The Power of Mindset in Riding
Confession: Two rides, two mindsets, two vastly different experiences.
I rode two horses when I traveled last in Mongolia. The first experience was disappointing and the second was exhilarating. The difference wasn’t the horse, it was my mindset.
Most people think that I am scared or unable to ride when that could not be farther from the case. I love horses and most often find my time with them incredibly relaxing. However, periodically I experience periods of anxiety or even panic attacks. In these moments I may turn the smallest and most innocuous things into a big deal.
I can handle a horse in most situations, however, I prefer to have a relaxed time. That is what I find fun. Sometimes I am in the mood for a long, slow ride and others a faster pace. Again, this goes back to mindset.
The only person who can convince me to be calm and happy in the saddle is me. As much as I appreciate the advice of others and the support, it is not a feeling that can be explained because it comes from inside of my brain and not often an external factor.
My last trip to Mongolia meant months of careful planning, always with the hope that I would have the opportunity to ride with the nomads at base camp. I knew this would be a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience and did not allow myself to consider having any nervousness or anxiety.
The reality is that things don’t always turn out like planned. I was given the honor or riding a Mongolian horse with the trainers and their families before The Gobi Desert Cup. I had ridden a Mongolian horse successfully the previous year and knew I was more than capable. My friends, knowing my tendency toward nerves, surprised me with the opportunity so I didn’t have an opportunity to overthink. It was lovely and well-intentioned. I did not hesitate to mount up. (For the record I was able to mount from the ground successfully, which has always been a challenge for me.) My friend Nara ambled up bareback on his son’s horse and grabbed my reins. He was definitely nervous for me. Safety is his #1 priority and he looks out for us all. More, I think he wanted to make sure I was okay. Of course the more he cared for me and explained the horse, or didn’t let me go, or let me get a feel for my horse, the more I wondered if there was a reason and began to second guess myself. That propels further into imagining every bad thing that can go wrong. I am the orchestrator of my own bad experiences. All things considered I did not ride the horse independently or move past a walk. I was incredibly disappointed in myself for not just speaking up and just telling him I was okay. I let him baby me.
Fast forward about two weeks and I spent the time photographing the endurance horse race, helping out the riders, and observing their experiences. I forgot my initial disappointment. When it came time for the Official’s Race on the last day of the Gobi Desert Cup I didn’t hesitate to mount up and join in. I was nervous and babbled a bit beforehand, but it was a different story from the previous attempt.
I mounted up, got a feel for my horse, and followed the others 3km to the start line. Was I nervous? A little. I was more excited than anything else. I knew that my horse was quiet. My friend, a horse trainer, explained he was fast. Yet he seemed content to stay to the back of the pack as we trotted to the start line, despite my best attempts to “Choo Choo” him along.
Trotting a Mongolian horse is interesting when you have curves and I was definitely not wearing the best sports bra for the occasion. I was a bit sore before we’d even started! Of course I was the last to arrive but we turned around and I was able to gallop off with the rest of the riders back to the finish line.
It was exhilarating! It is incredibly hard to express the feeling of galloping on an ancient breed of horse, across the vast landscape and sand track of the desert. I had no desire to win the race in any way. Quickly most of the riders were far in the distance or coming up behind to pass. I would convince my little cruiser to move just a bit faster but he would then draw back into a comfortable gallop, content to enjoy the journey. I spent the kilometers just him and I, seemingly alone, and happy to be in the moment.
More, after we all completed the short race and took photos, I tagged along when the others chose to gallop off again to the horse line and home.
Both horses were quiet-tempered and easy to ride. Yet I had two completely different outcomes. What was the difference between that first ride and my last? My attitude.
My mindset determined not only the quality of my ride but my experience as a whole.
Mindset cannot always be controlled when you have anxiety. For me, it is a constant work in progress. I am determined to enjoy my time with horses and have as many positive experiences as possible. I am determined to keep moving forward and be bold.
My first ride was disappointing but I did not allow it to stop me from trying again. Instead, I chose to push myself out of my comfort zone and do things on my own time. I chose not to race but to ride the horse I had that day and enjoy every ounce of it. I am proud of myself. Perhaps prouder still because I know that it could have been very easy for me to make excuses and back out. I did not. I chose to challenge myself for the second year in a row. This was by far a better experience than the previous year when I had a panic attack and almost didn’t ride at all.
I don’t want my nerves to prevent me experiencing all life has to offer. I want to think positively and choose to train my brain to turn the negatives into the positives as often as I can. There is power in how we see our experiences.
For a timid rider, it’s all about our view of the situation while we are in it. Sometimes, the anticipation takes a toll and creates nerves that we can then breathe through and keep going. Other times we may be okay but then become increasingly tense if having a bad experience.
The important thing to note is that you can’t always “ride through it” or shut off your brain. Some have that capability, but timid riders tend to be different. Ride your ride and let others ride theirs.