I’ve been talking a lot lately about how I’m trying to focus on fixing my brain. What I mean by that is addressing the mental aspects of riding and showing (in my case, mostly showing) that are having a negative impact on my life and my riding. It’s been a goal of mine for the past couple years, ever since I started to become aware of the issue, but this year certain things have slowly made themselves more obvious, and I’ve buckled down on trying to address what’s going on in my head.
The first part of this, of course, was becoming aware of it. I’ve been showing since I was a kid, and looking back I realized that I’ve always struggled mentally to some degree. It’s only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older, had to pay for my own habit on a tight budget, and stepped into harder competitions and higher levels. The pressure has taken it’s toll, and it snuck up on me without me really even noticing.
The first eye-opening moment for me was at the N3D at Coconino in 2016. There’s a lot of hoopla leading up to an event like that… qualifying for it, conditioning for it, saving the money to make the trip to Arizona, taking 2 weeks off work to go horse show, etc. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well, considering how much time and money I had invested in the event. And, naturally, I kinda bombed. The pressure I put on myself got the better of me in dressage and stadium, resulting in silly mistakes, and we finished just out of the ribbons. My first reaction was to be really upset. Not with anyone else, but with myself. I screwed it up, this thing that we’d been working toward for months, and I was really frustrated and angry about it. The things that I said to myself in my head (you don’t belong here, you aren’t good enough, you’ll never be good enough, what made you think you could ever do well at this, you wasted all this money, etc etc) were pretty cruel, and it showed on the outside as a generally sour attitude. My Trainer rightly pointed out that I was acting like a huge brat and needed to get over myself, which rocked me back on my heels at first. I was 33 years old and she was calling me a brat? WTF?
But she was right, and I’m glad she said it. It was the slap in the face I needed. I spent the whole drive home thinking about what she said, and trying to figure out what was going on with me that made me act that way. It was the first time in my entire life that I ever sat back and thought about my mental state as it relates to horse showing.
Of course, once you start to become aware of it, you start to see it more. I could look back and think of other times when my inability to handle pressure (that I put on MYSELF, mind you, no one else ever has) and my lack of self-confidence had bitten me in the butt. I could also think of times that other trainers had noticed it, but their less brutally honest comments just never registered in the same way.
The good news is that you can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken. So realizing that I had a problem was the critical first step. Of course, from there you’re kind of left wondering what the heck to do next, how on earth to fix it. At first, I did nothing. I didn’t know what TO do. Mostly I just thought about it and reflected and tried to open up my awareness to how I was feeling and why, trying to figure myself out. I’ve been doing that for a couple years now, and I finally feel ready to do something about it.
Lately I’ve been talking about it more. Bringing it up here on the blog and with some of my friends, trying to talk things through. It’s brought up so many interesting conversations, helping me learn more about others and about myself. It’s helped me pinpoint exactly what my issues are and what they stem from. There have been many lightbulb moments. And, with some encouragement, I purchased 3 different books about the mental side of riding, which I have delved into with more enthusiasm than I ever could have imagined. I’m very much a book learner, and they’ve already helped me open my eyes and start to develop a plan for myself.
I think I have a long, hard road ahead. Changing a mindset that I’ve had for my entire life is certainly not going to be quick and easy. It’s a struggle, every single day, to start training my brain to see things in a different way. I want to talk about it here, partly because I have a feeling that I’m not alone in this, but also because I’m hoping you guys will help me hold myself accountable. Part of changing how I think is changing what I say. I have to be more positive about my capabilities, more forgiving of my mistakes, more accepting that failure is a part of growth, and just plain have a little more freaking faith in myself. Especially now, as I’m starting to push outside of my comfort zone and outside of what I ever thought was possible for me. Growth isn’t comfortable, and I want to be more prepared when the struggles come calling.
The books have given me a lot of good ideas on what to do and things to try, so my current status is “In Progress”. Right now I feel like I’m taking baby steps on shaky legs, but they’re steps in the right direction. I want to share the journey here, in all of it’s brutal ugly honesty, as I start trying to make these changes to my mentality. I have no idea how often I’ll write updates on how it’s going or what the heck the subject matter will be about, but this post is a starting point and, hopefully, a way to hold myself more accountable. I feel like good things have always come after I put something out there in the world, so… let’s try it with this too.
The books I’m reading at the moment are:
Pressure Proof your Riding by Daniel Stewart
Inside Your Ride by Tonya Johnston
Keep Calm and Enjoy the Ride by Annette Paterakis