Strength Leads to Confidence
By Julie Goodnight
“That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” By and large, these are good words to consider when it comes to horses. Confidence is such a prevalent issue in horse sports, and with good reason—a horse can build your confidence over time, or take it away in a heartbeat.
After three decades of training horses and riders, I am not sure a day has gone by that I didn’t work with confidence—or a lack thereof—in either horses or their humans. Whether it’s a spooky horse and a clutching/gripping rider; or a calm and wise school-master patiently training a novice rider; or a strong handler settling a horse who is in the midst of an emotional melt-down, confidence always comes into play, for better or for worse.
Fear as a Teacher
Fear is a powerful emotion for both horses and humans and a complicating factor in all horse sports. It’s kind of crazy if you think about it—sitting on top of a thousand pound prey-animal whose number one response to danger is flight, is a little bit like strapping yourself onto a keg of dynamite. Some horses have longer fuses than others, but they all eventually explode.
Horse sports are uniquely challenging in the emotional department because horses, being herd animals and prey animals, are psychologically programmed to adopt the emotions of their herd mates—when one horse in the herd becomes frightened, the others respond in kind. So if my horse and I are a herd of two and I am frightened, my horse may respond in-kind.
Therefore, one of the most valuable skills we stand to learn from horses is to control our emotions and develop our patience. “Fake it until you make it,” is a phrase I use often to remind people to show confidence in their posture, breathing, focus and actions, even when you’re scared spit-less. When you are in control of your posture and body language, you will have more confidence immediately.
One of your greatest tools in fighting fear is to look up, stay aware of your environment, take deep breaths and adopt a confident posture like the Superman pose. The mind-body-spirit connection is strong and if you can control yourself physically and mentally, the emotion of fear doesn’t stand a chance.
As we age, our balance, core-strength and posture can be negatively affected and all of these things have an impact on your confidence. If you think of the image of an elderly person tottering down the street, the posture is hunched forward, with rounded shoulders, looking down and a shuffling gait. Now picture Superman’s posture. Posture and confidence are closely related, as are age and posture.
The good news is that we can reverse the ageing process, or at least slow it down, by building core-strength and correcting bad habits in your posture. Every day, I try to make myself taller by lengthening my spine, lifting my shoulders and flattening my upper back. Even though I am an older person, I don’t want to look like one. I work hard to maintain my core-strength and improve my balance by choosing workouts that focus on these areas.
There is an important connection between fitness and confidence, and I can prove it to you. Have you ever, at any point in your life, set a goal to lose weight and/or get in better shape? I do, almost every year, usually around January 1st. Let’s say you decided to power-walk a mile every day after work; so on the first day, you come home, put on your trainers and hit the tarmac. After your walk, you come home, grab a cold drink and already you feel better about yourself. There’s no better feeling than being done with a workout. You feel better about yourself, and therefore are more confidant—even though you are in no better shape than you were an hour ago.
So it is not being fit and buff that gives you confidence, it is the simple act of doing something to better yourself and to build strength that makes you feel better and stronger. The beautiful thing about workouts that focus on core-strength and balance, is that by the second day you can already feel a difference and after a week or a month, the difference is tremendous. Knowing that your balance is better and that you can move with the horse easier, most definitely will give you more confidence when you are stepping onto that keg of dynamite (I mean, horse).
Gaining confidence is a journey. If you need a confidence boost, start with focusing your attention on the current moment. Then make sure to add physical activity to your day. Schedule in a daily walk, boost your active time by taking the stairs. With a combination of mental focus and physical determination, you’ll soon feel stronger and ready to take a step forward toward your horsemanship goals.
Do you want some inspiration along the way? Check out my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/horsemaster.tv and free online group called “Julie Goodnight’s 5-Pound Challenge.” That’s the place to announce your own confidence and fitness goals and to get some positive feedback along the way!
Enjoy the ride,
This January my horse broke his jaw while messing around with a fence. Then fence won. Since I didn’t want to miss a whole year of riding (he couldn’t have a bit in his mouth), I started riding him in a rope hackamore. Your advise to stay focused, live in the moment, and not get bogged down by what “could” happen has made this the best year for trail riding. He actually likes the freedom of a free face, and we have become very connected and trusting of each other. When something makes me feel anxious (like meeting a bear on the trail), I just hop off until my heart beat gets back to normal. Great article.