional anxiety attack.
I realize now after asking this question of myself, that fear equals frustration, and is also responsible for numerous other issues I need to work through, not only with horses, but on a personal level as well. Fear can make me angry at times, because it’s not something easily put away when it’s not convenient.
I work twice as hard, if not more, to get comfortable with something new and out of the ordinary. It can be exhausting. And yes, very maddening at times, but when I think about it, so worthwhile. Good things don’t always come easy, and riding is one of the things I have stuck with the longest. It has brought incredible joy to my life.
The Final Step
Lastly, what’s my game plan for changing up these feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy so that I can move forward with confidence and not question myself?
The answer to this one has taken a bit more thought and homework. I have spent too much time trying to please others when it comes to my goals. I now realize that I don’t have to please anyone but myself, and believe me, I’m my own toughest critic.
Perhaps someday I will make it back in to that show arena, but not until I am mentally and physically ready for it and I can convey that confidence to my horse. This alone was a big discovery for me. I’m a loner when it comes to riding. I like my one-on-one time with my horse.
I have also discovered and practice the art of positive self-talk. What a difference a few words make. I am shutting those what-ifs off before my brain can even process the images. I’m becoming quite good at it.
I picture success every time I get on my horse. I no longer feel the weight of expectations from others. I’ve started working with a very skilled instructor who specializes in clients similar to myself. I can relax and go at my own speed. It’s a journey, not a race.
In retrospect, it’s hard to believe I was remotely willing to give up my passion. This summer is going to be a whole new experience for me with my newfound skills and attitude.
Maybe I don’t have to conquer the world in a day. Maybe it’s OK to take baby steps and actually relax a little in the process. Maybe it’s OK that I’m not the best at something. I’m good enough to be safe and smart enough to know my limits. And every day that I can leave the barn with a smile is a huge success as far as I’m concerned. There’s a reason I’ve stayed in this game this long.
Sometimes your expectations for yourself can become your own worst enemy. I am stronger for having endured the roadblocks. So, when you’re considering giving up the game, focus long and hard on your reasons. Don’t give up because it’s hard, and don’t ever sell your saddle. Dust it off and get back on.
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!