A confidence-busting accident can come in many forms—a fall, an injury, a big loss. Or it can be something as simple as going off pattern or making a bad decision in a clutch situation. No matter the circumstances, you have a choice: Give up or get tough and keep going. If you’re still reading, then I’ll assume you’re the type who wants to try to move on. Here’s my advice for regaining your spirit after a challenge gets the best of you.
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It Happens to Everyone
The first thing to understand is you’re not alone. The best horse trainers, athletes—anyone who strives to succeed—find themselves in your situation at times in life. It’s happened to me lots of times. Sure, it’d be easier to give up. It’s hard to keep going, to suck it up and go do what you need to do.
You’re not the first person to find yourself in that situation. And you’re also not the first person who has to get past it. If other achievers can do it, so can you.
Use Your Emotions the Right Way
When I make mistakes in the show pen, I get mad. I might not show it if I’m around other people, and I definitely don’t take it out on my horse, but you can bet I’m upset with myself on the inside. I use that anger to my advantage. It drives me to learn from the mistake, and try never to make it again. And then I move on. I don’t hang onto my anger or any other emotions tied to a mistake.
The worst thing you can do is pout and dwell on it. I call it “throwing your sucker in the dirt.” If you pout, throw a fit, take it out on your horse—basically act like a toddler—you’ll have a much harder time moving on and finding success. Winners (whether it’s with a ribbon or achieving a personal goal) don’t like to lose. They don’t like the emotions that come with a failure. So they use that to motivate themselves to improve and move past the misstep.
Focus—and Eliminate Distractions
The easiest distraction to eliminate when you’re working through a setback is your phone. Leave it in the tack room, stash it in the truck, give it to your trainer—just don’t take it with you when you get in the saddle. Whether it’s at home or at a competition, ditch the phone and laser-focus on your horse, your ride, and your goal. Your phone—the text messages, emails, Facebook posts, voicemails—will be there when you’re unsaddled. Until then, don’t let it steal any of your moving-forward focus.
Another common distraction: Family and friends who come to watch you ride. I understand that it’s encouraging to have a cheering section and fun to show off your horse and all your hard work. But don’t let your audience steal your focus. Catching up with friends instead of studying your pattern, or sitting in the stands with your family rather than warming up your horse the right way are common mistakes. When your guests divide your attention, that’s when you’re sure to go off pattern, lose a cow, or pick up a wrong lead. Your concentration is parsed out between too many things when all of your energy should be going into your ride.
Get over it. Move forward. Put the past behind you. It’s easier said than done, but it’s necessary. If you hang onto your mistake or dwell on your injury, you’re destined to repeat it. It’s called a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” When you ride into the arena hoping you won’t go off course the way you did last time, you’re going to go off course. Or if you hope that your horse won’t spook and buck you off the same way he did the last time
you rode, he probably will. It’s really that simple.
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Instead, ride into the arena picturing your perfect performance, leaving the past behind you. Ride past the imaginary goblin that spooked your horse as if nothing is there.
Sometimes you don’t have any choice but to let it go immediately. I had a customer make a big mistake, but then he had another horse to show right away. I helped him shake off the setback and put it out of his mind so he could focus on his other horse. If he’d held onto his upset from his first horse, then he’d be looking at twice as much regret when he made a mistake on his second horse.
A true winner learns from mistakes and shakes off the loss so he can be ready to face the next challenge.
A multiple AQHA world champion, Avila has also won three NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurities, the NRHA Futurity, and two World’s Greatest Horseman titles. He received the AQHA Professional Horseman of the Year honor. His Avila Training Stables, Inc., is in Temecula, California. Learn more at bobavila.net.