The Rider’s Mind Podcast Episode 85: Why Mental Toughness isn’t About Being Tough

Mental toughness is really about being vulnerable and not really about being tough at all. You might have the tendency to think you need to cowgirl up, grind it out and be tough to do the things that feel challenging for you, but I think it’s more about being brave enough to be vulnerable.  

Mental toughness doesn’t mean YOU ARE tough or that you need to toughen up. To me, it means you’re prepared to do tough things.  

Sometimes we toughen up by putting our guard up and becoming rigid, which only adds tension. Horses don’t respond well to the rigidity that comes from the energy of “being tough”. 

I had a course called Mental Toughness Bootcamp, which I changed to Mental Toughness Essentials. The name of my course doesn’t feel right, but I’m not sure people would understand “Mental Vulnerability for Horse People”. 

Mental toughness is actually about:

  • being vulnerable
  • showing up when you don’t feel like it
  • exposing yourself and putting yourself out there
  • knowing that you could make a mistake, but being okay with that

Showing up in competition really isn’t about being tough at all — it should be fun!

The toughness comes from knowing that your results don’t define you and knowing that, even if the results don’t say so, you are still enough. Mental toughness is knowing that you are deserving and worthy of success. It has nothing to do with how thick your skin is or putting up a guard. It has to do with resilience and determination. It’s being brave and courageous enough to show up. 

It’s about staying motivated and determined and focused even during times that don’t feel easy.  

As a competitor, you need to be open and vulnerable to be a soft rider with good feel. As soon as you “toughen up, cowgirl up and grind it out”, you stand the chance of becoming rigid, closed and guarded. 

We want our horses to expose themselves out there to trust us and to be open in their ribs and bodies. We need to do the same. That doesn’t come from toughness and tension. It comes from being open.

You need to be open to failure, open to mistakes, open to judgement, open to success and open to attention.

Your ideal performance state won’t come in that rigid and guarded state. Consider your horse your dance partner. You want softness on the other end of the rein, so you’re going to need to transfer that down. It’s a 2 way dance. 

You can’t be tough and rigid in your body and expect softness from your horse. 

Mental toughness is really about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. People don’t like feeling vulnerable, but yet we ask our horses for that.

In order to be okay with exposing yourself and being vulnerable, what inner work and growth would be needed on your part?

Maybe you can work on:

  • knowing you’re awesome no matter the outcome in the arena
  • knowing you deserve all the credit because you showed up 
  • knowing you can trust yourself and your body in the run
  • knowing you won’t ridicule yourself after competition 
  • knowing that what others say or do is not a reflection of you
  • knowing you’re enough  
  • knowing you’ve properly prepared your horse and yourself to show your best today
  • knowing that the results or the clock do not define you

“The credit belongs to the [wo]man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt

It’s all about being vulnerable and knowing that who you are doesn’t change based on your performance or results. 

That’s the inner work I think we need to do. You need to know you are enough just as you are. 

Next time you’re trying to “toughen up” or do the hard things, consider reframing that. Expose yourself. Decide that it is safe to put yourself out there, to lay it on the line, and know that no matter what, you tried your best and you are enough. Don’t let the results define you: your horse and his/her happiness and performance tells the tale. 

Practice this vulnerability at home first if you’d like. You’re probably rigid and protecting yourself there too. Anytime you’re trying to do things perfectly, you’re actually avoiding imperfection, which is another way of protecting and guarding yourself. 

Ask yourself: 

  • How can I be more vulnerable today?
  • How can I open up in my next ride? 
  • How can I be a better, more connected dance partner to my horse?
  • How can I communicate more clearly? 

Be open and vulnerable in order to have the feel and connection you want with your horse. 


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Learn with Me

If you’re looking to make changes to your mindset, be sure to sign up for my free Next-Level Mindset Mini Course.

You can also join Stride, my next-level barrel racing group. This group receives video training and coaching from me and Stride members have access to special guests. We work on becoming mindful barrel racers so we can show up, be present and perform with great partnership.

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