Strength of character, perseverance, toughness—these ideas are all contained in the notion of grit. Grit is what creates excellence, peak performance, and mastery. It determines whether you will get up again and again after falling down. It is grit that will get you through the long hours of training, and then, lets you get up and train some more. It is this ability to not just settle for mediocrity, but to strive for the kind of performance that determines whether you will become the best possible rider you can be.

Talent, on the other hand, is a stepping-stone. When held up as the deciding factor for whether or not you as a rider will become successful, talent, in fact, can actually keep you on the safe route—which is also the path to mediocrity.

Who cares if you’re not the most naturally talented rider at the barn? It may not matter a whit. Here are five reasons why cultivating your “grit” will get you much further than wishing for talent.

1. You don’t need to prove yourself anymore.

Believing that talent is something you must possess in order to become a successful rider means that every time you fail or make a mistake, there’s only one thing to blame. When it feels like you are a failure and you don’t have what it takes, it becomes personal. This can lead to feelings of constantly wanting to prove yourself and to show others that you are good enough. When improvement is your focus, however, you don’t need to prove anything. You just work on becoming a better rider every day. Put in the hard work so you can become the best possible rider YOU can be.

2. You can focus on improvement.

Instead of wanting to prove yourself, when putting in the hard work, you become focused on ‘im-prove-ing’ yourself. It may seem small, but in fact, this mindset makes a significant difference, and can actually help you to become a better rider and create the skills you need in the ring. Only through 10,000 hours of deliberate practice can you become the embodiment of excellence and effortless ease—so you’d better get going!

3. You become more clear about your sub-goals.

Funny enough, riders who are gritty and put in the hard work also stay more committed to their long-term goals. The reason being that when talented riders focus on their ‘big dream’ only, they often fail to set mid-term and short-term goals. These benchmarks are actually needed in order to reach that long-term dream. Gritty riders, on the other hand, are very focused on the process and how to reach their goals, instead of when.

4. You cope with failure better.

When making a mistake, you have two options. You can either feel bad (or in some cases, terrible) about it. Or, you can take it as a sign that you are getting out of your comfort zone. Deliberately getting out of your comfort zone means you are focused on improvement. So learn from your mistakes by taking some time to reflect on what happened, letting go of any frustration, and making a plan for how to improve.

5. You’ll be more motivated.

Some of you might wonder, what if I don’t have what it takes? Or, what if I focus my whole career on improvement and I don’t become a Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden, Ludger Beerbaum or Marcus Ehning? In other words, what if I don’t reach the top level? My answer is this: If you can’t be like Einstein, would you stop learning? If you will never run as fast as Usain Bolt, should you stop running? If you will never jump like Laura, Beezie, Ludger or Markus, should you stop riding? Of course not! You are not riding to become someone else. You are riding to become the best version of yourself!

-Photo credit: Lucio Landa

With a background in the show jumping sport, Annette Paterakis is a performance coach, specialized in mental coaching equestrians. She is passionate about working with riders to help them better understand the mind and to provide the framework for creating the right conditions to reach peak performance.

For more information on Paterakis, please visit her website at apperformancecoaching.com.