We all deal with frustration in riding at some point in our careers. Personally, I have waged a constant battle against frustration for the last few years.
Yesterday I was able to get to the barn for the first time in nearly two weeks. A combination of poor weather, work, and family obligations had kept me away from even seeing Bubba. The opportunity to ride again had me more excited than usual to go to the barn. Bubba and I’s warm up went well and I was ready to move on to some of our newer movements when things started to go badly.
I’ve been doing well in negotiating myself out of negative self-talk habits over the last few months. The sudden and loud return of the vicious mental dialogue threw me for a loop.
Bubba became frustrated with my lack of strong leadership and mechanical riding. Before things could spiral too far out of control I found something easy to finish on. For the mental health of both of us, we always have to end on a positive note.
I spent some quality time with Bubba on the ground before loading him into the trailer for home. My coach and a friend who was riding with me could tell I was having a rolling dialogue of negative self-talk. If I become quiet, withdrawn, and collapsed it’s a sure sign that I’m berating myself internally.
At home, my mom could tell things hadn’t gone well. I avoided even thinking about what had happened until a group of friends began a conversation about gratitude. I thought I had nothing to be grateful for during my day. My negative outcomes were completely overwhelming me.
I realized that in the middle of my lesson, I had recognized the pattern and took actions to stop it. I found a way to connect with my horse and end on a positive note. As the conversation continued that there were other small, positive steps to focus on.
Where before I would have soothed my frustration with a trip to the McDonald’s or Burger King drive through, I went straight home. Even at home when I usually would have went on a snacking binge, I chose to make myself something healthy. My focus was on making a well balanced and proportioned meal, something that I have always struggled with.
All of these things were positives that I actively tried to focus on.
Shifting my thoughts lead me to consider what had lead up to my negative self-talk. I asked myself, “How could I better prepare myself for success during my next lesson?”
Areas to Improve:
Appropriate Skill Expectations
- For Myself- I started our lesson that I would be exactly the same, if not a better rider, than where I was before our break.
- For My Horse- I expected Bubba to pick up where we left off. I failed to consider that he’d basically done nothing for two weeks except eat.
Appropriate Mental Expectations
- For Myself- I thought that I should be able to handle any stress that arose. I didn’t take into consideration that I’d be riding with someone else and that I’d be rusty.
- For My Horse- I didn’t consider that Bubba would be resentful that I’d gone missing for two weeks after being a constant fixture in his life for five years.
- For our Team- I lost sight of the fact that we were a team that needs to connect. I didn’t focus on flowing and communicating.
Do A Mental Assessment
- Before I even get to the barn I will do an emotional assessment. I will consider my mental state and move my thoughts into an appropriate mindset. Is it a good day for me to ride or should I focus on ground work and connection?
- Before I ride I’ll consider my horse’s mental state. How are they feeling today? Is their thinking scattered, focused, or somewhere in between? Are they mentally prepared to work and connect?
Do A Physical Assessment
- I will consider my body’s state of readiness. I will stretch and allow myself time to move freely. Have I been exercising recently? What condition is my back in? How do my feet feel?
- I will consider my horse’s physical condition. I will stretch and warm him up properly and I will build movements together that promote his health and well being. How is he moving in hand? What areas can I focus on to help him improve the quality and ease of his movement?
- During my ride, I will focus on communication and connection. I will look for positives and areas for improvement. What is going well? Am I making appropriate aides? What is one thing I can focus on improving now?
- During my ride, I will focus on relaxation for my horse AND myself. Are my muscles loose and supple? Is my mind? Is my horse responding in acceptable ways? What is one thing I can do to make my message clearer?