About Your Fear of Failing

Let’s get this one thing straight: the fear of failing is really about being afraid you will do the wrong thing.

The greatest cause of ineffective riding is the fear of doing the wrong thing.

Maybe things are going OK and you want to push for more brilliance and higher scores, but you are afraid of ruining what you have or if the horse is coming undone and you freeze not knowing how to handle the situation constructively. There are dozens of other examples I could give, but the effect is the same: we sell ourselves short because we are afraid of doing the wrong thing. Maybe we will apply our aids too strongly or not strongly enough, or they will be ill-timed. Maybe we will pick the wrong exercise for the situation.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

The fear of doing the wrong thing has stalked me for much of my riding life.

When I first started to learn to ride dressage, I was careful only to practice whatever I did in my lessons when I rode outside of them, least I should make a mistake and take my horse’s training backwards. He was a bit tricky, and in all honesty, probably too much horse for me at the time.  I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to ask for a half-pass, let alone a flying change or half-steps, so whatever we had done in our lessons was the extent of my know-how. But still, I practiced diligently, paralyzed that I would cue the wrong thing and set his training back.

It took years for me to step out and do something that felt the slightest bit risky when I rode.

When I finally did, it became the start of me owning my knowledge and skills. It took my riding to a different level.

If this resonates with you, do the following next time you are aware of your fear:

  • Own your paralysis — you can’t overcome your fear if you pretend it doesn’t exist!
  • Set small goals for each ride using positive language– for example, an accurate trot half-pass, and focus on the descriptor (“accurate”) when you ride
  • Give yourself permission to make errors

Trust that there is no mistake you make that you can’t recover from. Trust that you have the knowledge and skills needed to achieve your goals, and where skills are lacking, your knowledge will suffice. Trust that in the times where you find yourself in over your head, you have the people in your life to show you the way forward.

With your heart full of trust, step boldly into becoming the rider that you dream of being.