Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Confidence powers lift off!

Wilbur and I feeling confident in 2010! Photo courtesy of John Britter.
Confidence is a funny ole thing. It seems to come and go as you pass through life. A recent conversation with a good friend of mine highlighted this. She has reached the dizzy heights of Advanced level eventing, a level new to her and her horse, who she has trained herself. This is on top of a full time, non-riding related job in which she's doing extremely well. Recently, however, she has felt a loss in confidence in her eventing, and wasn't enjoying the sport as much as she had been. As we were talking it came to light that she was experiencing pressure and stress elsewhere in her life, and perhaps this was impacting on her passion for eventing. I explained that one of the reasons I had given up eventing (for now!) was that I couldn't handle the the additional pressure given I was setting up and managing my own business at the same time. I realised that this provided sufficient adrenalin for me not to seek it by riding at 25 mph over solid fences! We can only deal with so much pressure and excitement at any one time, and if one area of our lives is challenging, something else has to give.

This conversation reminded me of another friend of mine who I met just after I got Wilbur.  I watched her jump round a cross country course and she was a total inspiration to me. I remember thinking that if I could jump anywhere near as good as that with Wilbur then I'd be over the moon. The next year we met up at a riding summer camp. That Spring she had experienced the death of a foal, which she had bred, just 24 hours after it had been born. She explained how this tragedy had brought back memories of other losses she had experienced in the past, including the death of her sister. What was most profound to me was the impact this had clearly had on her confidence over jumps given how she had ridden the year before. We shared a jumping lesson and she suffered really badly from  nerves (as did I at that time). We both forgot the course and had refusals. At the end of the lesson, she burst into tears. It was a real eye-opener to me as to how events can impact your confidence in other, seemingly unrelated, areas of our lives. A couple of years on, after a small break from riding, my friend has experienced another twist in her life, this time a positive one, and she's out riding and jumping again.
Photo courtesy of SBM Photographic

Her story has been with me over the last year as I've slowly regained my confidence to jump and compete again after breaking my back in a riding accident. Reflecting on the day of the incident, I should never have gone to the competition. I had had a stressful autumn dealing with difficult personalities on our previous yard, business was, well, busy and I was shattered. I wasn't enjoying my riding as much as I had done, eventing didn't seem to be an option anymore, Wilbur was wound up the morning of the competition and it was wet and cold outside. I really didn't want to go to the competition, but, my stubborn self overrode my gut instinct, and well....we all know what happened next. .

So what has changed over the past year and how have I started to overcome these challenges? Well, I now approach dressage competitions differently to how I used to, and  don't even think about the outcome. The main objective is to enjoy riding Wilbur, and if we do well, then that's a bonus. The result? Great marks, and some top 3 placings!

As time progresses I am gaining more experience and confidence as a business owner, which means I can increase the challenges I face in my equestrian pursuits. Indeed, in the past two weeks I've had two breakthroughs. The first was going crosscountry schooling after a gap of 2 years, which I absolutely loved (as did Wilbur). A big thank you to Jo Burchell  for that one! This also helped me to achieve the second breakthrough which was jumping a 1 metre fence in the school. As my partner and instructor Henry Symington will testify, I was being rather argumentative and at first I refused to jump the fence, demanding that it was lowered. "Less of the lip and more leg" was his response to which I'm ashamed my retort was, "well, I hope you enjoy visiting me in Stoke Mandeville!" before I kicked on and my beautiful pony flew over the fence. I knew I wanted to do it and I would have been really disappointed in myself if I hadn't risen to the challenge. It's all about being in the right frame of mind, and listening to your gut instinct. It's still early days, but the most important thing is that I'm thoroughly enjoying all aspects of my riding again.
Not sure who looks more smug - Wilbs and that 1 m fence

So, to my friend who rang me last week: be kind to yourself and take the pressure off other areas of life, where possible, to give yourself a rest. Your mind and body can only deal with so much excitement, so give yourself some space, re-group and you'll  have the confidence to enjoy your eventing and competing again.