Discover five ways to push past your comfort zone and improve your confidence.
By Heather Wallace
As the author of a book and blog focusing on the struggling confidence of a returning adult equestrian, I’m used to people questioning the juxtaposition between my bubbly personality and my writing topic of choice: “You don’t seem timid,” they often say when we meet. Truly, though, I’m an introvert at heart; over the years, I’ve taught myself how to socially step outside of my comfort zone.
As a child, I rebelled at conformity and lived by the mantra, “normal is boring.” Yet for some reason at the barn, I’m terrified to stand out, and I hold myself back. For me, the pressure to ride like everyone else, or dress like everyone else, is often overwhelming. Deep down, I think most of us just want to feel accepted.
Stepping outside my comfort zone is a daily choice. It’s often nerve-wracking, but the result is having a lot of fun with my horse. Even better, I’ve learned an incredible amount about challenging myself and standing on my own terms. Use these five tips to take back control of your comfort zone, and you just might have a little fun while you’re at it.
Set a New Goal
Perhaps your goal is to win in the show ring or improve your relationship with your horse. Or maybe you want to achieve something more personal, like the ability to feel comfortable in your own body or to become a more balanced rider. The only limitations we have are the ones we put on ourselves. This won’t go away overnight; you have to consistently work toward those big-picture ideals.
Start by setting a small goal—something you can achieve that will move you closer to the bigger results you desire. For example, do you want to improve your communication with your horse? The end result might be working at liberty in a full arena with your animal fully focused on you. For this goal, start by reinforcing through food or positive touch like wither scratches when your horse stands when you approach. Progress to reinforcing when they come to you over short distances. Gradually extend the distance. Soon, you can engage with your horse across an entire arena. Through completing each small goal, you’ll gain confidence and soon find yourself closer to your overall target.
Learn from Other Disciplines
We often like to stay in our bubbles because that’s where we feel most comfortable. Sometimes, however, you can benefit by shaking things up. Have you ever considered taking a lesson in another discipline? Would it be that horrible to ride a different horse or work with a new trainer? If the idea makes you nervous at first, start with something smaller and then branch out as you gain confidence. Start small by reading books on a new topic or attending a clinic in a different discipline as a spectator to begin pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
Award-winning author and Paint Horse owner Carly Kade retired her sorrel tobiano mare ImGonna Kiss You from a career in the show pen; from her Phoenix, Arizona, home, Carly and “Sissy” now have access to 16,500 acres of trails in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve—and plenty of new experiences, too.
“I’m getting ready to make my former show horse a trail horse. It will be a fun learning adventure for both of us, since most of my equestrian experiences have been training for competition,” Carly said. “I’m also reading about working with horses at liberty. I think it will be a great way to keep Sissy’s mind sharp and make the bond we share even stronger.”
You don’t necessarily have to change your goals completely like Carly and Sissy. Introducing something like liberty work can help you better understand your horse’s behavior and improve your relationship, which—in turn—will transfer to the saddle, too.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2020 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.