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  • Writer's pictureKarl Avdek



You are on your horse in any environment; showing, trail riding, working out in the ring and your lack of confidence in riding is making you feel frustrated and confused. It’s even got you thinking about quitting.

You’re not riding or showing well … In fact you haven’t been riding or showing well for a while. Okay, for a long while and you’re thinking about quitting riding. You’re beginning to find yourself literally dreading horse show competition altogether because of (a – all the work involved and oh, by the way it has definitely turned into “work” (b – the (too-oftentimes) lack of success (c – the end result; i.e. defeat, loss, second or third place or worse, etc., etc. … which, by the way, you’ve begun to not only anticipate and dread but even “predict”


Mentally exhausted. Beat up.

Time to quit?

Well, it depends on a lot of things. Maybe yes. Maybe no but it sure as hell is time to have a “sit down” and a “talk” with yourself. Examine a few things. Ask a few questions.

Talks with oneself are great. Self talk, if performed properly can actually instill some “reason” and “intelligence” in to our … (drum roll …) EMOTIONS; our FEELINGS.

The simple act of giving our feelings a “voice” rather than ALLOWING them to just “rule” our behavior by sheer force can allow to gain perspective and intelligent objectivity BEFORE we take action.

You see our emotions (read: our unconscious or subconscious mind) is almost omnipotent in terms of shaping our behavior. Why? Because our emotions originate in the “primal mind” whose responsibility is “survival”. It has no reason. It does however, have a job; a fairly important one in fact.

It keeps us alive. The subconscious mind controls our bodily functions; cardio, respiratory, digestive system, etc., etc., etc. Our subconscious/unconscious wants us to be safe and therefore anything which threatens us with bodily harm or … and here’s the catch … even emotional harm; i.e. bad “feelings” is when all the alarms go off and the voices scream, “Stop!”

Bad feelings? That’s right, bad feelings; the “I stink, I won’t do well today, I lose all the time anyway, what’s the use,” etc., etc., etc. Our subconscious mind wants to protect us from that stuff as much as it works to keep us alive and safe.

Now all of this is okay. We really don’t want to shut out our subconscious mind. After all, staying alive is a good thing, right? Having a heart beat and air in our lungs; little things like that … all good. However … we also possess intelligence as well; aka; the conscious mind; our ability to “reason” and therefore talking about and “thinking about” our emotions objectively in a way gives an intellect; a “reasoning voice” to our emotions.

I actually advise clients to get out a piece of paper; a big long legal pad is great; lots of room, draw a line down the middle and let your “conscious mind” and your “unconscious mind” duke it out.

Self talk.

Oh, and by the way; DO NOT CONFABULATE.

Confabulate. Funny sounding, huh? Human beings do it all the time. Roughly what it means is that we humans tend to act almost solely based on our emotions and then AFTER we’ve acted, we try to inject reason into our emotionally driven actions. In many cases it’s as if we’re saying (to ourselves) “Holy Mackeral!!! There’s no way I could have been that stupid. Let me try to figure out what I was thinking about (not) and then (the public relations people call it …) “put a spin” on it so I won’t look so stupid … to myself and everyone else)… rather than ADMITTING that we weren’t thinking at all.

Don’t do that!!! Reason first. Then act; especially with a subject as important as this.

So let’s start with one particular all important question, “Why are you riding … and competing … in the first place?” I’m guessing that if you are faced with this dilemma you have probably been riding and showing for a while; maybe a loooong while. There must be a reason for you doing that. I doubt that anybody held a gun to your head.

Did you do it because you loved it? Riding that is.

Let me offer a couple of examples from my own experience; one involving a completely different sport; baseball … and another involving horses.

Baseball was always my big thing. I ended up playing three sports in college but baseball was always “it” for me. As a boy there was a field about a block from our house and as soon as chores were done (at the farm by the way) I was on the ball field and we played … all day and waaaay into the night. I remember many many times screaming out to my brother, “No no … keep going. I can still see the ball. It’s not too dark.” I remember playing in the snowin February. “C’mon we can play. Look, there’s grass visible out there … there … see it … that patch in right field.”

