Save Yourself From the Trap of ‘Comparisonitis’

Stop comparing yourself to other horse-and-rider combinations and bring your focus back to what you can control.

By Jane Pike, Photos by Kaycie Timm

Don’t fall into the comparison trap when you face the bright lights of the show pen. Instead, create momentum toward the unique goals you’ve set for you and your horse.

If you’re searching for a shortcut to feelings of discontent and deflation, comparing yourself to other people (or to other horse-and-rider combinations) is a surefire way to make that happen. There’s always going to be something or someone you can compare yourself to. If you use that for inspiration, fantastic. That’s a healthy use of comparison that adds value to your journey and highlights what you’d like for yourself. However, when you use comparison to denigrate or diminish your performance, that’s problematic. 

Let’s look at some of the hallmarks of “comparisonitis” (the unhealthy use of comparison) and what you can do about it. 

Inferiority Complex

To turn this around, it’s important to understand what a belief is and how it affects your outcomes and results. So, what’s a belief? Essentially, it’s your most practiced thought. Most of your beliefs aren’t consciously chosen, but instead arise as a result of conditioning, experience, and the meaning you attach to those experiences. The fear of not being good enough is what might be referred to as a foundational or core belief, which means it acts as a driver for your feelings, habits, and behaviors and sets up an operating framework that can color your perception moving forward.

Feeling not good enough is an excellent breeding ground for negative comparison. Instead of recognizing the feeling for what it is—the consequence of a belief system that’s not serving you—you add layer upon layer of stress, misery, and uneasiness by comparing yourself to other riders or horse people who you feel have a certain quality you don’t possess. Not only is this a chronic misuse of mental and emotional energy, but it does nothing to support or assist the outcome or dreams you want to actualize with your horse.

If you slip into comparing yourself to other people and feeling less than great as a result, stop and take a moment to reassess. Feeling good enough isn’t so much an end result as it is a decision and a practice. Reacquaint yourself with your original intention. What do you dream of doing with your horse? What do you need to believe about yourself to make that happen?

Spin the focus around.

Comparison convinces you that the solution lies in “fixing” something on the outside, when the truth is, it’s solely an inside job.

Focusing on the Destination

“Comparisonitis” often arises when you get caught up in producing a certain result or creating an outcome within a set time frame. In your mind’s eye, you skip to the end of the book and forget all the chapters that exist in between. Naturally, when you’re operating from this headspace, you look around at those who are experiencing the kind of results you yearn to have. If you’re coming from a position of lack (“I want to be in that place, but I’m not and that feels depressing.”) as opposed to inspiration (“Wow, how cool is that? I can’t wait for us to be in that place also!”), the likely end result is dejection and gloominess.

The important thing to focus on isn’t the product, destination, or even how quickly you achieve that goal, but instead the trajectory that you find yourself in. The process you’re following and the direction in which you’re heading are the only things within your control and influence. 

Ask yourself: Are the actions I’m taking with my horse now creating momentum in the direction that I want to go? And if not, what do I need to do to turn that around? 

Outcome-based comparison requires a process-based solution. Bring your focus back around to what you can control.

The most important thing to focus on is the trajectory that you find yourself in and the direction in which you’re heading, because those are the only things within your control and influence.

The Cost Factor

A little-discussed or -considered consequence of comparison is the cost factor involved. If I choose to focus my mental energy on riders or combinations “out there,” then I’m doing so at the expense of my own aspirations and desires. The clincher is it’s impossible to focus on two things at once. If you’re spending all that emotional energy on situations outside your point of influence, that means it’s not available as a resource for your own training and riding. 

The decision then becomes: Is this a cost that I’m willing to bear?

The other thing? You and your horse are a completely unique combination. Your needs, wants, and desires, and the time it takes to fulfill those, are exclusive to you and you alone. When it comes down to it, you have to make the ongoing decision to run your own race, to invest in the actions and learnings that support it, and choose to spend your energy on things that are of value and worthy of your attention.