Speak Up and Ride Hard

I mentioned recently that public speaking is totally my jam. I love it, and I’m pretty confident up there! But this hasn’t always been the case- despite wanting to be good at public speaking, I wasn’t very strong at it.

I’d be so excited to get up to the podium, and I’d get up there smiling. And then my eyes would go wide and I’d get that wavery shaky voice we all get when we’re terrified. Cue the cold sweat.

I was able to speak in front of clients at a recent conference hosted my by company, and it was the first time I’ve ever gotten up there and jumped in without feeling like I needed my inhaler and a double dose of Xanax. I was able to pull up my slides, say good morning, and hop right into my topic.

And the more I think about it, the more similarities I see between public speaking and competing at a horse show of any level or discipline.

  • The preparation: you don’t present at a conference without thoroughly knowing and practicing your material. You go through your topic, update and refine your slides, and then practice practice practice until you know all of the details backwards and forwards. You study the information to be able to answer any questions that pop up. By the time you reach the podium, you’ve done your homework.

Just so with riding: you don’t get to a show and think “CRAP I NEED TO LEARN HOW TO POST THE TROT.” You do that at home until it becomes second nature, and then you go compete with your professional-as-hell posting trot. You learn the rules for your discipline, you practice your test, you practice HOW to learn courses to test your memory. You figure out what to do if something goes wrong- you do your homework so you can answer the questions.

  • The nerves: despite your preparation, you step up to the podium and realize your hands are shaking. You’ve done all the hard work and in theory everything should just fall into place, but suddenly you wonder if you can do this. But once you take a deep breath and pause for a moment, your nerves settle and you’re able to speak without stumbling. You find places to pause during your talk to catch your breath and it lends you the presence of mind to continue on smoothly even when you trip over your tongue.

You reach the show and realize that even though you’ve schooled 2’6″ courses at home a million times, the 18″ class you’ve entered looks HUGE. Everything is scary and overwhelming. But then you take a deep breath and pause, and you ride the way you know you can. You find places to stretch up and breath on course, and that lends you the presence of mind to continue on smoothly even when bobbles come up.

  • The audience: you look out on a sea of judgemental faces. “Ohmanohmanohman they probably know more than me and they think I’m an idiot.” Except no- they’ve shown up to hear you talk about the topic. You’re the one that has put in the work, and they’re choosing to listen. Suddenly you realize that they aren’t there to condemn you and pick you apart, they’re there to listen and learn.

You see the judge staring out of the booth with his judgey judge face, and pass a sea of unimpressed juniors and ammies. “They all think I’m such an idiot who can’t actually ride.” Except no- the judge will see a bazillion people that day and unless he’s a total dick, won’t actually think you’re a bad person even if you hit a rail or two. Most of those ammies have been in your shoes and genuinely want to cheer you on. Most of those juniors- well, they’re probably bratty teenagers- but WHO CARES. There are two groups of people at the show: people who are supportive and encouraging and push you to learn, and people we don’t give a flying rat’s ass about.

  • The aftermath: you finish up, say thank you, and leave the stage. Your heart is still pumping with adrenaline, but it’s in a good way. How cool was that! It may not have been perfect, and you may have said “sequins” instead of “consequence,” but probably no one noticed. You made it through in one piece and feel such a sense of accomplishment and pride that you did this.

You come out of the ring grinning and patting your pony, still trying to catch your breath. Sure, you put 5 strides in the 6 and 4 strides in the 3, but you made it through in one piece. You’re so proud of the progress that you and your steed have made.

  • The familiarity: you’ve given a couple speeches by now. When you get up to the podium, you smile at the crowd and launch right in. You know your stuff, you like your audience, and any slips of the tongue are easy to laugh off. It’s exciting in a good way.

This isn’t your first show anymore. You’re there to compete, strut your stuff, and learn. You know what you’re doing, you like what you’re doing, and a round doesn’t need to be perfect for you to have a good time. It’s exciting in a good way.

With riding, as with speaking, the only real way to conquer nerves is to prepare and then to DO IT. It’s so hard to get over fear of public speaking if you never speak in public. It’s so hard to get over show nerves if you never show.

I’ve been participating in a Toastmasters group with some coworkers, and I sincerely believe that strengthening my confidence with public speaking has a strong effect on my ability to think on my feet while in the saddle. I look at it as mental cross-training for the show ring.

As someone who has always mentally blanked-out a bit on course, I’m excited to put my new skills to the test this weekend for a strong finish to our first show season together!

What do you think of this metaphor? Do you do any sort of “mental cross-training?”