Despite having extensive résumés and accolades, even riders at the top of our sport can struggle with confidence. Phelps Sports sat down with a few R.J. Classics sponsored athletes, Lauren Fischer, Haylie Jayne Rolfe, Sandy Ferrel, and Lily Rhodes to discuss what confidence means to them and their tips on how riders can build theirs.
Lauren Fischer is a trainer and rider at Fischer Enterprises based out of Bedford Hills, NY and Wellington, FL. Fischer has represented the USA in multiple Young Riders Nations Cups, placed silver and gold in the Prix De States, and placed in multiple national and FEI grand prixs. Fischer spoke about her recent diagnosis of polycystic ovarian disorder and how it affected her confidence.
Fischer said, “Before I started getting sick I never got nervous before I went in the ring. I was used to feeling very confident in the saddle and jumping big jumps didn’t phase me. When I was going through this, for the first time, I thought I just couldn’t do it. It was all mental. But I took it slow in my healing, and this year I feel good ready to jump bigger jumps again.” For riders that struggle with their confidence in the show ring, Fischer recommends getting to the ring early to memorize your course, have some alone time, and try to visualize how it will ride, that way you don’t feel like you are in a rush or over-phased by doing it for the first time. Fischer also emphasized the importance of exercise to gain strength which translates in the saddle. She does pilates, which makes her feel more physically and mentally fit in and out of the ring. Fischer suggested, “Branching out and doing different things can help build your confidence in riding. I think when you get that tunnel vision, you pick yourself apart too much.”
Haylie Jayne Rolfe grew up with horses and has traveled around the world showing since she was young. Rolfe trains and rides at her family farm, Our Day Farm, where she competes in the hunter and jumper divisions. Confidence to Rolfe is “ feeling like you have all your bases covered. It’s feeling fully prepared, so you know whatever happens, it was your best effort.” She struggled with confidence as a teenager and her advice to young riders is to put in the work: “Work hard at home, in your flatwork, in your schooling session, and then have faith that you have done all you can. Walk into the show ring knowing you are ready.” She always tells her students to focus on what went well after a round and to learn from their mistakes while still focusing on the positive moments and the connection with their horse in the moment to boost confidence the next time.
Top hunter rider Sandy Ferrell has won the WCHR Hunter Spectacular, USHJA 3’6 Green Hunter Incentive Finals, and the Green Hunter Grand Champion at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, to name a few. Despite her long list of achievements, after a bad fall in 2015 she lost some of her confidence.
According to Ferrell, confidence is, “believing in oneself. Whether it is in the saddle or not, you have to believe in your dreams and goals and surround yourself with the people that share those goals.” Her tip for regaining lost confidence is to “believe it is going to be okay and use your voice. If you are talking, you’re breathing, and if you’re breathing you’re feeling the horse beneath you.” She believes having a connection with the horse you are riding is helpful in conquering your fears as it builds trust and creates a partnership. When teaching her students, she tries to get them out of their comfort zones at home so when they get to the show ring, it feels easy and they are confident.
Following a tragic accident where she lost her arm at 14 years old, Lily Rhodes had to find confidence in her new body. Rhodes is a collegiate athlete riding for The University of Lynchburg’s IHSA equestrian team and also previously competed in para-dressage classes prior to switching over to the hunter/jumper discipline. She lost a lot of confidence in herself after her accident, especially in riding, as she was worried she would not be able to give her horses the same effective ride she had been able to with two arms. Rhodes admits she still struggles with this today, but is “always working to improve confidence and realize that even though I am differently abled, I can still give a horse the productive ride that they need and deserve. It’s just going to be in a slightly different way.” Her advice to combating self doubt is to trust yourself and your horse. ”We all have the tendency to get tense sometimes. And sometimes you just need to take a deep breath. You have to remember that it’s fun and it’s okay. That’s always a work in progress, but just reiterating that I am worthy to be doing what I’m doing and that I am happy doing what I’m doing always helps combat those insecurities.”
The team at R.J. Classics launched their Be You campaign in the beginning of 2022 to highlight the uniqueness and diversity of all riders. The goal of the campaign is to empower equestrians of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds to be confident, joyful, and themselves in and out of the saddle.