Why Your Mindset Controls Your Riding, and Three Ways to Make It Work for You

Why Your Mindset Controls Your Riding, and Three Ways to Make It Work for You

What I have learned from working with many different riders, as well as talking to the top riders in show jumping, is that the underlying mindset we adopt hugely impacts our riding, motivation, and how we deal with failure. This is true for riders of any discipline.

According to Carol Dweck, a leading psychologist, and researcher into achievement and success, there are two fundamental mindsets that can greatly influence our determination and resilience on our path to becoming the best rider we can be: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

Related: Before You Walk Into The Show Ring, Do These Five Things

The Fixed Mindset

The two mindsets are like two different worlds. Enter the fixed world and you feel the need to prove yourself. You constantly feel the need to be validated. You need proof that you have what it takes to become a successful rider.

Photo by Erin Gilmore.

I still hear people comment sometimes, “she is really gifted” or “he can’t ride." These words insinuate the that you either have the talent you need to succeed, or you don’t. When in this mindset, failure becomes your biggest downfall. Come out of the arena with one mistake and you will feel so disappointed. It’s not just about the result, it feels like proof that you are not good enough.

This is why failure feels so personal. Success is about proving you are good enough. The fixed mindset leads to the desire to ride perfectly, look effortless, and be able to sustain this perfection at every level and in every class you enter. In order to keep proving yourself this way, you stay in your comfort zone. You prefer to stay safe so you can maintain this level of excellence or at least avoid making mistakes. Needless to say, this is not sustainable and you will make mistakes. When you do, you will feel devastated and your confidence together with your motivation will go down the pan.

Photo by Erin Gilmore

The Growth Mindset

The other world, however, is a world of endless potential. In this world, your biggest focus is to develop yourself to become the best rider you can be. You want to stretch yourself to learn something new every day and you are constantly thinking about how you can further improve yourself or your horse. In a growth mindset, you don’t fear failure, you embrace it because you know these are the moments you can become better.

Learning from your mistakes and challenging yourself constantly to become a little bit better every day is what you get up for in the morning. The results at the show are just feedback, nothing personal. You love pushing yourself to train better to become better. Improving yourself, rather than proving yourself, is your drive.

Photo by
Kaitlyn Karssen.

The Journey to Change

Perhaps you recognize yourself in one of these mindsets. When I read Dweck’s book Mindset a few years ago, I recognized I had been 100 percent in the fixed mindset when I was still riding full-time. The good news is, we can choose which mindset we want to adopt. Dweck says, “Mindsets are just beliefs. They are powerful beliefs, but they are just something in your mind, and you can change your mind.”

I personally believe that developing a growth mindset can make the single biggest difference to your riding career and enjoyment in the sport. So, let’s grow together. Firstly, read Mindset – I tell all my clients to read this book, it's that good. Second, take the self-assessment on Dweck’s website, which will give you an indication of your current mindset.

But maybe you already know you are in a fixed mindset when it comes to your riding? In that case, let’s dive right into three steps to gradually adopt a more helpful mindset.

Photo by Ben Clark.

Step 1. Embrace your current mindset

The first step is to actually embrace your fixed mindset. This might seem counterintuitive, but the more you judge yourself for thinking a certain way, the more you stay in a fixed world. Allow yourself to become aware when you are thinking with a fixed versus a growth mindset. The first step is always awareness.

Step 2. Become aware of your fixed mindset triggers

Now let’s take it a step further. Become aware of what your triggers are. When do you fear failure? When do you say to yourself “now I need to prove myself” or “now I need to do it perfectly”? The more aware you are of your triggers, the faster you can detect your fixed persona or even prevent her from taking over.

Photo by
Kaitlyn Karssen.

Step 3. Get educated.

Perhaps this is an odd one, but now that you know when your fixed character creeps up, you could give her a name. Whenever, for instance, “Little Miss Perfect” shows up you know to take a step back. Instead of letting her convince you you’re useless, you educate her. Use questions like, “Is that really 100 percent true?”, or “What can I learn from this?”, or “How can this fall, mistake, or failure make me stronger, better, and faster?” Another great way to educate your mindset is to use these three questions at the end of every day and after each class, training session, and show:

  • What went well?
  • What could have been better?
  • How am I going to improve this?

  • Just remember – when you focus on improvement, growth, and the process of becoming a better rider, over time the results will take care of themselves.

    Feature photo by Kaitlyn Karssen.