Pressure Proof Your Riding

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Overcome the Trap of Perfectionism

by Daniel Stewart


Martha Asks, “My trainer says I’m a perfectionist. I work very hard and really want to do well, but I get very disappointed when I make mistakes or when I don’t do as well as I know I could have. Does this mean I’m a perfectionist?”

It’s possible that you may have perfectionist tendencies. For instance, perfectionists are often highly motivated with a great work ethic. It’s not unusual for them to arrive at the barn first and leave last, work the hardest in lessons and listen intently to everything their trainer says. As a result, they’re often labeled as committed and hard working. Having said that, perfectionists often believe that being best in lessons means they should be best at shows. Unfortunately, setting the “bar of expectation” this high usually causes pressure and unreasonable expectations. This leads to mistakes, dwelling on them, feeling frustrated and, ultimately, disappointment.

Perfectionists often do something called “telescopic thinking;” seeing mistakes as if looking through the magnifying end of a telescope so they seem larger than they are, but then looking at their successes through the other (minimizing) end so they seem smaller than they really are. In the end, perfectionists often struggle to enjoy success because it was either expected, trumped by memories of poor past experiences, not a complete success because it wasn’t perfect or because they’re worrying about future success.  Here are other signs of perfectionism: Placing unreasonably high demands and expectations on self; motivated by standings, outcomes and impressing others; attempting to ride perfectly, which makes them ride mechanically; inability to let go of mistakes and/or making excuses for them.

Remember,imperfect” written another way is “I’m perfect” (just the way I am).

Daniel Stewart has coached US riders at several world championships, World Equestrian Games and the Olympics and is the internationally acclaimed author of the equestrian sport psychology book Pressure Proof Your Riding. He is widely considered an expert on equestrian mental coaching. He teaches clinics and seminars and holds weekly SKYPE mental coaching sessions with riders from around the world.


Published January 2013 Issue

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