“Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
As equestrians, and people, we tend to hear the above phrase a lot. However, for many of us, it seems like it has become nothing but a string of words that has lost its meaning. It’s difficult not to compare ourselves to everyone else, but I truly believe that “don’t be so hard on yourself” is an important phrase we should start taking to heart again.
There are lots of places to be bombarded with others’ accomplishments. Whether it’s at the barn, at the show grounds, or on social media, we see riders every day that are showing more, winning more, and achieving more than us. We watch these other equestrians and wonder, Why can’t I jump four feet yet? Why haven’t I gotten those tempi changes down? It’s a normal occurrence to lament all the ways we haven’t progressed as a rider. But wait a second. Would you compare a four-year-old off-the-track thoroughbred with a Grand Prix jumper? Of course not: the four-year-old OTTB has much more to learn than a seasoned horse that competes internationally. Chances are, you still have a lot to learn, too, just like that OTTB. That girl you know who shows in the 1.40-meter jumpers has probably been riding for twice as long as you have. So why are you comparing yourself to other riders so intensely? You shouldn’t be.
Each rider’s journey is different, and we are all in a different place on that journey.
Trust me, I know how hard it is to stop comparing yourself to others. We should still look up to the great riders of our sport, or those that are more advanced than we are. But that does not mean we should beat ourselves up when we aren’t at the same level as everyone else. Each rider’s journey is different, after all, and we are all in a different place on that journey.
I recently took almost a full year off from riding, and I often compare myself to others as I get back into the swing of things. I find myself frustrated with my progress, especially when I have to re-learn the basics. I reprimand myself constantly because I feel I should be progressing faster. But then I have to stop and realize that I’m being unfair to myself. Of course I’m going to have frustrating days, as many riders of all abilities do, and sometimes I’ll wonder why I’m not back to where I was. And yet, I would never be frustrated with a young horse about these things, because they are still learning. Well, so am I! Learning anything takes a little something called time. So now, I try to recognize my victories and be patient with myself as I work to get back to where I was as a rider before. Even if it’s something as simple as staying straight to the fences during a ride. I will have to continue to be positive and try to keep my “comparing” in check for the rest of my equestrian career. Otherwise, I’ll never be satisfied with anything I do.
Now, you may know someone at your barn that has been riding just as long as you, has the same resources, is practically identical in their journey, but has progressed faster. Some people are just born with more natural ability—which is totally fine! And the ‘Young Horse Principle’, as I am now calling it, applies here as well. One young horse may be able to show in three-foot hunter classes and win by the age of five, while others may take until the age of eight or even older to mature. They both might be champions once they reach their peak, but they each took a different amount of time to get there.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day. Beezie Madden didn’t become Beezie Madden after 10 weeks, 10 months, or even 10 years of riding. So have patience.”
And then, there is the touchy subject of people who do have more resources than you. Maybe they board at the best barn with the best trainer and only show at rated shows. Maybe they even win at these shows. This is hard to watch when you don’t have the same resources. Part of this issue is the nature of our sport, and we must accept it if we ever want to enjoy ourselves competitively on horseback. But again, the Young Horse Principle can apply here as well. Blackfoot Mystery, Boyd Martin’s most recent Rolex and Olympic horse, was just a “lowly” off-the-track Thoroughbred, but he has proven himself to be a champion. He may not have had the elite breeding of an imported European warmblood, but he has proven himself just as capable through Boyd’s hard work and the horse’s tireless effort to learn. So if you don’t get to show on the A-circuit every weekend and are still struggling to move up, remember where Blackfoot Mystery and others like him started and try to instill a little hope in yourself.
I think we, as a community, need to be more patient with ourselves. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Beezie Madden didn’t become Beezie Madden after 10 weeks, 10 months, or even 10 years of riding. So have patience. Remember the Young Horse Principle! (Patent pending.) Celebrate your progress and improvements, no matter how small. Try to use other riders as inspirations for what is possible, not what you currently cannot do. Know that every rider’s journey is unique, and no one’s journey prevents them from being a champion. And if you still have a bad day, remember that nothing cures sadness like pony cuddles and a good hack.
About the Author
Maddie Regis is a college student in the heart of horse country: Lexington, Kentucky. After being a lesson kid since the age of 12, she discovered the hunter/jumper competition world and hasn’t looked back since!