So it’s just riding a horse, right? – The mental aspect of this sport from Back On Track

2017 Millbrook stadium. Photo credit by my friend, Debra Levasseuer with her iPhone.

2017 Millbrook stadium. Photo credit by my friend, Debra Levasseuer with her iPhone.

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OK so if you read my first article, “Dreams have no age limit – It’s never too late for Equestrians” then you know I’m a crazy HORSE NUT that can’t get enough of this sport!  But here’s a little more about me…I started riding as an adult…I’m no expert horse trainer but full of lots of trial and error experiences…just a horse nut that was given the high determination gene and I use it to seek out the best for my horse and I. I kind of a flip flop between a “half full/half empty glass” kind of person but at the end of the day, I dust myself off and try again and can’t believe I have this amazing and beautiful horse!

So it’s just riding a horse, right? – The mental aspect of this sport from Back On Track

Spring is finally here…. and we in the cold north rejoice for the first signs of green grass and the tractors replacing the cross-country jumps in the fields. Stagnated by the confines of the indoor all winter…it’s time to get out and gallop those ponies and gear up for show season!

So we worked hard on the flatwork all winter, built up some muscle and strength by the countless mind numbing transitions. A lot of no stirrup work to improve rider position and if you were lucky enough to have an instructor that was unfortunate enough to not go south, then maybe you had some jump sets thru the winter just to keep you and your horse from going stir crazy. And maybe even a few lucky days where the weather and footing were mild enough for a trail ride to clear the head.

Not such a bad riding program for the few months of down time. But to be able to pick up where you left off from the season before, don’t count on it to be a sure thing! In some cases, it could be six months since you and your horse have been in a show atmosphere. That’s half the year! The mental confidence in riding is such a big part of this sport, your non-horsey friends wouldn’t believe you. It’s just riding a horse, right?

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Now let’s talk about the mental piece of this sport. You can practice your rhythm and adjustability, your distances and strides to the jumps and trot and gallop sets for the physical piece. But how much do we practice the mental part? We have to remember courses – three of them – two jumping and one intricate pattern in that sandbox! With all the physical things going on when you’re on the horse, it’s a miracle we stay on at all. It’s kind of like reciting the alphabet backwards and patting your head and rubbing your belly ALL at the same time… YIKES!

Some people are just better focused at sports events. My head, on the other hand, goes haywire, reactive to everything, it’s a real struggle to stay calm and focus on just riding the horse. But oh god, now I have to ride a test! TEST did you say test, that brings on a whole new level of haywire! In the pursuit of executing perfection, I unknowingly sabotage my riding every time! But I can ride. I do it every day, practice each phase leading up to the competition. seemed like I would finally be able to enter this show because I was now at the Entry level that it starts at. But falling behind the 8 ball from a rough spring, on off on off weather pattern has just added to the angst. Only three months to get ready. So now on top of all the physical riding practice, I’ve got to find some psycho help to get my head back in the game or it’s not going to happen! Crazy but the pressure is real and I do it to myself! Despite my accomplishments of the prior year, I have slipped off that ever so fragile slope of self-confidence again.

 

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Trying to get my groove back, I entered a few schooling shows which were a disaster. Oh, my nerves, suddenly I couldn’t ride to save my life. We both had a meltdown. Why? We did this last season. I had a great year. Moving up a level and really connecting with my horse after all these years of hard work. I had to re-read my own articles to believe in the success of my journey again.

Believe in how good you are. We train and condition our horse for this sport. They are bred to do what we do with them. Somehow we have to sift through all the negativity that flows through our head to believe we can do it too. Affirmations like a symbol on your horse’s tack or a favourite color, a lucky pair of socks etc. All to create the constant reminder in the belief that you can do it! Watch an all inspiring movie like “Seabiscuit” the night before your competition while cleaning your tack. Keep the image in your head of that “aha” moment you had in that great lesson schooling cross-country or that calm execution of a dressage test. Believing in your own ability is almost as BIG as the physical part of this sport. But hard since negative experiences seem to outweigh the positive. Surround yourself with positive people and experiences.

2017 Townhill Novice Hedge jump. Photo credit by my friend, Jill Truitt-Langon with her iPhone.

2017 Townhill Novice Hedge jump. Photo credit by my friend, Jill Truitt-Langon with her iPhone.

I believe professionals are those unique individuals that have the mental focus to do the higher levels. I’m sure they struggle with their own mental demons but deal with it better. Lots of experience on lots of different kinds of horses. Young riders have less baggage and sometimes they have the confidence, therefore mental focus to have positive rides. As an amateur rider that started riding as an adult… you have to be aware of our challenges in this sport and come to terms with the challenges we are up against. Just to finish the three phases should be enough of an accomplishment. How can we compete with full-time professionals or punky youngsters and not feel like a failure? Enter the appropriate class at the shows when you can. Choose a small achievable accomplishment as you set out for the event, like maybe just having a square halt or a clear jump round. With a positive goal in mind, you will be amazed at what will follow… BONUS!

No doubt riding is hard, it’s not just riding, the whole thing is hard. But if you live and breath every aspect of this equestrian sport the rewards although small, will be huge in your heart of accomplishment, if you can recognize the moments, no matter how small. Too much confidence can be just as devastating…taking for granite that easy coop on cross-country will almost always result in a refusal. Horses can be so humbling! Prepare for everything and keep your head in the game every step of the way. Take the criticism from your coach and do something constructive with it.

I’ve recently had some major “aha” moments… I like to poke fun at myself about my shortcomings in my riding… But maybe I am just getting better. My horse is as fit as can be and her muscling looks great and she is actually using her body better and more effectively. Like a true athletic team, we work on things together.

Sometimes, when I think about all the effort and money I’ve sunk into this sport and it certainly can wear you down. I could have bought a Caribbean home on the beach somewhere and be sipping pina coladas but ironically if I think about it, there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be but at the farm with my horse. Getting excited about my next lesson and inevitably my next competition. So, with a positive frame of mind… here it is… more than seven years in the making…all rolled up in one envelope…
my June entry to Groton House HT.

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