Your Mindset and How it affects your riding

It seems like everyone is talking about Mindset these days.  I hate to even bring it up, but your mindset really does effects how you ride.  To put it simply your mindset is the way you think or perceive the world.  We all have a mindset: good, bad, ugly, and in between. It is how we look at life and how we view what is happening in our lives.  

People with a fixed mindset believe that we are born with a stagnant ability and are either capable or not. They do not believe that we can change or become better at something. We either have a gift or we don’t. People with a growth mindset believe that we can learn and develop in whatever we choose. The type of mindset you have effects everything you do in life, especially riding. And determines if you are willing to try something new or challenging.

I have a client that has a negative fixed mindset.  Everything that happens in her life is bad. And disappointing. If you listen to her it sounds like she is the only person who has ever experienced disappointments in life.  And then she dwells on it.  She lets her work and her past effect every part of her life, including riding.  So, when she gets on a horse everything is her fault.  And I mean everything.  Now, don’t get me wrong, most of the time it is the rider’s fault. But instead of saying “ok, I have to learn from that”, she turns it inward. And repeats “I just can’t do it”.  She makes a big deal out of everything that is not perfect.  And this limits her progress and obstructs her ability to ride and grow.  She sees mistakes as negative instead of seeing them as a way to grow and learn.

One day we were discussing shows.  This student is riding at first/second level but has never shown.  I, personally don’t care if my students show, but I do believe that shows have benefits far beyond their face value.  The entire conversation was based on whether or not shows are of value. The conversation happened during a group lesson, so it was not totally focused on her showing or not intended to encourage her to show.  The first thing out of her mouth was “I could never show because I would screw up”.   

What?  Who hasn’t screwed up at a show???  

Everyone who has ever gotten into the show ring has screwed up.   But if you never try, you never know. And the screwups can lead to a great learning experience… if you let them.

Sometimes riding a horse is like trying to find the correct light switch in a dark room. If you have ever walked into a conference room and tried to find the stage lights you know what I mean. At the door, there is a line of light switches. And you go down that line flipping switches until you find the right one. Well, sometimes riding horses involves flipping a lot of switches until you find the one that gets the result you want.

As a new rider learning the shoulder-in you have to figure out where your outside rein needs to go. As an instructor, I can tell you that you need more outside rein. But where your outside rein needs to vary with the horse. And each rider is shaped differently and has different strength so that is another issue. My job would be so much easier if I could just say move your hand 2 inches towards the pummel. But sometimes you just have to experiment until you get it. People with a fixed mindset or negative mindset have a difficult time doing this. They want to do it right the first time. They need to be perfect or they stop trying.

 As an individual with a fixed mindset, this student didn’t want to hear about how we have fun at shows. How we get to see our other horse friends. And watch other instructors and learn from them. All she was concerned about is “screwing up”. And I finally got to the point where I had to change the conversation because everything was so negative. She didn’t want to hear how shows help set goals or prove we have a certain skill set. Shows were not going to be good for her because she has already made up her mind that she will screw up. She will be too nervous, and she will forget her test.  Well, if you tell yourself you are going to forget your test, I will bet that you will.  That is her mindset, nothing good is going to happen to her and so it doesn’t. a self-fulling prophecy.

Your mindset is the result of practice and habits.  If you make a habit of taking everything in a negative light, that is how your life is going to be. If you think every time you get on a horse that you are going to get bucked off, you will. Because your body language is going to be communicating with your horse. You are going to be tight and grippy and your horse is going to wonder what in the heck is going on.  

Having a growth mindset, enables you to grow through your efforts, and accept help from others. All of us change and develop with experience. And riding a horse is no different. Mistakes are wonderful learning opportunities. The opportunity to stretch your abilities and stick to them especially when things don’t go your way is the hallmark of a growth mindset, according to Carol S. Dweck in the book Mindset the new Psychology of Success.

The way you think today will determine the habits you have tomorrow which will determine your mindset.  And your mindset determines your life.  So, to make a long story short, what you think is what you get.  If you tell yourself you can’t, you can’t.  But if you tell yourself you can and you keep trying, you will.  So, tell yourself you are going to have fun. Make a habit out of having a positive mindset.  Get on your horse even when you feel like you can’t and ride. Just do it.   Enjoy your horse.  If you make a mistake, learn from it. Every time you step into that stirrup, know you can find something good in your riding.  

As John Maxwell says, we attract what we are.  

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