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I had a teacher at school who regularly gave this advice pre-exams. He said that when looking at a paper we should choose the questions first that we thought we could do best at and then to give them our very best efforts. That way, he suggested, we would gain our best marks for those questions. Then we could tackle the questions we were less certain of and do the best we could possibly do on those ones.
After the exam was over we were advised to look at the areas where we had received most marks and study those where we hadn’t done so well so that we could then learn from our mistakes and do better next time.
I guess this was my first experience of really building on my strengths and working on my challenges and I often thank that teacher for his useful advice which I still remember after all these years.
This little exercise is something which I often suggest to my clients. One of the most important things I can do with someone who comes to me for help with their riding, whether they are a nervous novice or an experienced competitor, is to help them to identify their strengths and their challenges.
They may perhaps have years of experience (strength) riding many different horses but still have a lack of self belief (challenge) that they can be successful in their chosen discipline. They may be new to riding (challenge)and about to set out on their first journey into horse ownership but have lots of support (strength). Or maybe they have a strong ability to stay focused when schooling at home (strength) but struggle to maintain this when under pressure (challenge).
Each of you reading this will have aspects of life and riding which you find more straightforward and others with which you struggle. Strengths and challenges can be both physical and mental and, of course, it’s the psychological side of riding where my expertise lies. I can relate to the physical challenges but I’m not a technical riding coach so would never claim to be an expert (I am happy to help you to find an appropriate coach though, as I have many contacts in the equestrian world who are amazing riding coaches).
A frequent response when we first start to look at this exercise is “Oh….I don’t think I have ANY strengths!”. My job, in this situation is to dig a bit deeper and to help you to identify the areas of your life where you do show mental strength and resilience and to then work out how you can apply these to your riding. For example, do you have aspects of your work life which help you and which you can bring over to your riding? Sometimes, a starting point is to think of the things which you enjoy doing most and it is quite likely that that is where your strengths lie.
For example you may be a rider who is struggling to feel confident enough to hack out on your own but you love simply spending time with your horse – you can consider that time as a strength and then look at ways to use that time effectively to seek out the help you need to fulfil your goal of hacking out happily.
Or maybe you absolutely love the cross country phase of eventing but see the show jumping as a major challenge (This is SO common amongst the riders I work with!). Perhaps you’re telling yourself that the XC is fun and enjoyable and then constantly repeating to yourself that you “always” mess up the SJ! Where can you make some changes in your self talk, and therefore your self belief, which will assist you in the phase you’re finding so much more difficult?
Those of you who’ve met me will know that I’m a great fan of a nice notebook. So after reading this why not get yourself a notebook (or whatever you like making notes on/in) and start by making some lists of your strengths and challenges. This simple exercise will help you to be able to build on those strengths and perhaps see those challenges change from something you worry about to something which you can work towards overcoming.
I have plenty of other exercises we can do together if you choose to seek my help so please do just shout if you’d like a chat about how we can work together.