How CrossFit Gave Me More Confidence in the Show Ring
By Jana Haecherl
Everyone has been there. You’re warming up at a big show, your horse is riding great, and you’re feeling good. Slowly, it happens. That dreadful feeling of self doubt creeps up on you. You start thinking about how much time and money you’ve put into this one moment. You start looking around and feeling inadequate compared to the breathtaking horses, legendary trainers, and the big names whizzing by you in the warm-up ring. Suddenly you’re not feeling so confident anymore. And in your head, you’ve already lost.
If I learned anything as a student coach for an NCAA equestrian team, it’s that mental toughness is hands-down the biggest battle riders face in competition. My personal favorite way to develop mental toughness? CrossFit.
Before I started CrossFit, I’d always been a healthy-ish person. I ran cross country and track in high school. I tried to eat more vegetables than Twinkies and drink more water than Diet Coke. I did a couple juice cleanses a year, ran a half marathon, and owned a lot of yoga pants.
None of that prepared me for the physical, mental and emotional toll that the first week of CrossFit workouts had on me. I left the box every day with shaking muscles, burning blisters on my hands, and sweat-matted hair sticking to my face. I questioned my sanity and realized how physically weak I actually was. I couldn’t touch my toes or do a single unassisted pull-up.
The first few weeks were awful, but I stuck it out. Three months later, I was blown away by my increased confidence, energy and strength. I could do five unassisted pullups in a row. I could squat more than my body weight. I was beating the boys in a timed-mile sprint. I weighed the same as I previously had but with visible muscles and a tighter core. I started feeling like a real CrossFitter and I was confident walking into the WOD (workout of the day) three times a week.
The translation to my riding was equally incredible. I’d been riding all my life and it started to really feel like it. Riding felt as easy as breathing compared to wall balls and Turkish get-ups. A bad stop no longer made me ride tensely and cautiously into the next rundown. I started looking around the warm-up ring and wondering if my competitors could deadlift as much as me.
CrossFit helped me flex my mental toughness muscle. There’s something hard to measure about finding your limit and breaking through it, day in and day out. CrossFit gave me superwoman-like strength, physically, mentally and emotionally, by just showing up every day and trying to do better than yesterday. I was no longer intimidated by big-name trainers, designer-label clad riders, or the chestnut mare who probably needed a steady diet of SmartCalm. Hot, difficult horses actually became my new forte. Imposter syndrome became a thing of the past.
Of course I wanted a workout that would help my chaps zip-up a little easier and my button-ups fit a little looser. And CrossFit definitely helped with that, but I think any consistent workout regime could’ve given me those same results. For me, CrossFit wasn’t just about getting into shape. It’s about challenging my inner voice that says “you can’t” and pounding feelings of inadequacy into the ground. It’s about finding my courage and forcing myself outside of my comfort zone.
If you need me, I’ll be in the barn or at CrossFit.