I like horse shows. I like the energy; I like getting dressed up and seeing what Gangster and I can do. I like to show because it pushes me to become a better rider, it forces me to practice things that I otherwise might avoid. But I also hate showing, it’s terrifying and stressful and I don’t feel qualified to participate in such an activity.
I don’t like to talk up my skill in horseback riding. The equine world is filled with ostentatious riders who inflate their talents and talk up their skills. I never want to be one of those people. There is a lot you can bullshit in life: your college psychology class, superficial relationships, being an adult. But you cannot bullshit a horse. Sure, you can fake a little confidence and an air of competence to a certain point, but after that, everything will start to fall apart. I have plenty of puffed up confidence in lots of areas of my life: my job, my writing skills, my wit and charm. Horseback riding is one area in which I have never had much confidence though, even as I’ve grown in skill, my level of positive self-talk has not matched the rate of my improved capabilities. I’m not even really comfortable with the term “positive self-talk,” sounds a little touchy-feely-new-agey to me. But I should be. We all should be. Why shouldn’t I talk positively about the talent I’ve gained, about the progress I’ve made? Why shouldn’t you?
I use humor as my number one coping skill, I joke about EVERYTHING. You might think surely there are some things that are off limits, but there really aren’t any. Good or bad, poking fun at something is my number one go-to activity. So when I’m stressed and feeling inadequate at a horse show, out comes the self-deprecating humor. All. Day. Long. Here are some samples:
- “Well this could be a disaster,” me to my mom as I headed into the show ring for a class.
- “I’ll be taking last place for that little display,” me to the competitor next to me as we waited for our placings to be called. She took last place. Perfect. So now do I not only make fun of myself, I am also the person who says I’m getting last place to the person who actually is getting last place.
- “Hey I didn’t come off in that class, so that’s a positive,” me to my show help after a decent performance in a class.
- “But I could have done better,” to my friend after winning a second and third place under two different judges.
I honestly had no idea I put myself down so much until my husband gently told me the day after the show that maybe I’d have more fun if I wasn’t so hard on myself. I thought about why I would do such a thing. I don’t know if I really know. The first thing that comes to mind is that I don’t want anyone to be disappointed or embarrassed for me and my riding. So if I tell you I’m a horrible rider up front, then you’re pleasantly surprised when you see that I’m not a total train-wreck on the back of my horse. But why should I care what you think anyway?
I’m the one out there on my horse, communicating with him, thinking to myself about what I’m doing, what to do next, what to correct. The only one whose opinion I should care about at all is my own. I shouldn’t even care what the judge thinks. The judge has no idea that my horse has bucked at a gallop halfway down an arena with me on his back and that I still struggle to trust the little pistol from time to time. The judge would have no idea if my stomach/back/legs hurt and I’m giving my all and my all isn’t quite enough that day in comparison to the other riders who also are working through their own struggles. So at the end of the class, no matter what place I get, what should matter is how I feel. But if I’m always telling people that I’m not a good rider, that I could have done better, then I’m not going to feel very good about any of the things I actually did accomplish.
And the biggest thing I need to feel pride in is that I showed up. More than one person told me in the weeks leading up to the show that they didn’t have the confidence to show, that they would get too nervous, that they didn’t have the guts to show. Not everyone wants to show, and that’s perfectly okay. But if you want to show, and you’re letting the fear of the endeavor stop you, please just show up. And then tell yourself what a badass you are for being willing to let yourself be seen, judged, compared and on display. And if you get a ribbon, then hell yeah, pour yourself a drink, because you’re a badass and a rock star.