When riding goes wrong: managing your self-esteem and the desire to punish yourself

This week confidence coach and showjumper Sandie Robertson talks about creating a positive mindset and how not to be too hard on yourself...

This year I’ve been lucky enough to have already travelled to Dubai, Madrid, Belfast and Saint Tropez. While on my travels, I often see riders punishing themselves when they shouldn’t.

Maybe they’ve had a bad round or they don’t feel like they're reaching their goals. Whether those goals are for a Global Tour, doing well within their Riding Club or helping the family business, the pressure and self-esteem sacrifice is the same.

When horses are involved, it’s incredibly easy to invest our heart and soul into them, not to mention the time, energy and all the other stuff that comes with ownership. 

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But this only becomes a problem when we start to measure our self-esteem as a person using our performance in the saddle.

It’s all very well to say that horse and rider become one — but that’s simply not true!

Yes, there are incredible moments of unity and togetherness when you’re with your horse, but your performance doesn’t define you.

In society we’ve fallen into a cultural trap of feeling that whatever we do is never enough; that we're not doing enough, spending enough or trying hard enough to reach our desires and goals, and this affects our mental health. 

What happens in the saddle at a competition or during a jumping round doesn't define you.

The truth is that when it comes to horses, we already sacrifice enough of ourselves without letting our performance affect how we “think” about ourselves. More to the point,  believing that "not achieving what we wanted to achieve" also makes us feel “rubbish” as a person as we feel we're failing at everything we do in life.

Riding is a wonderful passion and often a bit addictive at times, but it's not worth sacrificing your mental health and self-esteem over. If you're feeling this way, it’s time to readdress the balance.

Here is a great and simple exercise to help get your self-esteem right back on track:

1. Work out what it is you do

Think about and write down all of the things you are as an individual. Note down everything, perhaps you are a mum, wife, carer, professional, daughter etc.

Then draw a line from you (draw a circle for you) to all of these things.

2. Take a closer look at your relationships   

Use three colours, one for the relationships you find the easiest, another for the ones that you find harder/one-sided and the last for ones you gain the most from.

If there are a lot of lines that symbolise that you’re putting out more than you are getting back, that needs a serious review.

3. Take control

Taking control of the things that bring you down leaves a lot more room for the lines that are equal. Then we can get back to the most important task — riding our horse.

Putting in place a mind-set routine to keep us feeling calm and positive is a great way to start and something that all the top riders swear by.

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