The Mental Game

The Mental Game

Riding, at any level, is often a more mental game than physical. That’s true for me, although lord knows I have plenty of physical limitations and struggles (will I ever learn to sit up? chances are low).

Mental toughness has been in the forefront of my riding in the past several years. I knew that I couldn’t be wimpy, and had to learn to believe in myself and my nerd horse to do things like tackle the jumper ring and move up to 2’9″. We definitely had stumbles due to my overarching paranoia and adult amateur chicken-shitness, but we also conquered a lot of hurdles. I’m proud of that.

The mental game that I entirely forgot about is the one of having a green horse. In the past year, I’ve been able to show up to the barn angry or on the verge of tears from my life drama and Simon would just take care of me with 0 complaints like he always does. He has the unique ability to soothe my soul the way a heart horse does, and every ride with him would leave me feeling refreshed mentally.


With Roman things are different. In truth, it’s partially because I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a green horse – you know, the whole two steps forward one step back process. I also have been unable to trust Roman like I trusted Simon on day one. Part of me thinks it’s the transition from riding my beloved heart horse (who’s still in the barn and watches me struggle on the giant beast) and part of me thinks that Roman is going to be a different kind of horse for me than Simon was/is. Different doesn’t mean bad, but it is an adjustment.


Last week with a friend in the irons

This week has been less than ideal for me for a variety of reasons I won’t get into, and I’m having a harder time than I usually do. On Monday, I drug myself and my shitty attitude to the barn. A ride will make me feel better, I thought as I started lunging my green horse the way my trainer has been teaching me to improve his balance. Roman had a few days off due to my binge drinking social plans over the weekend and was rightfully a bit fresh. He bucked and hopped and generally was super distracted on the lunge line.

Here’s where the green horse trainer should have said, “You know – today looks like a great day to focus on lunging and groundwork.” Instead, I climbed on and expected the same quality of ride I had enjoyed the previous week.


Spoiler alert – it was not the same quality ride. I will say that Roman was not being bad, but instead green & squirrely. Nothing I can’t handle by any means, but my attitude was not in the right place. Instead of being patient, I got annoyed. I focused on the negatives instead of nurturing the positives and was continuing to feel quite rotten about life when my giant creature tripped and went alllllll the way down.

I rotated forward off his neck, landed on my shoulders and rolled over on my head. My first thought after getting up was, “This is why they make helmets” because my entire brain felt compressed for about thirty seconds.


To Roman’s credit, he was extremely polite about the incident. He didn’t run away or play, but instead made sure to not step on me and snagged a mouthful of grass while I re-assured him that he wasn’t an evil pony and picked the reins back up. I got back on, and quickly finished my ride in the dirt ring with a sore arm.

Even though my fall wasn’t caused by Roman being bad, it really shook me up. While Roman sat under the fans to cool off after being hosed, I slinked into Simon’s pasture. He whinnied to me like he always does, and I sobbed. I cried because my arm hurt. Because I got scared. Because getting used to new horses is hard. Mostly though, I sobbed because getting used to my new life is both hard and scary and I had all that mental baggage with me at the barn that day. While I cried I gave Simon (and his brother O who was also there for moral support) cookies. I let him lick my hands, nuzzle my pockets, and scratched all his itchy spots. I leaned my cheek against his neck, soaked him in and felt better.


Even though I was moderately sore, I pushed myself to ride Roman again the next day. I told myself that equestrians fall off, and they get back on. A tripping horse is not a bad horse. My new horse is going to be a product of me and my decisions, so they needed to be good ones. I showed up to the barn as mentally tough as I could be, and I had a lovely ride.


29 thoughts on “The Mental Game

  1. i’m sorry girl. our circumstances might be different but i know what you mean about everything just feeling a little hard right now, especially with regard to creating that mental toughness and the right attitude. i seriously commend you for your honest assessment of what went wrong in the ride – while also encouraging you not to dwell. maybe the greatest thing about green horses is that they change so rapidly, we can always rely on something good coming around after every bad turn.

  2. Sorry you are having a tough week/weekend. Adjusting to a new horse, and a new baby horse at that, definitely changes the game. Glad you got back on and had a good ride.

  3. Glad you weren’t hurt. The first fall off a new horse sucks because falling always sucks but it’s just a bump in the road.

    I had a trainer tell me once that there is no room for baggage in the saddle. Especially with a green horse. Easier said than done obviously but I find that when I can leave my stress at the door my rides on Annie are always more positive 🙂

  4. Riding is totally mental and it’s hard for just that reason. I have had my own set of tears riding my green bean but you are also incredibly tough and reslient.

  5. Horse tripping scares me more than getting bucked off! Glad you didn’t get seriously hurt. I found that my second horse was so much harder to get used to than the first one because not only is it new, but it’s also *different*. And then throw the green factor in…. you guys will get there!

  6. Well, you got that crappy moment of falling off, over, and at least you weren’t lawn darted, just momentarily tried to be a rolly polly. Glad you had the fortitude to get back on the next day with clear head, that’s really hard time known for me.

  7. Green horses definitely take mental fortitude, but you both got back up and didn’t let a scary moment stop you. Happy to hear you are both ok.

  8. Horses tripping scares the crap outta me. This is the entire reason I do not gallop my horse out in a field. My fear of him tripping and going down. Major props for getting back on and having the mental fortitude to push that in the back of your mind (as best you can).

  9. HUGS. I broke my nose when I lawn-darted off a horse that tripped, so a sore arm is not too bad! But I have been there too with the scared/hurt/frustrated after a ride ugly-cry. It’s a shitty feeling. SO glad you were able to get back on the next day and have a lovely ride on your new guy!

  10. I fell off Bosley the first time I rode him… He jumped me straight up out of the tack. It’s actually nice to get it over with, especially when the fall is sort of anti-climactic. Hooray green horses….

  11. Ouch! I’m glad to hear it sounds like you’re ok — I’m terribly stubborn with that whole “get back on” thing myself, but I try to listen to my body a little more as I get older, it’s definitely not a bad thing to allow yourself some rest & recuperation (& any required medicinal beverages… 🙂 Different is hard, but also glad Simon was there to give you big horse therapy hug. Thumbs up for the follow-up win ride; to be horrendously cliche, small victories are so often the greatest triumphs.

  12. You’ve got such a great attitude. Glad your mental toughness and determination were rewarded as they should be ☺

  13. Baby Horses are hard. Baby Horses are extra hard when you have all the adulting to do on top of baby horsing. I’m right there with you. Whoever the genius was that thought I should have two baby horses at the same time, along with the two geriatrics and the full time job should probably be kicked in the face. Good thing I can’t actually kick myself in the face.
    Hoping for better days ahead for you. You’re definitely on the right track steering your mind toward the positives.

  14. I can’t wait to see the progress the two of you make!! I’ve been MIA from my blog for a few weeks bc of traveling so I totally missed the post about your new horse but I’m pumped to read up on him!!

  15. My baby horse (4yo and less than 20 rides) fell completely on her face last week. All the way forward, down on her knees and right onto her face. Somehow I didn’t come off, but it scared the bejesus out of her and me! Horses have such an uncanny way of reminding us of our mortality, humbling our ego, and bringing us the greatest joy and sense of accomplishment. Way to go to get back on and come back for a good ride the next day. It seems like those rides often pay off the most in the long run far more than all the good, easy ones.

  16. I’ve struggled a lot with mental toughness in riding over the last year and half — it’s extremely difficult. Day to day isn’t easy, and sometimes I do good and… sometimes I don’t. But at the end of the day, no matter what happens, all I can do is TRY and promise myself to keep working the next day. And the day after that.

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