“Come on. It’s just your mind telling you you can’t do it. Running is 85% mental. Keep going! Just focus on your breathing.”
I was a senior in high school. For 5 weeks, a Marine Corps recruiter had his eye on me. He took to knocking on my door at 6:30am and making me run laps at the school track down the street from my house before class. He wanted me to be a Marine, and he wanted to make sure I was in physical and mental shape to go to boot camp after high school. I didn’t end up joining the Marines, but I am thankful for that recruiter. He taught me some valuable lessons! I didn’t believe him when he said that to me, however. The stitch in my side and the burning in my lungs told me running was most definitely physical, not mental. For some reason, I kept going when he told me to, despite the stitch, despite the burning. I wish I could tell you I realized right away that he was right and I could push through the resistance of my body by focusing my mind on the goal, but it actually took a while for that lesson to sink through my thick skull. One day I realized that I could run 3 miles without stopping or gasping. Soon after that, I realized I was also able to concentrate more on unpleasant tasks like doing economics homework or loading the dishwasher. When I was older, I put it together and realized the Marine had taught me mental discipline and focus. This was after I had married a different Marine, who also happens to be a World Champion horse trainer. For years, I have had his help in learning how to ride and show performance horses. Now I know, without a doubt, what the first Marine said applies here, too. It’s 85% mental. Life in general is!
The Bible says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” (1 Corinthians 9:24 ESV). If you are going to do something, why not do it in such a way that you are in a position to win the prize? This Scripture isn’t advocating a Ricky Bobby attitude, it simply means don’t run in vain. Run knowing which direction you are running. Run focused on the outcome instead of all the things that can go wrong or feel uncomfortable at the moment. Regardless of whether the horse show judge places you first, or whether you draw a maniacal cow that runs over your horse- if you go in running to win, the satisfaction is greater. This lesson has served me well in horse showing. Riding horses and competing with them well is this strange mix between being perfectly present in the moment, and having an overall vision and direction that drives each action. This may seem radical, but it is impossible to be at peace in the moment without having a clear sense of vision and direction. If we go into the show pen thinking of all the things that could go wrong, or all the things our horses are doing wrong at that moment, it will likely be a disaster. Do you really know what it means to, “keep your eye on the prize,” as the Bible says? I mean, do you know it down in your heart? Only when you can keep your eye on the prize can you be free enough from fear and doubt, to go perform moment by moment as a partner with your horse. If you are running for the right prize, you will have the winning direction. (That’s a topic for another time!) If you have trained yourself to be able to focus on your purpose, even when uncomfortable, you will have what it takes to make it. This is where we remember the mental aspect. Just as I learned that the correct focus could overcome side cramps and labored breathing, so it can overcome all fear and trepidation we feel when we attempt to do something complicated and beautiful with our horses. Next time you go riding, take a moment before beginning to get a vision of where you want to go, (your prize). Define your direction, and then focus yourself on heading in that direction. Your brain is wired in such a way that it loves when you give it a task to complete. For example, you could define your direction this way: “I intend to communicate with my horse smoothly and be polite with him, and I intend to remember my pattern and make smooth correct maneuvers.” Be specific and as positive as possible when defining your direction. Notice I said, “Make smooth correct maneuvers,” not, “avoid penalties.” Remember the Bible quote—we must run towards a goal. If I say, “Avoid penalties,” that means I am running away from something. Turn it around and make it positive: “Make smooth, correct maneuvers.” You will find if you have this mental focus before your ride, you can stay focused on your prize, even if things don’t go exactly as planned, or if your lack of experience starts to show. The good thing about heading in the right direction is that you eventually reach your destination!
I’d love to hear your success stories. Email me at email@example.com to share. God Bless, and happy riding!
–Copywright July 2016, Jessie Wright, Oakdale CA
Jessie Wright, wife of Cutting and Cowhorse Trainer Don Wright, is an AACC Certified Christian Life Coach. She loves riding cutting horses, reined cowhorses, and anything else with four legs and a tail.