Be “All In” – No Regrets on The Road to Mastery

Be all in. 

It’s a common rally cry of coaches, but what does it mean? How does “being all in” translate into better performance and greater rewards? And, why is there so much resistance to it? 

When I work with riders,I often hear something like this: “What if I’m all in and I make a mistake? What if I embarrass myself? What if I lose?” 

  • I believe that the real questions behind those ‘what ifs’ are: 
  • What if I give my full effort and I don’t come out on top? 
  • What if I show how important this is to me and I don’t win? 
  • What if I come into contact with my limits? 

To be honest, those scenarios are going to happen. But, that’s no reason to hold back. 

Did you watch the UCLA men’s basketball team play their hearts out in the Final Four and almost defeat #1 Gonzaga? Gonzaga hadn’t lost all season, and won most games by double digits. UCLA pushed them to the edge. Some commentators said it was the best college basketball they had ever seen. Still, UCLA lost in the last second of overtime. 

The 11th-seeded Bruins’ attempt to become the first double-digit seed to get to a title game fell one miracle short, but they went down swinging. On the 26th anniversary of their last championship, they played like champions. —LA Times 

So I’m asking you again—what if you give it your all and still lose? Well, then, like the UCLA men’s team, you know in your heart that you gave all you had on that particular day. You held nothing back and you have no regrets. That is a championship mindset. 

From my perspective, being all in is all we can do. And, it’s what we must do. 

I spend many hours talking with anxious athletes worried about the ‘what ifs.’ In anticipation of failure (missed distances, forgotten courses, falls, general lack of perfection), riders hold themselves in reserve. I can sense the tightness in their bodies and their minds as they tell me the feared consequences of going all in. My goal is to pry them off of the ‘what ifs,’ and get them to the ‘what nows.’ My job is to help release them to ride, to bring themselves as fully as they can to every second of their performance. 

So, how do you go from fear of the ‘what ifs’ to being all in? Here are some ideas to help: 

  • First, claim ownership of your riding—every minute, every stride, every jump. Own where you are in the process of growth. Resolve that your goal is to be a better rider tomorrow than you are today. Don’t compare yourself with others. Ride for and against yourself. 
  • Second, be deliberate about being present. Ride the horse you have today the best you can today, given all the internal (personal) and external conditions. Win or lose today, review and refine your plan for next time, with the intention to go all out again—however that translates for you. 
  • Third, embrace your vulnerability. Don’t be afraid to show (yourself and others) how much this ride means to you. Within vulnerability lies great strength. Champions want to be the best. If you tell yourself that your ride doesn’t matter, you are fooling yourself. If you are a serious athlete, and your goal is to ride your best, then your vulnerability is showing every time you get in the saddle. 

Was UCLA ‘embarrassed’ by displaying their full desire to win? I think not. Their gutsy, smart game was courageous and bold. It was also vulnerable. It was clear they gave it everything they had, with nothing held in reserve. I admire them for pulling out all the stops, for wearing their desire on their sleeves—for being all in. They walk away from that loss knowing they gave it everything they had and more. 

My challenge to you, my dear equestrians, is to be all in. Give it all you’ve got today, and be proud of yourself for doing so. Learn what you can from today’s ride and go out and give it all again tomorrow. If you make being all in your practice, not just something you pull out on show days, your riding will improve, and even more important, you’ll feel fulfilled. 

In my mind, being all in means no holding back, and no regrets. Yes, you will come up against your limits, just like UCLA. And, you will dive back in tomorrow to break down those limits. For us athletes, real enjoyment is in the pursuit of mastery. So go get it. 

Be all in


Darby Bonomi, PhD is a Sport and Performance Psychologist. She works with equestrians in all disciplines, as well as other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the competition. We are thrilled to include this ongoing element in our publication to help riders improve in all aspects of the sport.

Learn more about Darby Bonomi and how she might help you and your riding at: www.darbybonomi.com

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