Books and Film

Reality Check

How negative self-perception affects our riding

©Flickr/thatrileygirl

Rider and writer Melinda Folse is just like most of us: juggling work, family, and horses is standard procedure, and with all that she’s trying to balance in her life, she’s become her own worst critic.

In her wonderful, funny, thoughtful book Riding Through Thick and Thin, Folse examines all-too common issues with self-worth and body image that many horsewomen struggle with, tracking down positive ways to keep working with and riding horses a fulfilling part of life, whatever your age, shape, or ability.

Melinda Folse. Photo by David Smoot

Here she explains how what you perceive to be real is often not even close to actuality, and how you can (with a little attention) pull yourself back to the “true you.”

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Any time spent whining about what we think is wrong with our lives is time utterly wasted—we might as well have spent it watching reality TV. When it comes to making changes, the more energy we give to what’s wrong in our lives, and the more we feed that perception, the more we beckon that reality.

So how does this negative bias affect our riding and the time we spend with our horses? I’ll give a personal example that is, while slightly embarrassing, somewhat illustrative (I gave up pride a long time ago).

Once when I visited a friend’s barn for a clinic, I arrived feeling very self-conscious; I was certain everyone there was going to be a better rider than me. My friend rides all the time; with my schedule, I am lucky to ride once or twice a week. She goes on trail rides, shows, and attends regular clinics and lessons. Me…not so much. While I was intimidated, my deep desire to ride better inspired me to “woman up,” load my horse, and just go do my best.

I arrived the night before to settle in, and my friend and I went over to the arena, where we met several others who were also there to familiarize their horses with the surroundings and work them a little bit to get the travel kinks out. When everyone started loping, I just followed suit. I wasn’t really thinking about much else; we were all laughing, talking, and enjoying the ride.

Afterward, over dinner, I expressed my trepidation over the next day’s clinic, saying I hoped I could keep up, and despairing (as I always do) over my lack of formal training. My friend looked across the table at me and remarked with a laugh, “You’re kidding, right?”

I was puzzled. “About what?” This was no laughing matter to me.

“Oh my gosh! I can’t believe how hard you are on yourself,” she exclaimed. “I was watching you guys lope around, and I was pretty much green with envy, wondering if I’ll ever be able to ride that way. You can’t seriously think you’re not as good a rider as the rest of the people here.” She laughed again. “You’re a MUCH better rider than you think you are.”

Her shocked sincerity was hard to discount. I realize now that I have spent so much time focused on what’s wrong with my riding—and with me—and the holes I can never seem to fill, no matter how much I learn and do, that I have never learned how to internalize any of what I’m doing right. Because I tend to focus so much on what I’m not doing right or can’t do as well as I’d like, I automatically assume inferiority to anyone I talk to or ride with. This isn’t humility. This is genuine perception.

©flickr/greendalen

Has this negative self-perception changed how I ride? Maybe. But more important to our purposes is that it changed my experience of riding. There’s really is no way to count the cost of lost joy and missed opportunities.

Motivational author Louise Hay says that once she began to realize that “all good begins with accepting that which is within one’s self, and loving that self which is you,” she began to develop over time a peaceful, loving, and appreciative relationship with herself. To get to this place, she says, she began by searching out little things that she thought were good qualities. As she began noticing these things, the good feelings about one part of her life began to spread into the rest. This, Hay teaches, is exactly how affirmations take root and grow, transforming words into perception into reality.

It really doesn’t matter where we begin: with our horses, our riding, our diets, our fitness, or our mind-body connection. As we begin to affirm the little things that are already good in each area, these positives will ripple into other areas of our lives in which we’d like to find joy.

“I learned to love and approve of all of me,” Hay writes, “even those qualities I thought were ‘not good enough’….That was when I really began to make progress.”

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This excerpt from RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN by Melinda Folse is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.

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