In 2004, Stanford University Researchers Liberman, Ross and Samuels* asked undergraduate students to nominate their classmates that were the most cooperative and their classmates that were the most competitive. They didn't tell these students that they had been nominated to participate because they were thought to be cooperative or competitive by their classmates. The nominated students then were assigned to two test groups, with money as the prize. Test Group One was assigned to a task called the "Community Game," and Test Group Two was assigned to a task called the "Wall Street Game." In each group, the individuals needed to make a choice-either a win-win choice that benefited everyone, or to make a win-lose choice that only benefited themselves.
No matter if the individual's initial quality was cooperative or competitive , the students in the Community Game group were more likely to be generous and choose the "win-win" and the students in the Wall Street Game group were more likely to be selfish and choose the "win-lose."
The only difference between the two groups?
The name of the game.
Burdens, hardships, crisis and other negative situations will happen. It is simply a fact of life.
How we handle these negative situations, however, is our choice.
Sure, it is natural to complain when bad things happen, especially when things happen that we have no control over.
Does that really help though?
It’s cold. The snow is falling, the wind is blowing, and the tractor won’t start. After you have finally finished thawing out frozen water tanks and struggling to feed hay, let’s be honest-you are too exhausted to even consider riding.
You start to feel guilty. That inner critic voice starts chiming in-how are you supposed to be ready for competitions this spring if you don’t practice consistently? Your horse will get fat and out of shape if you don’t ride. How are you supposed to achieve your goals and improve your horsemanship if you don’t put in the effort and ride?
Let’s put an end to that nagging voice, and show yourself some self-compassion.
The reality is that some days you simply can’t ride. Whether the weather makes it unsafe to ride, you are simply too tired from other obligations, or maybe you or your horse are even experiencing a lay off to recover from injury-whatever the reason, it is ok.
There are still things that you can do on days when you can’t ride to keep moving forward towards your horsemanship goals. One of the simplest and easiest is to practice the mental skill of visualization.
I used to think “I’ll be happy when...”
When I graduate college. When I am a successful horse trainer. When I have enough money to buy a fancy reining horse prospect. When I have the big barn, indoor arena, acres of pastures. When I have a barn full of amazing horses and clients with endless bank accounts. Wait, I’ll be happy when I marry a cowboy. When we get the farm set up better for beef cattle. When the fences are done and we have more time. When the kids get a little older and it is easier to do outside activities with them. When we sell a bull to a registered herd. When we sell a heifer. Later, when things settle down at work, when I have more time to ride, when I can start showing horses again, then I’ll be happy.
As an action driven, achievement oriented person, I used to think that I would be happy when I crossed some of these things off of my to-do list. And some of these things I have crossed off my list, while others are no longer important to me. Either way, whether I achieved these tasks or not, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I had fallen into the happiness trap. I was so busy and focused on the things I had to do now to be happy later, that I wasn’t enjoying the happiness in my life right now.
Confidence. Every rider knows that it is a must have trait to be successful with our horses. If we don’t have it, our horses know it. If we don’t have it, we will be a lot less likely to go after our big horsemanship dreams. Without confidence, we won’t ride at our best.
But what exactly is confidence?
I wish there was a magic confidence wand that I could wave and *poof* instant confidence would appear. Riders would feel sure of their skills and abilities. They would clearly communicate with their horse, and their horse would trust their leadership. They would approach challenging situations with calm and focus. Rider would believe in themselves, and their horses would believe in them too. Most people would agree that confidence is a positive feeling of trust in one’s self, and in their ability to achieve whatever it is that they want to do.
And developing that confidence takes time.
Certainly there are technical skills that riders and their horses must master. These are things like learning balance, how to cue and direct the horse, specific aids for maneuvers, developing a feel for the horse. This is learning to read the horse, to understand how the horse thinks and reacts. This is the horsemanship knowledge that we can spend a lifetime mastering.
Then there is the mental skills and your personal reason for riding. This is the passion you have for horses. This is knowing deep inside that part of your purpose in life is this horsemanship journey, and that you are going to give 110% to practice and learn and grow. This is perseverance to keep at it, this is where you reach deep inside yourself when things get challenging, and you get back up and try again. These mental skills help you to enjoy this journey. You can control your thoughts, the words that you say to yourself. You can change your attitude, shift your mindset, and get yourself in the zone to ride at your best. This is where you realize and understand that most of the time along our horsemanship journey, you are working on your own personal development, you are not working on the horse. Without these mental skills, without grit, you can have all the talent for the technical horsemanship skills in the world, but you will not feel confident and you will not achieve your horsemanship dreams.
Developing confidence takes technical skills, mental skills, and personal development. It is a conundrum. Because it is common to feel like we can’t go after our horsemanship dreams, that we can’t try that next thing, until we feel more confident. But if we never go for it, we will be stuck, and we won’t develop that confidence. See, we build confidence by taking ACTION. And we have to take action before we feel confident! Hence, the confidence conundrum. To build up confidence, both in ourselves and in our horses, we need to take baby steps. We need to little by little ease out of our comfort zones. We need to recognize that it isn’t going to be easy. That there are times when we won’t feel confident. We will have to try something new, to stretch ourselves, to learn and grow. And no one is perfect the first time they try something new! We will make mistakes. We will get it wrong. And every time that we step outside that comfort zone we are building that belief, that trust, in ourselves. Every time that we try something new and we recognize that we got just 1% better, and we recognize and celebrate that tiny little improvement, we build our confidence.
It is so common for us to want to have it all right away. To believe that if we are truly talented and good at something that it should come easy. That if we have to struggle to learn, then it means that we are bad, and for some of us when we don’t feel like we are good at something, we are tempted to just quit. We live in an instant world, where we want answers and knowledge and things, and we want it right now. We are not accustomed to waiting! As a result, we very often fail to recognize that 1% improvement! We think that anything other than drastic changes, instantly and without struggle, isn’t good enough. So we don’t recognize those little improvements in ourselves and our horses. We don’t make ourselves or our horses winners for these little positive changes. And when we don’t recognize these little changes, we don’t gradually build up our confidence, step by step, every day. When we focus on the negative, then we get negative back. Then we don’t even want to try anything new, because we don’t feel good or confident about it. Then we get stuck, or worse, we go backwards in our horsemanship journey. When we are in a negative mindset, we can’t trust ourselves or our horse, and our horse certainly senses our negativity and doesn’t trust us.
When was the last time you recognized and really celebrated a 1% improvement? When was the last time that you really praised your horse and made him a winner for that 1%? What if you did? What if you went 1% out of your comfort zone today? What if you took your big goals and dreams, and you broke them down into little baby steps? Would you feel more confident then, knowing that you only had to stretch outside that comfort zone a teeny tiny bit every day? If you stretched that 1% every day, in 100 days you would have 100% improvement! Fear disappears, and confidence appears, when we take action towards our goals. So get out there, make that 1% improvement, and get gritty!
P.S. Want to learn more about the mental skills and personal development pieces of building confidence? Check out my Confident Cowgirl Online Course!
Do you have little kids or grandkids that you want to share your love of horses with? Check out my latest article in the Performance Horse Digest on my top 5 Tips to get kids started riding-safely. You can read it for free at https://horsedigests.com/1HD/8-18/html5.html#page/35
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