I can’t remember where I first heard this zeitgeisty phrase, with its pleasing rhyme and cadence, but it definitely wasn’t in an equestrian context. In most other walks of life (apart from life or death situations, hopefully) I’m sure it’s okay… just pretend to have confidence in public speaking – or whatever it is that daunts you – until you actually do. Go for it, what have you got to lose?
But in an equestrian context, especially one involving XC fences, it is a horrible concept.
We all know that ‘fear goes down the reins’, so you can be sure that whoever else you might be kidding with a display of empty bravado, it’s not your mount!
Confidence and bravery should be based ON something. On previous form, for either you or the horse, or both together. On having done your homework with good trainers who will be honest with you and guide you in the right direction (even if that is “you’re not ready yet”). On having proven to yourself and your horse that you can do this, at home or in other competitions. On lots of good experiences – white marbles in the pot, if you like, to use an old metaphor: i.e. that if you have lots of white (good) marbles in there, the odd black (bad) one will be coped with by the horse.
I was a working pupil for Leslie Law years ago, and he said to me once (when we were discussing a photo of him jumping a particularly daunting 4* fence), “If you’re accurate, you don’t have to be brave.” It has really stuck with me.
However… I think you still have to be brave. Even the most accurate rider can have a horse slip, trip, or misunderstand. Top riders are accurate, some of them quite literally to the inch, but they still need bravery.
Have you heard of Denny Emerson? Former US Event Team member, author of “How Good Riders Get Good.” What he doesn’t know about XC isn’t worth knowing. If you haven’t found it yet on Facebook, follow him, he posts as Tamarack Hill Farm.
On there you will find his wise words, and totally honest rants, about event riders and eventing. A couple of days ago he wrote this:
“Some insights after watching hundreds of horses and riders tackle the XC at So Pines over the last few days—
NO 1. Courage is still the most important single ingredient. Nothing else matters—skill, fancy movement, jumping scope and technique, a great eye for a distance, flawless form—NOTHING—–if courage isn’t there first.”
And Denny really really really knows what he is talking about!
I wholeheartedly agree with what he says. Courage has to be there.
Of course, nerves are normal – this is serious stuff, the pressure is on, so anyone who has no nerves at all possibly has no imagination!
But blatant terror (which I have seen, before the XC) is dangerous, and very unfair on the horse. I’ve heard of a rider who actually vomited while going XC. That is crazy crazy CRAZY. Why would you put yourself, and an unsuspecting horse, through that?
If the horse had a choice between having someone confident on board, or someone utterly terrified and likely to be paralysed with fear (quite apart from casting their cookies up all down its shoulder!), possibly strangling it into its fences, crawling around at a petrified snail’s pace, or panicking and firing it from heaven knows where, of course s/he would choose the calm, confident rider who is far more likely to get them to the fence at a good place from a good pace. This is a dangerous business, as we all know: we are putting the horse’s neck on the line as well as our own… we owe it to our horses to only ask them to do things we are confident we can both cope with.
So, my golden rule is… please, don’t EVER try to ‘fake it till you make it’. If you are terrified of XC, stick to small fences until you are bored, and only then go up. Work on controlling and overcoming your nerves, through NLP for example. Make sure you’re on a good, capable, honest horse who can cope if you aren’t totally consistent. Or even, do other things… lots do, there’s no shame in that! Plenty of other equestrians think Eventers are total nutters… fair enough. Terrified eventers definitely are nuts!