Introducing Sport and Performance Psychologist, Darby Bonomi, PhD

Darby Bonomi, PhD is a Sport and Performance Psychologist based in San Francisco. She works with equestrians in all disciplines, as well as other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the competition. She will be contributing a regular column to the magazine on the mental aspect of our sport, starting with our July 2020 Issue. We are thrilled to include this ongoing element in our publication to help riders improve in all aspects of the sport. Here, Darby writes about perfectionism, uncertainty, and bravery during these strange times.

Perfectionism, Uncertainty, and Bravery 

COVID-19 offers us the opportunity to practice going forward even when we dont know exactly where we are 

One of my favorite topics is perfectionism. I hear so much about it every day in my work with clients, and I know a bit about it personally as well. Let’s face it: while perfectionism drives us to achieve, too much of it is a killer. It sucks the fun out of any ride and annihilates performance. It also makes us feel miserable! Just today I had two experienced riders tell me that they ‘can’t find distances.’ Of course this is absurd. Both of these riders find distances every single day. Lots of them.  

I asked these riders: you couldnt see any distance, or you couldnt see the perfect distance? 

While I appreciate perfectionism for the fire it lights in us, if the perfectionistic flames get too high, we combust. 

I like to tell riders: you must abandon the idea of a perfect distance—or perfect whatever it is (lead change, half pass, etc). You must ride what you get. Go forward when it’s imperfect. (As we riders know: forward, leg on, is always the solution.) And, you must continue to ride, continue to be brave, even when things aren’t just right. Make something out of what you have. Doesn’t this resonate with life in general right now? 

Its easy to be brave when you feel confident; the challenge is to be brave when youre uncertain or feeling less than perfect.  

Let’s step out of the ring for a moment. What we’re talking about applies generally to our lives, especially in this totally imperfect, challenging, uncertain state of world that has landed upon us due to COVID-19. Maybe this world health crisis has offered us the chance to practice digging in and moving forward despite the fact that we are uncertain about so many things.  

To bring us back to the horse world, all competitive riders organize their lives around their show schedule—plans are meticulously crafted so that they and their horses are ready for championships, finals, and other major events. With all the cancellations and changes in our schedule, 2020 is a year unlike any other. Suddenly we are unsure of our destination. Not only can we not see our distance, were not even sure of our course.  

What do we do? Freeze up? Throw in the towel? Of course not. We go forward. Now is a perfect time to practice bravery while feeling uncertain. In life and in the saddle, we need to create a new course, ride the distance we get, and look to the next jump.  

As I write this, most of us are prepping for shows we hope will happen in July—but of course we can’t be sure. My advice is: don’t dwell on the uncertainty. Ride the plan you have today, and adjust the plan as necessary. In other words, keep your pace, chart your line, and ride positive. (Sound familiar?) 

Let’s do this! 

— Darby Bonomi, PhD

Learn more or connect with Darby Bonomi at 

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