Rider’s Mind: Fear of Failure, Lack of Self-Confidence, Yearning For Perfection

Horse watching
Horse watching (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

It so happens that I am helping three lovely riders at the moment who are each battling with their own minds and this has inspired me to write this post.

Unless you are going through serious emotional issues that cause you distress and which might need professional attention, hear me out.

There is nothing fabulous about perfection.

It’s a done deal, end of, static, cold state that cannot be improved upon, that is never developing, never getting anywhere. There is nothing sexy, exciting, intriguing or curious about perfection.

Now, progress is another matter…Progress is “the After” in the “Before and After”, it’s what we have to show for our efforts. It’s our own, sweated out, laughed out, cried out journey. It’s ongoing, dynamic, changeable, unlimited, sometimes painful, sometimes beautiful.


Progress is figuring out why someone devised training gadgets and then learning how to train without them. Progress is watching a video from your dressage test and having the courage to get back on the lunge line to fill the gaps in seat education, progress is taking of at the wrong spot at every jump on the course and instead of assuming own uselessness, trying to learn from what went wrong. Progress is having the guts to give everything to most simple of things and then evaluate what needs working on.

Progress is knowing that something needs to feel crap and difficult and uneasy and hard so we know we are actually pushing ourselves and doing something we have never done, digging into resources we have never spotted before.

Progress is being ok with being afraid of not doing well and going for it anyway.

Great vs Good

Maybe I’ll share a secret with you (or maybe it’s not so much of a secret) – when I started Aspire Equestrian Academy I did it because I wanted to create something great…It will take many years to get there but I didn’t want to settle for something “good”…There are many good riding places everywhere with good facilities, good teachers, good horses. They are good, they know it and…they settle for that. That’s fine but if nobody ever risked making a fool of oneself to try to get from good to great we would only have the good around us.

I see many good instructors who, either through own ego, fear of failure, fear of being judged, never make a step to become great. They rarely, if ever, take lessons, go to CPD events, try different approaches, different training philosophies, read, watch. They stay in their balloon of good air. One colleague, a very good rider, told me she would never have a lesson in front of people she teaches because if she rode badly or made mistakes it would undermine her respect among her pupils. This, my friends, is a problem of good people. Small degree of humbleness is what one needs in order to get from good to great.

Now, just in case you are thinking, hey, I’m good and I don’t care about competing with someone else to be better than them. Here is the thing about the journey from good to great in my eyes: it’s our own personal good and our own personal great. In other words, it’s not how much greater you can become in comparison to others, it’s how much greatness you can discover within yourself (your riding skills, your business, your horse, your goals, you name it).

Fear of Failure

Don’t get me wrong, I too am afraid of failure in my own way. I hate the thought of repeating same mistakes, of riding badly, of teaching badly. However, I know nothing in life lasts long. Wonderful moments pass and so do the dreadful ones.

I bet you are more resilient than you think you are and if you only keep doing ordinary things extraordinarily well, you might surprise yourself in how little power the fear has over your progress.

There is this saying that we need to fall many times to learn our balance and start walking with confidence. I think we got to learn how to enjoy that falling for what it gives us, get to terms with the fact it is part of the progress and let it run its course.

Yearning for Perfection and Equine Anxiety

Having observed thousands of riders in lessons I strongly believe horses work below their ability with a perfection driven rider…I am sure you are now thinking about all the Olympic riders with burning desire to be perfect. I stand to be corrected but my view so far is that although they might say they strive for perfection, for the 10s in their tests, for the clear rounds, what they are really driven by is this ever turning progress wheel inside them. The burning need to do things this tiny bit better than they did them yesterday.

And that, to me is not striving for a man made statement of what is perfect but for a dynamic, living, organic process – the progress.

I would hazard a guess that horses sniff the difference pretty well ๐Ÿ™‚ High level performance requires degree of tension, motivation, fire…There are those horses that you might describe as expressive, jazzy, focused as if there was nothing out there but them and their riders and what they need to accomplish and then there are the overly stressed ones with jerky movements and negative tension.

Fine line but food for thought?

Self-confidenceย is a process too…its strength fluctuates, as we learn something new we are in the student chair and naturally unsure, testing things out. It happens to us, it happens to horses.

I think we all need a base we are confident about, be it believing in an exercise, in a current skill level, in our horse, instructor, in our ability to learn. We generally all have a base, it’s just some of us have it crispy thin and some got it deep pan ๐Ÿ˜‰

So get cooking and enjoy throwing out the failed produce. It’s organic, biodegradable and birds will eat some too!ย 

And a little video for some goodnight thought…

4 thoughts on “Rider’s Mind: Fear of Failure, Lack of Self-Confidence, Yearning For Perfection”

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