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The Importance of Self Belief

by Reined Cow Horse Trainer Robert Rush - Published 8/5/2020

Robert Rush is a young Cow horse trainer preparing for the 2020 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity

I don’t pretend to be a cowboy. Because I’m not. I don’t even consider myself a horse trainer, except that’s what the industry calls it. What I am is someone who fell in love with horses later in my life and decided to change my entire life to understanding horses better, and what I learned most is I understand myself better. There’s an old saying that horses are a reflection of their rider. That was a scary thought when I started riding 8 years ago, but now, a little less scary. What I want to discuss today is not my past or how I got started, we can venture down that path another time if you like. I’d like to talk about another thing that scares me, believing in yourself. 

To me, if you are honest with yourself, you are always self reflecting. Asking yourself constantly, what could have been done differently? Was that the right move? Is there a better way I could have said that? These are incredibly important questions to ask if you are striving to be a better version of yourself. However, these exact same questions can cause you to second guess a lot of future decisions as well, since it plants the seed of doubt. I have always been a man with big goals, sometimes unrealistic goals. But I’ve always set goals so big that I constantly had to chase it. Always give you something to push towards, to fuel the fire and keep driving forward. 

In my previous career we used an acronym called SMART goals. It stood for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timeable. It is a really good way to set goals that you and others can hold you accountable for. The 2 that always got me in trouble with my bosses at the time were “attainable” and “realistic”. Opening 10 new branches for the company in the first year of me working for them was totally realistic and attainable, even though I didn’t know what the heck we were even selling. Needless to say, I had to learn how to rewrite my goals for the company, but my goal was still in the forefront of my mind. And no, I didn’t end up opening 10 stores that first year, I didn’t stay with the company long enough to open any stores since we folded in 2006. But I did have some incredible achievements along the way! I ended up managing a team of sales associates in 3 months with the company, heading the training department 6 months in, and while taking time out of my day to train others, managed to make it to number one in the nation and Canada for customer acquisitions and retention for the entire quarter. This landed me as the poster boy for the quarterly sales catalog. 

Those achievements happened because I had a fire that kept pushing me forward, a goal so big that I had no choice but to keep doing more to get there. There was a choice though; I could have quit. And I did many times. Almost daily I would tell myself it was silly to set such an “unrealistic”, “unattainable” goal. I would be doing well and then I’d see someone doing better and try and copy their style or approach. Sometimes it would fit, other times I’d fall right on my face and feel like I had to start all over. See, sales is a game of numbers and sometimes you just hit a the string of “no’s”. Then those self-reflection questions kick in, and the seed of doubt gets planted, and you rewrite your playbook. Only for the laws of numbers to start all over because you changed the game. Its a brutal cycle that can mentally wipe you out, until you start believing in yourself.

This brings me back to the horses. At least for me, the mental game of training a horse is so similar to what I described above. There’s days where I feel like I am the world’s best horse trainer, every horse is riding perfect, my releases are perfectly timed, I can feel my horses understanding everything in asking of them and getting so confident. Then there’s other days where it doesn’t feel like I could train a flea to jump. Having only been riding now for 8 years and only training reined cow horses for two and a half, I am always looking to those that know more than me for advice and tips on how to make things better. And just like in my sales career, I’ll see someone do something on a horse and think, “hey I like the way that looked.” So I start trying to change everything I’ve been doing on my horses, to put something I only saw a piece of on, and it completely falls apart. Only with horses, they don’t go back together so easily so you end up spending twice as much time trying to fix something that maybe wasn’t broken, and you hope you can piece it together back to how it looked before. It’s kind of like trying to glue that bowl you dropped. You just hope you found all the pieces for it.  

None of this is to say not to try new things. Or to be afraid of experimenting with different ideas or philosophies. Far from it. As a young professional horse trainer I am constantly changing things to my program. It’s to say try it and don’t be afraid to fail. Its to say be bold in the decisions you make. It’s also to say that when you find things that work for you, stick with it. Believe in yourself and it will allow your horse to believe in you as well. 

As I write this, we are exactly 75 days away from the start of the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity. This will be the second time I have had a 3 year old to take to the snaffle bit. For the last 2 years I have doubted everything I’ve done. Making last minute changes to the way I ride my horses to try and get more out of them, clean up a maneuver, whatever excuse I wanted to make at the time. Bottom line, it has been because I haven’t believed in myself or my program. I vowed to myself, at the beginning of this extremely chaotic year, that I was going to stay true to the program I’ve created thus far on my little filly. I was going to believe in what we were doing. I was going to trust that she and I were working on the best plan together. I don’t know if we are going to win the futurity or fall on our face. But what I will know, is that when its all over, I believed in my self enough to take that chance.

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