Equestrians’ Unique Psychological Strengths

Life skills that riders come by naturally.

This is a bizarre, uniquely challenging time. So much of what was routine is now upended. We have all been required to adapt, recover, make decisions, and move forward. Things are uncertain; the ‘facts’ of today may well be different tomorrow. Yet we go on. The truth is that we equestrians have unique strengths to not only cope but also thrive in challenging times. These traits, which form the foundation of being a good horse person, also give us an edge during this stressful, uncertain era.

“The truth is that we equestrians have unique strengths to not only cope but also thrive in challenging times. These traits, which form the foundation of being a good horse person, also give us an edge during this stressful, uncertain era.”

First and foremost, equestrians are relentless. We are relentless in our preparation, our drive to succeed, and our love for our horses. We don’t take no for an answer. We are like freight trains when it comes to devotion to our animals and our sport. While such passion can be off-putting to non-horse people, it’s an asset for mastering skills, staying focused, and excelling—in sport and in life. We just don’t give up. Ever.

We know how to recover and move on. We fall off; we get back on. We make a mistake; we adjust and keep going. Adaptability is often noted as being the #1 characteristic that underlies mental health. Being able to not only manage but also excel under shifting conditions is what we riders do on a daily basis. Let’s face it: riding a 1500 lb animal that can bolt or spin at the sight of a plastic bag requires that you be able to adapt and adjust quickly—and hopefully, keep your sense of humor intact. Talk about life skills for 2020.

We know that the secret to getting out of trouble is to go forward. Think about it-the solution is never to go backward, get timid, or pull. The answer is always put your leg on. Sit up, look up, and go forward. How true is this for life as well? As much as you might want to back up or second-guess a decision, you have to go forward. And, doing nothing is not an option. As hard as it might be, the only choice we have is to take the next step, both in life and in the saddle.

We are experts at staying present. Horses call us to be present. In fact, one of the unique gifts of being on or with a horse, is that you must be in the present or bad things will happen. In my mind, it’s part of what makes riding, and the barn in general, a very therapeutic time, especially now. These days, we all have the tendency to be somewhere else other than where we physically are. Being present is where you get to experience what is now. Being present is where our strength is; it’s a foundation for riding, and also living.

We riders know how to keep the big picture in mind. We know that developing a horse takes a long time, so while we need to be in the present with him, we also need to stay connected to where we are going. Said another way, equestrians know how to keep our destination in mind, never making a choice that would be a short-term gain for a longer-term loss. Keeping the big picture helps us navigate during challenging times. If you are struggling, ask yourself: what is most important right now? What is your highest and best use right now? Let those answers guide your next steps.

Horsepeople know how to nurture a relationship. Like with humans, a relationship with a horse is a two way street. Sometimes you give, sometimes you take. You know each other’s preferences, tendencies, and moods and learn to work within those. You know that anger shuts doors and compassion opens them. You know that frustration rarely leads to anything productive. If you’re getting in a fight, then you’re not listening and you need to take a step back. You know how to give praise and have gratitude, and you know how to trust. If we all care for our human relationships as we do our equine ones, we will be very rich in friends and in life.

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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