Performance Mindset: Seeking Discomfort

How feeling bad can be a very good thing

Welcome to another issue of Reiners Weekly: the only newsletter exclusively for non-pro reiners. We’re here to help you massively up-level your horse (and reining) life!

Embracing Discomfort: Transform Your Riding & Life by Confronting Your Fears

The pressure is on. It’s show time!

Not my best performance

Oh, the difference a sunset and sunrise can make.

On Wednesday, the day before the final show of the season, I was excited; But as the sun rose on Thursday, and I headed for the arena, anxiety and stress slammed into me. My body tensed, my heart raced, and my breathing was a rapid staccato. My riding declined from frequently impressive to, well…at least I stayed on the horse.

Talk about frustrating! What happened?! When lessoning at home, we consistently executed every pattern, spin, and slide well. Why, oh why, couldn’t I repeat the same excellent performance at the show and go home the victor?

Does this sound familiar?

I had worked so hard and knew I could ride better; And, I realized that showing itself is a skill. If something is a skill it can be practiced and mastered. I needed to practice the skill of showing, separate from the skill of riding.

My anxiety wasn't about my riding abilities – it was about being in the show ring. Whenever I’d enter the show ring, my mind would race and I’d obsess over the idea of people judging me, laughing at me, disparaging my performance, my horse, my clothes, anything. Everything. What if I wasn't good enough?

Cue existential crisis, downward spiral, and disappointing results.

Practicing showing

I decided to seek out smaller local shows where I could engage in exposure therapy.

My plan was to participate in shows until they no longer bothered me, until I could focus on my own goals and not worry about others.

I found a lovely local show series run by the kindest organizer and entered multiple classes. It wasn’t reining, but it was practice. At showing. The skill I had the biggest deficit in, which no amount of lessoning would remedy.

I competed in boxing (despite no prior experience and performing poorly), pleasure, trail, reining, and ranch riding. Over and over, I put myself out there and refused to quit—even when my ego was a mess of disappointment.

I shifted my mindset from focusing on winning to what I was learning. I practiced being present and worked to persuade my mind that being in the ring is just another ride.

It was an exceptionally uncomfortable, remarkably productive show for me. It was miserable, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Through this showing “boot camp,” I demonstrated to myself that I can do difficult things, handle setbacks, and prepare and show my horse successfully. Full disclosure: the “boot camp” is ongoing because I’m still not entirely cured of show nerves.

This story isn’t about me

It’s about all of us. How feeling that uncomfortable when showing isn’t a special form of misery unique only to you; How you can be so good when you’re practicing at home, or at a lesson—and how your performance can be all too disappointing at the show once those nerves make a mess of things.

This story is also about what we can do about it.

Seek out discomfort

Instead of dodging discomfort, or trying to minimize or eliminate it, embrace it. Look for opportunities to develop more comfort with discomfort; To simply allow uncomfortable feelings to exist within you, without judgement. They are neither good, nor bad. They simply are. And you have plenty of space within the vast expanse of who you are for a little bit of discomfort.

Cultivating the ability to embrace uncomfortable feelings is a true superpower. Because as you increase your ability to DO YOUR THING regardless of whatever emotional storms may rage within you, you will discover your results improve, and (more and more frequently) when you have prepared for hurricanes, you get sunshine and gentle breezes instead.

Think of it this way: if every lesson you had was in an arena covered by tarps and plastic water bottles—and featured machine guns firing overhead… If you learned to perform in such arduous conditions, how easy do you think it would be to go perform at a show with plain dirt on the ground and no gun fire?

Consider measuring the success of your horse show or ride (or your life outside of horse riding) not by your placement or score, but by how you faced discomfort.

As you practice finding and engaging with discomfort each day, ask yourself, what caused “big” feelings today? What made your heart pound? Your pulse race? Your body tense? Your teeth grind or jaw clench? What made you snap or blow a fuse? What made you sad? Anxious? Were you able to make space for those feelings and allow them to wend their way through you until they dissipated?

In your horse practice and lessons, are you creating helpful discomfort for yourself? Practicing spins with other riders in the pen? Deliberately doing the pattern wrong until your trainer calls you on it?

If you’re skilled at coexisting with discomfort without being debilitated by it then future shows (and so many other challenging aspects of personal life) will be so much easier because you’ll be able to work with your feelings, rather than wrestling against them.

Over to you…

What are your creative ideas for how to can create more productive discomfort? What’s one way this week you’re going to practice being brave, and making space for the discomfort you’re now seeking out and embracing?

Reply and let us know! We’re cheering for you!

Until next time,

Happy trails!


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