I loved the game. Win, lose, or draw … I loved to play.

Whoaa there. Did you hear that? “Win lose or draw.”

Years and years after college; after not playing or going near the game for a long time,

I caught wind of a semipro league where we live and began playing again. The first game I played (after all that time) my team lost pretty badly. Not fun but … hey … it was baseball. I especially remember the simple act of putting a uniform on for the first time in years. I stood in front of the mirror in the bedroom, looked at myself, and shook my head.

“Wow!!! I get to play baseball tonight.!!! Wow!!!” When I got home that night, my wife (who had actually been the person who goaded me into playing) asked me how it went.

“Great,” I grinned.

“How’d you do? Did you win? Did you get any hits?”

I scratched my head. You know I honest to God couldn’t remember anything and I told her so.

“I don’t know. I don’t remember but Jesus it felt great to play.”

I had a similar experience with horses. Although I grew up in the horse business. (My dad managed the biggest thoroughbred farm in the state), I had only ridden once in college and not at all SINCE college. I was living in New York and working in the film business when a friend of mine approached me at work.

“Say didn’t you use to ride and train and teach and show horses?”

“Well uh …” I nodded. “Yeah …”

“That’s great. Listen …” he cut me off. “I stumbled onto a stable about forty five minutes out of the city where they need somebody to help out with some beginner lessons and trail rides on the weekend. I have been helping out for a couple of weeks but my wife and I are about to have a baby and I just can’t spare all the time that they need. Why don’t you come up and help … get out of the city for a Saturday.”

Almost reluctantly I got up very early, boarded a train out of Grand Central and walked into the barn just as they were feeding.

“Jesus …” I almost dropped dead in my tracks. “I had forgotten how much I loved that smell.”

Just the smell.

Thought I died and went to heaven.

Within a month I had quit my job, moved out of my apartment in the city and was working full time at the barn; riding, teaching lessons, mucking stalls, living in a small mobile home, making about a quarter of what I was making in the city … and having a ball. Now it took me about a year to get back to training seriously and all the other horse“stuff” but none of that mattered.

I loved it.

Now notice that I did not say that I liked to lose on the baseball field and I didn’t necessarily like to start back at the bottom in the horse business either. I merely said that I loved to play and ride and no matter what the outcome of the game or the show I derived pleasure just from being on a baseball field and around the animals.

So the first thing; the first question is how much you love what you’re doing; your sport that is; the RIDING. (We’ll talk about the “showing thing” in a minute.

(And by the way, just a note: your “sport” can be anything … and not just a “sport sport”. It could be your business or art or cooking or raising your kids or anything that gives you pleasure.)

And passion.

Again, notice that I did not say SHOWING. Let’s approach the “riding” question first then ask the “showing” questions.

You see the “showing” is different … or not … depending on how we “perceive” it. The horse showing … drum roll again please … has consequences. You win or you lose.

Or at least that’s what you think … and feel; what you PERCEIVE.

At the horse show, we tend to get caught up in the “consequences” of the competition; the “win or lose” thing, the “I might stink” thing rather than why we are in the ring in the first place. We begin to feel fear and dread. Our unconscious mind whispers and sometimes yells at us. “No stop. Don’t go there.”

“You might lose …”


Now everybody know that you’re not very likely to die on the field so what the sam hell is your unconscious mind is protecting you from? Ready? It’s protecting you from … feelingbad.

Well uh … and here comes the voice of your conscious mind … what about the goodfeelings?

Ask … “why are you on the field in the first place?”

And those good feelings? Do you love what you are doing? The sights, the sounds, the smells? The excitement.

I can still close my eyes and smell the leather of my glove, feel the wood of the bat, the tape on the handle, how it felt to lace up my spikes … Hell I remember how thrilled I was the first time I even wore spikes. Real metal cleats. How cool was that?

