Confidence…pretend you are Boyd Martin and you will have plenty

Yes, this is how good I am at visualizing I am Boyd Martin...you can see it too. I visualized winning the Wellington Showcase....

 

Confidence…pretend you are Boyd Martin and you will have plenty

C
onfidence is a state of mind that can make or break a rider. I hit a low point in my riding over the past winter. Rewind to February 2015, when I was stupidly jump schooling on my own. My horse, Kermit (aka Devil Munchkin) and I had a nasty fall. Fortunately, my horse was 100% okay but I hurt my neck fairly badly which resulted in a lot of pain, a trip to the hospital and lots of physiotherapy. I didn’t do any permanent damage to my physical health but my mental health was a different story. Every time I rode down to a jump, I would second-guess myself. Was that the ‘right’ distance I was seeing? I began pulling more and kicking less on approach to jumps and freezing when I thought I was on a half-stride. My lack of confidence resulted in me riding like dirt and my horses felt this.

Nearly a month after my fall, I headed to the Carolina International for what was going to be my second Advanced event with Kermit. Our jump schools before the event were bang on and I thought my confidence was fine. Dressage went super and I had walked the cross-country course many times and felt that the course was within our capabilities. But then while I was warming up, another rider fell on course at the ‘A’ element of the first combination – a hanging log type fence on the crest of a hill. There was a hold on course as the rider was taken away in an ambulance. I began to question if I was really ready. I headed out of the start box feeling nervous but Kermit jumped the first several tables like an old pro. But when it came time to jump that same hanging log that caused a fall, I froze. Kermit looked at the hill on the backside, hesitated and stopped. He would have jumped it fine if I had simply used a little leg, but I had panicked. This was the first stop Kermit had ever had on course. We have had a few silly run outs at narrows, but never a flat out stop. I quickly threw my hand up and retired. My coach was unimpressed, to say the least, that I rode so poorly on the first attempt to the jump then, didn’t try to fix my mistake by jumping it again. I was ashamed at myself for letting my horse down and went home from this event feeling worse than I have ever felt about a mistake on course.

I rerouted to Rocking Horse, two weeks later to run the Intermediate and get things back on track. But things only got worse. Kermit felt my lack of confidence in show jumping warm-up and had a few stops. I was shaken up by this and had no one with me to tell me that I just had to put my hands down and kick. So I went into the ring riding like a nervous nelly and Kermit had two stops resulting in an elimination. I was devastated, this horse was a superstar. Had I ruined him? Luckily, I had not but I was sure a mess at the time.

 

 

My coach called me and told me to get my head back in the game and show jump my Preliminary horse. I did not want to show jump my Preliminary horse at the time, I was fearful that I would just wreck him too. However, I was told pretty firmly that I better get on with it. So I went into warm-up riding like I meant it and carried this into the ring. Shockingly, I jumped my first double clear at this level with that horse. Cross-country the next day, went equally well and I knew I had to start evaluating why things had come unhinged with Kermit.

My plan was to compete Kermit at the Ocala CCI2* but it was only two weeks away and we didn’t have any events left to fix things at. Fortunately, my coach is a borderline wizard and set up a variety of jumping exercises to get me riding positively to instill my horse’s trust in me. I went to the Ocala CCI2* with my previous elimination behind me, telling myself if I kick and trust my horse’s jump everything would be okay. That’s exactly what I did and we earned our first MER at a CCI2*, adding only one rail to our dressage score. The reason for the rail was that we were on a waiting distance and I kicked more than I should have. After this event, I knew I had lots of fine-tuning to work on with my jumping but overall I was not the horrible rider I had convinced myself that I was. I also made a promise to never let my confidence in the saddle dwindle.

So how do you stay confident?
Watch any professional rider on cross-country and you will see that he/she is confident no matter what happens. If Michael Jung sees a long distance, he does NOT kick for a few strides, then second-guess it and start pulling. Whatever decision he makes, he follows through with it. If you start questioning every distance you see, you will miss your chance to make it happen. Or if you are struggling to see a distance, panic, and start chasing to the jump then you will arrive unbalanced to a lousy distance. You have to be confident that you WILL eventually see that distance.

All the world’s best riders are calm and confident. You can be too because this is just a state of mind, not a skillset. I like to pretend I am a better rider than I actually am when I jump my horses. As ridiculous as this sounds, I pretend I am Boyd Martin and that I can see a distance equally as well. This helps me ride with confidence and as a result, I actually do see better distances and ride my horses in a better overall balance. This does not mean that I do not recognize my error when I go for a long spot and it turns out I probably would have been better off waiting or vice versa.

I am constantly assessing each and every jump for how I could have made it better. But I will not beat myself up for making a mistake and neither should you. If you want your horse to trust you, it is imperative that you trust your own riding abilities first.

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