Pressure to be successful in riding and coaching – thoughts on dealing with emotions

This post is inspired by one written over Christmas by The Working Equestrian and titled Removing Emotions from the Equation. In her post, Kate asks important questions that many young and not so young aspiring riders and coaches ask themselves every day.

She wants to make it as an event rider. Now, riding as a career might appear a frivolous hobby to some, no lives are saved in heroic Search & Rescue missions, no burning houses fought for, no big changes to suffering children where dirty water causes deaths every day etc etc

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And yet, it’s out there for climbing – the steep, dangerous, hard working and expensive career ladder for an equestrian. I believe we all have some form of a mission in life deep inside us. For some it might be to have a healthy, happy family, for others, perhaps a multi-million revenue business venture, yet for others the mission would be to create stunning paintings or sculptures etc The variety is a spice of life, right? So there, somewhat in the middle of it all we have sports, equestrian sports for the sake of our subject.

Although this blog is not aimed at professional but amateur riders (i.e. those who do not ride for a living), it is certainly addressed to aspiring coaches (who do teach and might ride for a living) who are under pressure to ride well and teach with results. Both those reader groups often put a lot of similar emotional pressures on themselves as described in Kate’s blog.

She says: […] Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the feeling that this is it, this is all I have, this is make it or break it. I have no back-ups, no plan B, no other desires or aspirations. This. Is. It. If I can’t make it, what happens next? Where do I go? Do I try to be satisfied with being just another struggling coach giving 15 lessons a day to kids?”[…]

[…]sometimes the thought that this is the only thing I have that I really want makes me just want to break down and cry. And sometimes I do. And it usually happens at the least convenient time. Like when a horse is giving me problems in a busy warm-up at the show in front of other professionals with their clients, etc. etc.[…]

REMOVING EMOTIONS?

I tend to think that when I find myself caring about an outcome very much it is much harder to stay emotionally neutral. Who knows, perhaps such state is almost never possible (unless you are an advanced Yogi!). What has really helped me personally over the years is to be absolutely clear on what values to teach by and to ride by. There are riders out there who prefer quick solutions, short cuts, fixes and those will rarely be impressed with slow, methodical and patient approach. Then, there are horse people who think horses should not be trained for sport but rather played with and interacted with without training pressures. If as an instructor you try to become good teaching a group of riders with different motives and values to your own, you will likely often feel underachieving and frustrated.

My interest is ethical equestrian sport. I suppose any sport is a result driven activity and as such those who achieve that result faster, before the others do, are bound to be glorified. However, equestrian sports come with whole shabang of wellness, welfare and ethical issues. Having spent my late teens and early twenties around top show jumping horses and riders I have seen and learnt enough to know that if I was to sustain an ambition to get to that top it would have to be by means of a very different journey to the one I observed. I believe that saying “many roads lead to Rome” happily applies here.

It took me many years to be in peace with that realisation though and I must say that I agree with Kate’s guess that time/age helps enormously when it comes to dealing with pressures and emotions. The reason it helps though, I think, is because our knowledge and understanding of training processes increases. We know that pushing for quick fixes has a huge price – mostly paid by the horse.

KNOW WHOSE RESPECT YOU WANT and WHY YOU DO WHAT YOU DO

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If I was to advise my 20 year old self when I wanted my results fast and had similar thoughts to Kate in her post, I would say:

Look around you. How many people truly see what you so want your horse to move like/be like/perform like? Chances are that, if you are after wellness focused training, out of 500 people watching, there will be 15 who really can tell a happy athlete from a submitted machine. Ride and manage your horses to gain respect of those 15 people and don’t be obsessed with the rest.Yes, you will still make mistakes, you will lose to those who fast tracked, you will still kick yourself afterwards but the peace of mind and the feeling of being on the right journey is one that will keep you motivated, inspired and happy to push on with this career and lifestyle.

I would tell myself:

When you teach, don’t worry about how well the rider can perform in quickest time but instead, how well they understand how to make their performance better. When you hear: “don’t work the rider on the lunge for their seat for too long, they are sitting pretty but are ineffective”, let that statement pass…There are many kinds of effectiveness. Horses are very easily trained by fear and pain so many training methods rely on that whether we want it or not. Effectiveness that comes from harmony with movement and heightened body awareness takes much, much longer (years really) than a whack with a whip, tight noseband or pessoa system do…Decide which one you want your riders to develop and then teach those who share your values. This way, you won’t feel this suffocating frustration that makes you want to quit working in the horse industry.

Don’t be afraid to lose clients/owners who don’t value your training methods. They will be happier somewhere else and those who care WILL find you.

PRESSURE IS GOOD (SOMETIMES)

I would also say to my 20 year old self, don’t worry about pressure too much. Learn to live with it. Showing horses, competing, training others – all these have pressure in-built in them. If you decided that’s you career then you will need to find ways to tame that pressure and only allow it to have bearing on you if it comes from the right source i.e. from systems, from people and from results governed by the values you too respect.

What are your thoughts dear readers? Are you a rider who puts a lot of pressure on oneself to do well? Are you a coach wanting to make a decent living in horse industry? Leave a comment, share your view 🙂

All the best,

Wiola

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5 thoughts on “Pressure to be successful in riding and coaching – thoughts on dealing with emotions

  1. As someone who has benefited from Wiola’s approach, I definitely agreed that there is always a pressure in my mind, wanting to do more, to progress more quickly, to be an ‘impressive’ rider. But I tried that approach as a child and ended up careering off down a field half out of the saddle and being pitched over a fence with a heavy landing which put me off riding for 39 years. Yes, it can be frustrating at times, but those moments when everything just ‘clicks’, even if it’s just for two or three strides, let me know that doing it right is better than doing it fast and developing bad habits which could end up hurting either me or the horse. The horse doesn’t get asked, it’s just expected to perform. By learning to help the horse to help you to get the results you want, the experience is better for you and for the long-term health and happiness of the horse.

  2. Really good post I agree with so much of it as I have become quite emotional this week. I have had 40+ years around horses. I moved to Spain last April, this week I went riding to an English Yard, they are lovely people and well schooled horses. Then I have been given the chance to learn Spanish by helping a friend of my mother with his horses. 2 stunning Spanish stallions. I feel as though I know nothing, I watched him lunge with no line and the horse walk, trot, canter and Spanish trot, change the rein and stand all from voice commands, (no whip or stick was carried). I could have cried I felt useless. I have been to fantastic yards in England, including the Yorkshire Riding Centre but yet an old Spanish man can reduce me to this.

    We bathed the horses and can hose their faces and get them to lower heads by voice too. There is no fear from either horse. It has shown me a different way of working with them and as a horsey person I feel by learning I always improve my relationship with horses.

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