Imposter Syndrome in the Horse World

Over the weekend, my boyfriend, dog and I stopped at a beachside pizzeria here in San Diego for a sunset dinner. A middle-aged man sitting at the table behind us commented on my dog (he’s really cute), and we engaged in some small talk. He asked what I did for a living, and I could feel my pulse escalate. Nerves.

Nine times out of ten, I am excellent at projecting confidence. I’m proud of my conversational skills and don’t shy away from small talk, as much as I sometimes hate it. But I found myself flustered and struggling to explain my career to this man, who by now was likely regretting his decision to turn around and look at my dog.

“Oh, I’m in media and journalism, I write for an equestrian —”

“Sorry, a what?”

“Oh, uh, equestrian – horses. Horse sports…”

He nodded politely, but his brain had already disengaged. It was fine, I had lost the pitch in my delivery – and in this case, the pitch was just a simple conversation.

Cue the imposter syndrome. It’s a very real thing, and it’s something so many of us in the horse industry deal with on a regular basis.

By definition, this indicates “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud'”. Shockingly (or not), a recent study shows that 70 percent of people experience feelings of imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.

How does this phenomenon transfer to the horse industry? Oh, let me count the ways.

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A compulsory check of any social media feed should pull up a fair amount of show results, jump schools, new horses, new tack… it’s sensory overload. To help combat this, you can then read one of the countless articles addressing the idea of comparison and how such behavior is unhealthy.

In the era of comparison, it’s virtually impossible not to somehow get sucked into the idea of feeling you’re not legitimate, that you shouldn’t be taken seriously. Because why should you, when the person two stalls down from you at the show has more horses on her string or more Preliminary events under her belt than you? Why should you, when the professionals around you seem to bring home consistent score after consistent score, while you struggle to finish on a number and not a letter? Why do you even call yourself a professional?

The cycle is endless. The dirty, awful truth is this: There is always, always going to be someone who is better than you. Better as in more experienced, better as in more successful – just better. This does not make you a fraud.

In my field, there are so many people who use words better than me, who have vast amounts of experience that make my measly five years look pale. In my field, it’s a smaller world, away from the eyes of the mainstream public. This does not make me a fraud.

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It’s something I think I’ll have to continue to repeat to myself daily. Maybe one day, I’ll run into that gentleman from the pizzeria again. I’ll look him dead in the eye (while he wildly tries to recall where on earth he’s seen me before) and say, “I’m a journalist.”

Until then, I’ll avoid making small talk with strangers at pizzerias.

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