Keeping on Top of Self Doubt
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I don’t get the chance to ride very often these days, once a week is the norm for me plus the occasional opportunity on a friend’s horse. In the past I would regularly ride my two ponies most days in the week but they’re retired now and life is generally pretty busy with other things.
Pre- Covid I had got myself a lot fitter and was prepared for a major riding adventure which, sadly, was called off due to the pandemic. With things opening up this year I could have re-booked the big ride but realistically I knew it would be too much for me so I looked for an alternative and booked three days riding with Highlands Unbridled.
Often people assume that because I am a confidence and mindset coach I don’t ever feel nervous, or experience self doubt but honestly, that simply isn’t the case. What is different is that my skills allow me to recognise what’s going on if I feel nervous and I have a tool box of skills to rummage through when I need them. This means that in general I can keep on top of any negative emotions and feelings of emotional tension, deal with them and move on so that I can enjoy my ride.
Whilst preparing for my three days riding my main concern was my fitness as I knew we would be spending many hours in the saddle. If I’m totally honest, this is definitely something which I need to work on but I did as much preparation as I could (given my various aches and pains and dodgy knees!). As it turned out I don’t think I was any more or any less tired at the end of each day than any of the other riders. The tack was comfortable and designed for purpose so from that point of view any worries I had in advance proved to be manageable. We all laughed at ourselves and with each other as we struggled to dismount after six or more hours in the saddle!!
Driving up to the base from where we were riding I wasn’t nervous but I definitely had some self doubt. Thoughts were creeping into my mind such as “I hope I’m not the worst rider!” and “I’m not sure if I should tell anyone what my job is incase they assume that I should be a more skilled rider than I am!” I tried pushing these thoughts away but they kept popping back to annoy me so I asked myself what I would suggest to a client who had similar thoughts.
The first thing I did was to recognise that these thoughts are simply thoughts – charges of electricity running through my mind and that they weren’t helpful. Noticing that they were simply thoughts and not reality allowed me to recognise them for what they were.
The second thing I did was to remind myself that I have many years of experience of hacking out on highland ponies and that if other riders had a different level of experience to me then that was absolutely fine and we weren’t there for making any comparisons! As it happened, once we were riding those thoughts completely vanished. There was no competition or judgement between the riders, we all simply enjoyed what we were doing.
The leader went to a lot of effort to find out from each rider what their previous riding experience was and whether they had any specific concerns/likes and dislikes. I was as honest as I could be during this conversation and was paired up with a pony who was very suitable for me and who I really enjoyed riding.
I must stress that for the majority of the time, on the three days of riding, I was well within my comfort zone and only under mild stress occasionally. So whilst I did need to use some of my mindset skills I really didn’t have to dig too deeply. I’m just describing my experience to give a few examples of how all of us can use mindset and confidence tools to help us during those times when we are stretching out of our comfort zones. For dealing with more challenging situations we can all learn ways to develop the resilience and mental strength to handle the situations we may find ourselves in.
A couple of times during the three days on horseback I was aware of allowing my imagination to run away with me a bit. Once when we were traversing a steep slope I started to imagine my pony losing his balance and falling leading to us both tumbling down the hill to disaster!!! These thoughts caused me to tense up for a few moments but internally I said “STOP!” and was able to bring myself right back into the present rather than allow my ‘disaster movie” to continue! In the past I might well have allowed these thoughts to get the better of me leading to more tension in my body and the pony picking up on that. On another occasion, when it was very windy, my pony and another had a bit of a moment – just what the leader described as a few paces of Piaffe! – nothing major to be concerned about. Again, in the past I might have found it hard to let go of that but thankfully I was able to remind myself to just LET IT GO and bring myself back into the present moment where my pony was simply going in the direction of my choice at the pace of my choice.
So yes, I did have some moments of tension and self doubt but I was able to deal with them and they never escalated and you too can learn to keep on top of your own doubts. The ride was challenging physically due to the weather and the terrain but it was amazing fun and I was very happy to be on the back of a Highland Pony for a few days and I am already planing my next trip.