Going Solo: My Gamble in the Jumper Ring

I’ve been riding as a professional for a while now, but it isn’t typical that you will find me at a horse show without a trainer  This weekend, I decided to step outside of my usual box and brave the WEF Summer series sans trainer.  This isn’t because I’ve reached a place where I feel like I no longer need help – I don’t believe that day should ever come – but because sometimes I just need to do it by myself.  Because I’m tired of paying someone to tell me to stop making the mistakes I already know I’m making.

I’ve always been the type of person who HAS to make my own mistakes in order to learn.  If someone tells me not to do something, I have to do it anyway, just to see.  This isn’t always a conscious thought.  When my father told me not to max out my credit cards, I didn’t think “I want to find out what will happen if I exceed my limit.”  It just happened.  And at 23 years of age, I had to deal with the consequences.

When a trainer tells me not to override, it’s not that I enjoy overworking and getting minimal results, but somewhere along the line, it became my instinct and it takes a lot of concentration to catch myself AND reverse habits.  A level of concentration that is hard to keep with a 3′ jump coming with no distance in sight, a voice yelling in the background “Give! Give!”, and the voices in my head telling me I’m about to F*** up royally, accompanied by visions of poles flying everywhere as I crash my horse into the jump.

Besides, there is a certain feeling that you get when you make a mistake and you dust yourself off, try it again, and succeed.  It’s called confidence.  And confidence is one of the major building blocks to becoming better at anything.  If you have confidence, it’s easier to get up after a fall.  You forgive yourself for your mistakes and you try again because you KNOW you can do better, and you won’t give up until you reach your potential.

I’ve struggled with confidence in the jumper ring.  I make mistakes that I KNOW I shouldn’t be making and I kick myself for doing so.  The fact that making those mistakes had become a subconscious ritual for me, was making me a bad rider.  I expected to fail, and hoped I would succeed.  When a jump is coming at you in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, you can’t just hold on and hope that it works out.  You have to know that you have a the correct stride and impulsion and time to make a proper correction without overdoing it.

How many of us can agree that 90% of the mistakes we make over fences come from an “Oh Shit!” state of mind?  Either you didn’t act at all because you were too afraid, or you put your hand in a hat and pulled out a solution and threw it at your horse as quick as you could without contemplating the circumstances.  Panic makes you kick and pull, confidence gives you the ability to stay steady and know that you have time to contemplate the right choice AND trust your horse to react.

So this weekend I decided to have a leap of faith.  Faith that I would ride with focus, certainty and patience.  Faith that I would not judge myself or be distracted by the judgments I presume everyone is making of me.  Most importantly, faith that I would accept the outcome and learn from my disappointments and become better as a result.

So here’s what happened:

First of all, I did not ride any worse, or any better than I would having a trainer present, but I saved about $255 (assuming a rate of $85/day, which is the average of trainers I would work with in my area).  Since I trailered in, my show fees were only $193, so I cut my expense by over half, but that’s not the important part.  That is just the icing on the cake.  The important part is that I was not thrilled with my ride on Friday, but I took all my pros and cons and used them to improve on Saturday.  I went into Saturday’s ride with more confidence than I had on Friday because I didn’t hold Friday’s ride against myself.  I knew where I needed to improve and that I was capable of improvement.

Insecurity was definitely riding on my shoulder both days.  More so on Friday, but even Saturday she put up a hard fight for the reins.  She is a beast that I have vowed to mute, but the only way I can win is to get in the ring and fight.

So the point of this blog isn’t to tell you to fire your trainer.  It’s to encourage you to bet on yourself.  What have you been dreaming about, but have been afraid to do?  What have you told yourself you can’t do?  If it’s something big, why can’t you take the steps to get there?  What’s holding you back?  Tell me why you can’t, and I’ll tell you why you can!  I dare you!


14 thoughts on “Going Solo: My Gamble in the Jumper Ring

  1. Oh wow, this is very inspirational! I have sort of put show jumping competitions on the shelf for now.. Since I failed miserably at our last show. I forgot the course and everything was hell. But I am focusing on what we are good at, and that is riding gaited. I am not saying that I am quitting show jumping competitions for good, but I believe it will be a while until I can get over being defeated by my bad short-term memory.. I am really impressed with your way of thinking, though, really am! And I am very much like you, I need to try and fail in order to learn as well.

    1. I used to forget my courses all the time as well. Honestly, sometimes I still do, but I’ve gotten to where I catch myself in time so I only lose a few seconds on the clock. I found the reason I was always going off course was my focus was behind me – whatever mistake or even progress I made over the last jump – instead of ahead. I’ve practiced at home taking my eye away from the jump 3 strides out – no matter what – so that my focus is alway forward. When I get into the ring, I’m planning my next jump 3 strides out from my current jump.
      Just remember that we all started somewhere and the only way to get better is to keep at it. There is no such thing as failure until you quit.

  2. I love that I have found someone who also can’t seem to let go of making riding complicated – my coaches tell me to stop thinking and just feel all the time. It’s actually something that it really difficult to do!!

    1. Some of us are just more analytical than others. We are all wired differently. It’s up to us to figure out how those wires work to our advantage.

  3. I also started doing shows/riding alone around 3 years ago and I think I actually improved! Not because I didn’t need the help, but because I was just more conscious of what was happening 😀

  4. This is fantastic, I felt like you were writing about me! I’m soooooo the same way, not just with horses, but with everything. There’s a few places that I need to bet on myself. Thank you thank you.

  5. The moment I stopped over riding and thinking too much is the moment when I had to start riding on my own a lot more and it’s helped a lot with gaining more self-confidence!

  6. Touching on my motto again with this blog post! I too can be a bit of a rebel and I learn more from my mistakes. Something I am (gulp) letting my kids do as well as they grow. I think we all have tipping points where we can go either way- step back or surge forward and take a risk. Glad you took the risk!

    1. I totally relate to the struggle to allow your kids to make their own mistakes. My son is 16 and a rebel like me. I have to remind myself to let him fail and decide himself what to do about it.

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