Would Stripes have become a racehorse if he knew he was a zebra?

First is the thought … then the thought becomes body language.

Take Stripes for instance; did he know that he was a zebra? No, he thought he was a racehorse. Do you think he would have attempted to race the postman if he honestly thought he was a zebra?

I know it’s only a movie, but do you get my drift?

Whatever you want to achieve in your life, you have to first be able to see in your mind’s eye. This is something a lot of kids struggle with and I hope that this article will give you some ideas on how you can help your kids with this struggle.

I’ve realised over my twenty-five years of teaching that it takes more than skill to coach someone to be a successful rider.

In order to become a successful rider, you have to first BE a successful rider!

What does that mean?

Well, just think about it. Can you sit up tall with your head held proudly, your shoulders back, relaxed and confident if you are thinking: “I’m doing such a bad job, my riding is soooo average and I’m not good enough to be on the team. In fact, I’m nobody. I shouldn’t ride this beautiful horse just in case I stuff it up. My friends are all so much better. Blah, blah, blah …”

We all know that a lot of kids think this way and beat themselves up for no obvious reasons. This will always reflect on their position in the saddle. We can’t hide the way we think because our body position becomes a mirror of our thoughts.

Riders have to understand that they communicate with their horse through their body. The communication will be different with slouched shoulders, forward head position and unbalanced, collapsed upper body then with a tall upper body, high head carriage and balanced shoulders.

Who do you think you are? This is a great exercise you can do with your kids.

Let’s find out how you really feel about yourself and your riding. Get yourself a pen and paper and complete the following steps:

  1. Acknowledge yourself for all the great achievements you have had in the past like learning to canter, competing for the first time or learning to jump, winning your first competition, being on a states team….

      Write them down, now.

  1. Look at them and be proud of your achievements.
  2. Tell yourself how awesome you are. Out loud. (Oh, that’s hard).
  3. Talk to yourself as if you were your own best friend. (Now that’s pushing it).
  4. And now do the unthinkable; love yourself just the way you are! (That’s nearly impossible).

Are you still with me? Good, because self love is the greatest secret behind how to become a successful rider.

Now, some of you may think I’m kidding, but I’m not. The majority of riders think they are under-skilled, untalented and unworthy of being a great rider. What you need is not another riding lesson—you need a love lesson.

Let me explain. One of the basic needs for human survival is to feel loved. We can not live without it.

Now, there are two kinds of love. One is the external love which comes from our family, friends and community. The other is the internal love which comes from inside—this is what I call the TRUE love.

We can not control external love. We might get it or we might not— it depends on how others feel about us at the time. Generally, if someone is in a bad mood, no matter how deeply they may love you, they are not prepared to give out any love. Imagine you have a fight with your parents—are you likely to get love from them at the time? Or if your riding instructor, who is also a good friend, has a bad day—is he/she likely to tell you how fantastic you are and what great job you are doing? No, most likely not.

If your confidence entirely depends on external love, how does that make you feel? 

So, to maintain a healthy level of love in your life you need to become your own best friend.

If you are your own best friend you can learn to ‘feed’ yourself with all the love you need.

How do we do that?

You talk to yourself the way your best friend talks to you, by using affirmations like:

  • I am awesome
  • I am talented
  • I am beautiful
  • I am a fantastic rider
  • I am a successful competitor
  • I love myself just the way I am

Does this mean you have to get out of your comfort zone? Yes, probably. But look at it this way, you will rely less on what other people say and your self-confidence will grow. With your increased self-confidence you will hold your body differently which means that you will sit better in the saddle. That’s got to be a good thing.

If you don’t believe me you can do the following experiment.

Before your next ride, spend fifteen minutes feeding yourself the good stuff. Say out loud the above affirmations until you feel your body respond and you start to believe what you are saying. Then get on your horse and see what happens.

The next day, spend fifteen minutes on negative affirmations like:

  • I am useless
  • I am an average rider
  • my horse is too good for me
  • I never achieve what I want to achieve
  • everyone else rides better than me
  • riding lessons are a waste of time

Repeat these negative affirmations until your body responds and then get on your horse and see what happens.

Which ever way we go, we are always thinking of affirmations: will yours be positive or negative? It’s up to you to choose.

It’s time to learn to love yourself and be proud of it. Love and gratitude are very strong healing emotions.

By creating your own love for yourself, you will not only improve your riding—you also improve your life.

After all, in the end, the key to Stripes’ success was … Stripes!

Have fun riding!