I can also close my eyes and smell those smells in the barn; feel and smell the leather; taste the air, feel the horses.

As adults and sometimes as kids we sometimes forget those simple joys.

Start there.

Here’s a biggie. Here’s a game (read MENTAL game) changer. How about “getting better?” Isn’t that a good thing? How about the thrill; the rush you feel when you do something “better”; no matter how small. Anything?!!?

Now … take a long deep breath and let’s move forward. Let’s go on to that “losing all the time” thing and start with a question.Are you feeling bad because you’re losing or … are you losing because you’re feeling bad.

Did you understand the question because the answer impacts on your decision to keep riding or quit.

If you are feeling bad because you’re losing it is probably time to call in a professional to examine your riding from a mechanical standpoint. Are you making any kind of mechanical mistake which, if adjusted, will put you back on top? Are you having a problem with your horse that could be fixed with a training session or two?

On the other hand, are you not riding well because you are feeling bad; lethargic, bored, uninspired, tired, burned out?

Again, probably a good time to speak to an objective professional; someone who can guide you to getting some answers for yourself.

Oftentimes riders; competitors in any endeavor for that matter get pulled away from their sport for a variety of reasons with some fairly simple solutions. Let’s take a look.

Reason number one; burn out. You are simply tired of the “grind” that is required in any sport. Simple solution: take a break. Even things that you love and are passionate about can get stale at a point. Usually the feeling does not last. Give yourself, your animal and your “pursuit” a breather and see if you can regain some inspiration. You will know when it’s time to ride again. Or not.

Here’s a great suggestion: do something with your horse that isn’t related to competition. Go for a trail ride. Go into the ring and play some games. Get one of those big balls that the horses love to play with. Give him/her a bath. Groom him/her. Relax. Just sit down in the dirt next to your animal and enjoy his/her company just for the hell of it.

Reason number two; stress; putting too much pressure on yourself and your horse to win and fulfilling that demand. Simple solution: again … get a professional to give you an honest assessment of where you … and your horse are at … right now and then take two actions immediately

  1. Accept the truth for whatever it is. You can’t move forward toward a goal with intelligence and efficiency unless you know where you’re starting from; where you are at now; today.

  2. Don’t lie to yourself and make it something that it’s not. If you respect the professional then trust their evaluation LET them help you.

  3. Do not heap a whole lot of judgement on where you’re at. It is just a starting point. Not the end.

  4. Get better. Here’s a good one … how about the joy of “getting better” at a skill? And don’t tell me that that isn’t happening. If you do anything and do it a lot … it’s virtually impossible not to get better.

Reason number three; something else; specifically some other passion has grabbed your attention. Now this is a good reason for quitting and it happens to all of us at various times in your life. There was a time when my youngest son took 500 swings a day to improve his baseball swing and it showed in the results he got. He switch hit and was terrific; had colleges interested in him when he was a sophomore in high school and then you know what happened?

Music happened.

His passion for music had slowly taken over his heart and dominated his emotions. He ended up getting nearly a full scholarship for music and music production. He recently graduated and is starting his own production company.

My oldest was a great high school baseball player and went to State finals twice in wrestling. He found “math”; ended up getting a doctorate in math.

Not performing well? Thinking about quitting.

Give yourself time. Get some objective professional help. Let reason … rather than emotion rule. Change what you do with your horse. Maybe showing isn’t for you … at the moment. Maybe riding is enough … at the moment. That’s okay. It’s all okay. Listen to your head, your heart, your instincts.

Think before you think about quitting

The process works when we work the process.

Sometimes it is difficult to ask for help.

All of us could improve something with our mental approach to our sport. Sometimes we need help but don’t know who to ask … or how. Contact me and I can explain my sports mental toughness programs and you can learn how to quickly and easily improve your own mental game or that of your son/daughter or the players you coach.

I work with athletes and their families from all over the world using ZOOM over the internet!!!


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