Riding with Imposter SyndromeDec 19, 2022
Do you ever feel you're not good enough, you don't belong, or you're not worthy to be in the dressage arena or competition arena? Imposter Syndrome is the term often used to describe these feelings, and Nat recently talked to three experienced and knowledgable riders who identify with this concept.
This is an edited transcript of an episode of The Collectives podcast – listen here
I have always ridden, I've ridden since I was quite young. I did a lot of pony club, but not a lot of competing. Then in my later teens I did a lot of trail riding, did a little bit of endurance, and then got back into dressage. I have one horse whom I'm training, she's around elementary and training medium now.
Imposter syndrome is the feeling of not being good enough. You have the knowledge, but you doubt yourself. It can be when you go into clinics. It can be when you go into a competition. It can be after a particularly bad ride. You feel like you're not progressing. If you look back, you can see that you are, but you can get very stuck in the moment.
There are times at clinics when I think I’m taking up someone else's spot. Particularly if I’ve had a really challenging ride with my horse and I've got a really challenging horse at times. We all have a day when everything's off and the horse doesn't want to play the game. You just feel like you've gone back, particularly when you've worked so hard, and you've put in the hours, and you get there, and it falls apart. It's hard. All you can do is say to yourself what have we learned from this? What can we do move forward, what strategies can I put in place? I realised that this is the horse that I've got, and this is what I can afford. So, it's going to have to work.
We are very lucky in the community we have in the (Performance Riders) program that we are very supportive and the group of riders that we ride with at clinics are extremely supportive, which is important as well.
We're also our worst critics as well, what we say to ourselves, we wouldn't be saying to the other people around us about their riding.
You want to go out and you want to do your best and if you feel like it's not at its best. I also feel like at times I'm not progressing because I am wanting to go back and perfect things that haven't worked or build on those.
I have tried ways to deal with the imposter syndrome, I did a hypnotherapy session which really did help, and maybe I need to revisit that. Potentially one of my own self-sabotages is that you work on something, so you feel like you've actually accomplished that and then you put it to the side and then you start on something else. And I had a discussion with Emma about that a couple of weeks ago when she said, it's just like icing a cake. You don't do a little bit and then take that icing off and then restart it again.
My experience with horses as a child was pretty much going to the Easter show each year and seeing them ride around in the arena. When I was 40, I had the opportunity to have my first riding lessons. I started very late. I would like to say that I've been riding for two years, but that means that I've been riding for 17 years.
My experience has been hard fought. I currently have one pony and we are trying to do novice level. I think he's a bit of an imposter too though, so we'll see how he goes.
I feel like I’m not progressing. If you look back, you can see that I am, but I can get very stuck in the moment. I think I'm not good enough and neither is my horse. I've got a mongrel of a quarter stock horse, a quarter riding pony.
I competed for the first time in a while on Saturday at Clarendon. I found that I actually apologised to the judge when I presented. I said I'm really sorry for what you're about to see. The pony hadn't been at Clarendon since 2018 and I was completely intimidated in the warmup. So there I was, on my little chestnut and three beautifully bred warmbloods were surrounding me. I just thought we aren’t even in the same ballpark. It’s a case of wanting to give in before you start. I really wanted to scratch from the weekend because I knew that we weren't up to standard. My husband told me to go to the show. He said you used to love going and just being out with your horse. Now the judgment's much greater even though the pony is performing better and he's performing better by his standard, not by anybody else's standard. I just keep thinking to myself, why I am even here?
I just don't think I started riding early enough. I try hard, but I just didn't start riding early enough. I've got too many things to overcome to be good at it. I know I don’t need to be the best, but I just need to learn to accept that and be comfortable with it.
The thing that's really kept me going recently is the program. I’ve got it written down in big letters, you're just trying to make your horse the best horse it can be. Do not make them into anybody else's horse.
My imposter syndrome doesn't stop me. I practice my heart out and I know I’ve got the knowledge. We just keep trying. It's probably at the point where I'm looking at another discipline and maybe go try some working equitation, where it's not all imported warmbloods and good bloodlines. Just to find something more suitable for my horse. My heart's in dressage. I think it's the most beautiful sport. But I also think it's a very separating sport as well. It's separating into the people with the right horse and the people without the right horse.
What really helps me is the fact that I have found my own system through Brett's programs. I have my plan for each week of what we're going to do. We have our fundamentals day, we have an advancing knowledge day, so we learn something new, we have a fun day, and we have a 'let's practice dressage test' day.
I'm going to be the best I can be and I'm going to keep learning while I'm teaching my horse.
I got my first horse when I was 13, even though I have non-horsey parents. I had to go get a casual job because I couldn't afford to pay for it because there were four other kids in the family. I never ever really went to pony club, just sort of flopped around and got serious with dressage about 30 years ago. I've currently got a horse at Medium and got a nice five-year-old.
I always think I don't know enough. I'm always reading, trying to understand things, but I still don't feel like I know enough. I mean the program's been brilliant as it helps so much to explain and make it simplified and help me understand it. But even when I'm out there and I'm riding, I'm thinking – I don't get what they're getting. I just don't feel like I know enough to look like them and to have my horse go like theirs. That to me is hard.
I just keep striving; I'm trying to find this magic bullet so I can look like everybody else and ride as well and be as good and be able to train the horse so that I can train like them. I really struggle with feeling like I never know enough.
I don't sit well, and my body's a bit busted up and I can't sit like other riders. When I get out there and I compete, yes, I've got this picture in my mind, but I look around and I go, but why can't I look like that, what am I missing out on that they're getting? And then I think, should I be here? Because I always feel like I don't know enough.
I'm watching all the time just trying to figure out how I can be more like the best riders. I never want to be professional or anything like that. Like most of us, I just want that dream to ride a Grand Prix test. But just to be able to do that, I’m supposed to look like them. The way they look and connect with their horse just seems so out of reach.
I think my biggest imposter syndrome is not feeling connected enough with my horse when I ride. Getting that feeling that all the good riders have. I’m always trying to find that golden bullet, but I always think I’m not good enough to find it.
The imposter thoughts always run through my head. Should I still be here? Are we good enough to do this? It's always that self-doubt. If it wasn't for the program, I'd never have done a flying change or trained one. I've been able to go to a medium test at a competition and I've done four medium comps and I placed in a field of 17. But I still didn't think I was as good as the other riders out there.
I've got great support and great friends who keep reminding me of how far I’ve come. But again, it's that feeling of not being good enough and not knowing enough to believe it myself.