Sit Tall

Mar 21, 2014 - 12:36 PM
Mike McNally photo.

“Fake it ’til you make it.” Interesting idea.

Another good one I saw was a tweet from Michael Jordan that said, “Can’t wait for the day I wake up and say I have made it.” I don’t know if that was exactly the quote, but you get the idea.

This sport is constantly messing with your head. Every day you wake up thinking, “OK, this is what I have to get done in order to make it; in order to be a success; in order to achieve my goals.”

Then you go through process of mucking out, riding in horrific weather, putting band-aids on things that really should have medical attention; telling yourself you are never going to have enough horses, money, spare time. And you’re just about to say enough is enough when the sun comes out, you nail that half-pass, and someone reaches out and says you inspire them. 

Then you pop some Advil, read a text from a friend who tells you a funny story about how they fell off doing something dumb, and you laugh, exchanging a similar story about a big ol’ miss you had at a fence and thank God no one saw it. That night you fall asleep telling yourself it’s all about the journey.

The beginning of the season is always a struggle for me to keep positive and on track. Mostly because the beginning of the season is all about potential, opportunities, setting goals. To be honest, while you are having all of these conversations, you are just plain rusty and can’t see a distance to a cross rail, so how are you ever going to make it to Rolex???

Then the conversation tends to shift to the voice in the back of your head that says “What if?” What if I don’t reach my potential, what if I miss an opportunity because I run out of time or didn’t recognize the opportunity, what if I don’t reach my goal or worst yet, what if I’m too scared to say that goal out loud because I don’t want to fail?

And then the worst “what if” creeps in—what if I don’t belong here? What if I am not good enough? All of this is what goes on in my head. If you can’t relate to any these thoughts, then lucky you—and you may stop reading now ;)

So what do you do? Well, I take a ton of lessons, talk to people I respect about what is going on in their head and in their barn; I search for inspiration and confidence wherever I can find it and I practice!

For the past while I have really been working on my show jumping. So I found someone I really like working with, and I practice as much as I possibly can. I get more nervous show jumping now than I ever have. I think it’s because now I know it’s not all up to the gods on the day (although they help). I can seriously influence a round and just seeing a distance is not good enough.

Each horse is a bit different but the same rules apply. You must figure out the best canter, distance, bit and warm-up for YOUR horse as well take control of your position. Rules apply, but the more I watch and learn, the more I realize there is form and function. Some riders like a very low hand, some like a very high hand; some riders sit in the tack, some never do (some will challenge riding out of the tack, but watch Rich Fellers).

All this information is a bit of pressure. So my focus has been to own the pressure and own my position.

So while seeking inspiration I was watched a TED talk on body language, and I loved it. The speaker challenged the “Fake it ’til you make it” quote. I can relate to this because I want to feel like every success I have, I earn, and in exchange I’ll gladly own my failures. In my head if I “get away” with something or receive an accolade I didn’t personally feel I deserved, I can’t even look at someone in the eye. So this “fake it ’til you make it” doesn’t work for me.

Then she proceeded to discuss how your posture and “position” really do affect your confidence and therefore if you “make it.”

For example: Sitting up tall in a “power position” 20 minutes before a job interview instead of hunching over uncomfortably in a chair staring at your iPhone, really did influence presentations and overall impressions the applicants gave the interviewer. Sitting up tall when you are feeling nervous is not “faking it,” it’s maybe a white lie your body is telling your brain.  She then changed the phrase to “Fake it ’til you become it.” That works for me.

I was galloping down to the first fence at the Southern Cross Eventing Jumping Challenge (an event in Nations Cup format) in January, and I was really nervous. The event was designed to instill nerves and pressure and it worked. The “what ifs” started creeping in as I was cantering to the first fence, and I instantly thought “sit tall,” and then we were away, and Tate jumped a beautiful round.

I am now at the Carolina International with a herd of horses and Tate entered in the CIC***. With the beginning of the season passing, heading into the peak months containing Southern Pines, The Fork and Rolex, I am feeling confident in my team of horses and my team of  owners, coaches, vets and farriers as well as my friends and family. By nature as eventers I think we are constantly trying to improve our riding, our business, and our horses but it is important to keep positive in pressure situations. You have to fight to keep confident because often that determines if we “make it.”

We have a few opportunities coming up at Team SHE, so if you would like information on how to join our team or have a horse you think would grow in this team environment, feel free to contact me directly. In the meantime, best of luck to everyone in their season. Enjoy the journey and sit up tall!

Sinead Halpin Equestrian


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