Boost Your Toughness Factor

There is one core thing all mentally resilient riders share: a very particular perspective on adversity. They are more likely to think of difficult circumstances in terms of opportunity. If the same error keeps reoccurring in training, this kind of rider might think, “I love puzzles, and once I figure this out I’m going to be that much further ahead.”

If they suffer some bad luck and their only horse is suddenly injured, they might think, “How can I best use this time? Maybe I’ll ask around to see what other horses are available to ride.”

It’s not that these riders are ultra positive pie in sky types. They just think differently. They know that less than perfect is what sport is all about – especially horse sport, where you are dealing with so many variables. The riders with the most comeback potential are not surprised at all by adversity. They expect it, embrace it and use it to their advantage…

And to other riders’ disadvantage. They can easily steal away a placing or even a win, not because they ride better than you but because they think more efficiently than you.

So really reflect hard and confront yourself about what challenging circumstances mean. No one is forcing you to see them as horrible, irreconcilable failures. That is your choice.

In training, when you encounter an error, either encourage yourself to smile right away or cue up a phrase like “great, now what?” Both will help you change what has come to be your initial conditioned response – to stop and berate yourself. For someone like Jill, who calls herself a recovering perfectionist, this was crucial to her transformation into a comeback rider.

“I had to learn not to take myself and everything that happened so seriously,” Jill explained. “It was as if every bad thing that happened I magnified in my head ten-fold. Then I was so busy moaning about how bad everything was I actually just forgot to ride. I forgot to fix things.”

The real truth about mistakes is that they will inevitably happen. Sometimes you will need their assistance to further your learning. Sometimes you will want to, and need to, let go of them as fast as smelly garbage. Observe one of the most resilient riders you admire, and watch the way they handle their errors (yes, they do make them). Watch the way they handle frustration, disappointment and yes, losing.

Through your observations, you will likely pick up on this: the comeback kid type doesn’t judge. They don’t get themselves tangled up in good and bad. They stay focused on pulling out whatever information they need to keep moving forward and on task.

April Clay is a Calgary-based psychologist and a former competitive rider. She specializes in sport psychology services for riders. April’s approach has proven popular with various kinds of riders, from hunters and jumpers to barrel racers and dressage. She offers individual consultation as well as group services, clinics and online courses. April has been a featured speaker at such events as Equine Affaire and EqWest and is a regular contributor to numerous publications both locally and abroad. You can reach her at

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