As someone who has always struggled with nerves and anxiety in show jumping, I turned to sports psychology as my answer. It became a ‘magic’ tool that got me through times when I felt like throwing in the towel. That was the upside.
But, there was a downside. I realized after some time that my obsession with sports psychology was a bandaid. I read about the importance of patience, process-based goals and perfect practice, but I only paid attention to what I wanted to hear – all the quick fixes. I wanted tools to take away my nerves so I could get to a higher level, faster.
I never really considered why I had fear. I never dove into the root cause of my inconsistency in the saddle.
I cherry-picked the tenants of sports psychology that I thought could help me win, kind of like putting a piece of gimmicky equipment on a horse. Karl Cook explains this in his Masterclass: “When riders have problems that they do not understand how to fix they go for some complex bridle. The basics are more important and useful than changing the bit. It is easy to just change the bit…
Think of a cake with a cherry on top, the wide base is like the cake. The goal of a wide base is to make the cake so good you do not even need the cherry. The goal is to not need any special trick at the end.”
I thought my problem in the saddle was my lack of confidence and lack of trust in my eye to see the distance. But I now realize, how can you be confident if you do not understand why you're doing what you’re doing? How can you have a good eye if you don’t know what you’re looking for?
As Karl Cook explains, “People get lost and don’t know the right way forward. It’s like driving in fog and not knowing where you are going, but if you have a wide base and consistent application of your program, you can then feel the little things, the little details to guide you.”
It has taken me a long time to fully comprehend the bigger picture and now I feel a huge paradigm shift in my understanding. I needed to build that wide base of basics. I needed to be patient and wait until I was truly ready for each level without skipping any steps. I think the step skipping started when my parents bought me some nice horses that allowed me to jump at a level higher than my true ability, so I felt entitled to do more than I was capable.
I’d gotten lost in the big goals and fell into the trap of wanting more and more. In the process, I’d lost a true understanding of the basics.
When you start to reach your results-based goals, this is where you can fall into the guessing game trap. You start to want and expect more while not understanding what got you there in the first place. You forget the process and stop noticing all the small wins and lessons right in front of you. When I look back, I can now see that when I got a few good results this led me to instantly wanting more, and thinking I was ready for more. I was assessing my progress purely on the result on paper rather than the details of what was actually consistent. I had lost the love and importance of the process.
Therefore, when everything started to become inconsistent, I really lost it. I would get so stressed about making mistakes and about seeing the distance it caused me to circle constantly. This confused my horses and they started stopping even when the distance was good enough. All these bad experiences snowballed into a big problem.
My trainers would try to give me confidence by telling me to get going and trust myself, but I can now see that you cannot be pushed through something you do not understand. Whether you understand or not needs to be known otherwise you become trapped in the guessing game. Karl Cook summed this up very well in his Masterclass when he said, “Everything needs to have a why because that allows you to dissect it, understand it, and then if there is an issue, make an adjustment. If you don’t understand why it is very hard to make progress forward, because you don’t know what is going on or why it is happening, you will not know how to fix it.”
When you are focused on your basics and start living for the process, it takes away the dramatic highs and lows that result-based goals bring, as your success is based on your habits and day to day training. You are not pushed into the hit and miss guessing game of closing your eyes while kicking on. Once you let go of the result based goals I have found you get more enjoyment out of the little wins each day.
“Patient people end up living their dream rather chasing it, and experience the very feelings others think they will get only from achieving their long-term goal. In that way, patience allows a person to live their dream before they even get there.” David Galbraith, Unleashing Greatness