Why your mindset controls your riding and 3 steps to change it

By Annette Paterakis

What I have learned from working with many different riders as well as talking to the top riders in showjumping, is that the underlying mindset we adopt hugely impacts our riding, motivation and how we deal with failure.

According to Carol Dweck, a leading psychologist and researcher into achievement and success, there are two fundamental mindsets that can greatly influence our determination and resilience on our path to becoming the best rider we can be.

The fixed mindset

The two mindsets are like two different worlds. Enter the fixed world and you feel the need to prove yourself. You constantly feel the need to be validated. You need proof that you have what it takes to become a successful rider. I still hear people comment sometimes, “she is really gifted” or “he can’t ride”. These words insinuate the belief that you either have the talent you need to succeed, or you don’t. When in this mindset, failure becomes your biggest downfall. Come out of the arena with one mistake and you will feel so disappointed. It’s not just about the result, it’s proof that YOU are not good enough! This is why failure feels so personal. Success is about proving you are good enough. The fixed mindset leads to the desire to ride perfectly, look effortless and be able to sustain this perfection at every level and in every class you enter. In order to keep proving yourself this way, you stay in your comfort zone. You prefer to stay safe so you can maintain this level of excellence or at least avoid making mistakes. Needless to say, this is not sustainable and you will make mistakes, and when you do, you will feel devastated and your confidence together with your motivation will go down the pan.

The growth mindset

The other world however is a world of endless potential. In this world your biggest focus is to develop yourself to become the best rider you can be. You want to stretch yourself to learn something new every day and you are constantly thinking about how you can further improve yourself or your horse. In a growth mindset, you don’t fear failure, you embrace it, because you know these are the moments you can become better. Learning from your mistakes and challenging yourself constantly to become a little bit better every day, is what you get up for in the morning. The results at the show are just feedback, nothing personal. You love pushing yourself to train better to become better. Improving yourself, rather than proving yourself, is your drive.


“Mindsets are just beliefs. They are powerful beliefs, but they are just something in your mind, and you can change your mind,” Carol Dweck


The journey to change

Perhaps you recognize yourself in one of these mindsets. When I read the book Mindset a few years ago, I recognized I had been 100% in the fixed mindset when I was still riding full time! The good news is, we can choose which mindset we want to adopt. Like Dweck says, “Mindsets are just beliefs. They are powerful beliefs, but they are just something in your mind, and you can change your mind.” I personally believe that growing into a growth mindset can make the single biggest difference to your riding career and enjoyment in the sport.

So let’s grow together. First off all, read the book Mindset (I tell all my clients to read this book)! Secondly, you could take the self-assessment on Dweck’s website (https://www.mindsetworks.com/assess/) which will give you an indication of your current mindset. But maybe you already know you are in a fixed mindset when it comes to your riding? In that case, let’s dive right into these three steps to gradually adopt a more helpful mindset.

Step 1. Embrace your mindset

The first step is to actually embrace your fixed mindset. This might seem counter intuitive but the more you judge yourself for thinking a certain way, the more you stay in a fixed world. Allow yourself to become aware when you are thinking with a fixed versus a growth mindset. The first step is always awareness!

Step 2. Become aware of your fixed mindset triggers

Now let’s take it a step further. Become aware of what your triggers are. When do you fear failure? When do you say to yourself “now I need to prove myself” or “now I need to do it perfectly”? The more aware of your triggers, the faster you can detect your fixed persona or even prevent her from taking over.

Step 3. Educate

Perhaps an odd one, but now you know when your fixed character creeps up, you could give her a name. Whenever “little miss perfect” shows up, you know to take a step back and instead of letting her convince you you’re useless, you educate her. Use questions like, “Is that really 100% true?”, or “What can I learn from this?”, or “How can this fall, mistake or failure make me stronger, better and faster?” Another great way to educate your mindset is to use these three questions at the end of every day and after each class, training and show:

  1. What went well?
  2. What could have been better?
  3. How am I going to improve this?

Just remember, when you focus on improvement, growth and the process of becoming a better rider, over time, the results will take care of themselves.

Photo by bady qb on Unsplash