View Full Version : Beating myself up when I need to just refocus!

Jan. 22, 2012, 09:23 PM
I had a lesson today that I was incredibly disappointed with my performance in. I found a major hole in my riding, and proceeded to engage in an inner dialogue where I completely berated my intelligence and riding ability to the point where I made myself want to cry. Healthy stuff. :D

The specific context was: Asking for a leg yield, and while he executes the lateral movement correctly, he also interprets the leg pressure as a request to speed up. So, I try to "catch" the energy generated by my leg with a closed outside rein, but all I can manage is to pull back with both reins, and confuse the heck out of my poor horse. :(

The general problem is: Not being able to use my arms or shoulders independently of my body and ride with correct, "soft", following contact, because my arms and shoulders are tense, the timing and efficacy of leg-to-hand aids (getting a horse to fill your outside rein and stop leaning on the inside rein by applying inside leg and sending him into a closed outside rein to rebalance), and carrying a ton of tension in my arms/upper body (how the heck do I soften up there?!).

I am trying to look at the lesson as a blessing and not negative: I found something I really need to work on that will play a HUGE role in my ability to ride correctly and effectively, and be a fair, sensitive partner to my horse. And I recognized it! And I have the opportunity to work on it and correct it!

Yet, I keep getting down on myself ("How can you be so incompetent - you know WHAT to do, why can you not just DO it?! You're letting your horse down with your poor riding, you're wasting your trainer's time with your incompetence!"), and I know this will restrict my ability to progress, so I'm reaching out for some "been there"s and any advice on reducing tension in the upper body and not being a heavy-handed jerk to your saintly horse, and working on your leg-to-hand timing. I need to refocus my negative, unproductive energy into positive, productive energy. :yes:

Jan. 22, 2012, 09:30 PM
I have the same problem with the mental side of riding. It is so frustrating and I get so obsessed with fixing the problem and then I just get frustrated! I worked with a sports psychologist once, and she helped me to try and change my attitude. It helped me to think about the things I am happy about with each ride, and then a few positive and short term goals.

I do know just how you feel though :)

Jan. 23, 2012, 02:57 AM
I would say "stop beating yourself up" over this but, being a person who tends to do this, I know telling you that won't help a bit. And probably would just cause you to beat yourself up a tiny bit about not being able to stop beating yourself up. :D

But honestly you show a huge insight here--this is really a turning point in your relationship to your horse and riding. Celebrate it!

The tenseness you describe, and having your arms react without your brain's intervention by pulling back, is extremely common at some point in time with every rider I've seen and worked with (self included). It is nothing more than the primal instinct to grab and control when things feel a little out-of-control. It comes back in cycles sometimes as one levels up and faces new challenges. The art of the relaxed, confident, soft following hand is kind of a life-long pursuit. It is counter to instinct. You really have to be in a place mentally, physically and emotionally where you feel it is okay to be vulnerable to "give".

If we were working together I'd suggest you might look into a series of lunge lessons where you can ride with someone trusted is "driving", and your arms are disengaged. (Maybe in addition to your regular lessons and riding.) Have someone trusted lunge you with your arms outstretched until you positively feel the flow of moving with the horse and confident, at all gaits. After a few sessions feeling the flow doing this, then do it with your eyes closed, at all gaits. (This is where that primal instinct to grab things tight will try to manifest, but you can teach your body to learn to love the flying, flowing feeling without having to be totally in control.)

You might then move on to having someone trusted lunge you with no stirrups. This will give you the strength and feel and confidence that you hold onto this creature with your seat (i.e., your core and not your hands). Warning: Even experienced riders are sore after a lounge lesson like this! Myself included. Move on, only as your confidence grows and you can enjoy the flow and flying sensations being louder than the reactive instinct-to-grab sensations, to adding arms-out and stirrup-less, and maybe even eyes closed. (Little secret: I totally crave this. It's kind of a spiritual experience. And a test of fitness :). )

All this is to show your inner self that you can ride, and indeed fly, with your hands and arms disengaged. It is to teach your body and mind to listen less to the grab/control instinct and feel. Once your body has both that wisdom and practiced skill of "riding" with arms disengaged and from your core, then you will find that soft, following hand.

You have just opened the doorway to a whole another level of riding! Congratulations!

Jan. 23, 2012, 06:19 AM
Ooooh trabern!!! I like it!!!! I will say, a lunge lesson made it painfully OBVIOUS how much I used my hands.

And Ake987... I had the exact same experience the other day. I thought I'd look at pics from when I first got Flecky to see how far we've come. Yeah... that was soooo depressing! He looked better when I first got him. I cried myself to sleep, almost cried the next day... even though I logically talked myself out of convincing myself I had ruined him.... It's still mentally so hard...
But you know... at least we REALIZE we have a problem!!! And mine is so much more embarssing than yours! I KNOW better, but was still riding backwards.... It's all hands and not enough seat and core with me. Sigh.. But it is.. it's so counterinstinctive... and so easy to get sucked into those bad habits.

Now we just have to focus on fixing it and finding the next big hole ;)

Jan. 23, 2012, 07:46 AM
Do not beat yourself up. You simply reached a level that requires some new skills. You will rise to the challenge and develop the skills :).

What helped me tremendously was developing more core strength and flexibility. It wasn't that I didn't want to do it right, I didn't have the strength to do it right.

I tried Pilates, but it was the Yoga that really helped. And no, still not perfect, but it is a work in progress.

Half the battle is realizing what needs to be done.


Jan. 23, 2012, 08:13 AM
Glenbaer- you are tone-deaf- I hope that you realize that your post is counterproductive- it's like it's berating a person who is asking for help- thank God you are not this person's trainer! Think of that, next time you give a lesson- tone it down, Missy!
Acke987- I am so impressed with your ability to "break it down" into managable peices! Good for you and your analytical ability. (Also- I can relate, have a similar struggle, but I certainly am not as articulate as you....I appreciate the full description, really and plan to share with my trainer!)
Traebern- this is exactly what I would like to do.....fix the problem and I like your step by step method to address it..... very sound advice.

What I get from this post is that we all learn in different ways and we need to work towards our strengths and enjoy the process.....our horses are more forgiving of our mistakes than we are- thank God, because they would probably have kicked us in the head by now if they weren't. We don't deserve to be kicked in the head by ourselves or our horses....trying to address the problems gives rise to an entire industry of trainers! By the way, I bet that our horses appreciate 3 squares a day, and that is more than some children in the world are getting....so keeping this all in perspective is important, too! Go do something for someone else, that has nothing to do with horses, whatsoever....that is a good Rx for these beat yourself up blues!

Jan. 23, 2012, 08:25 AM
Did I start this thread and don't remember???

OP, your description fits me to a T. It is so frustrating because I always feel like I'm going backwards despite how hard I work.

I have to say though that I usually only get this way during lessons. I just hate to mess up and disappoint. However, the more I try to not mess up, the less I actually "ride" and everything goes to hell and then I'm frustrated and ride worse...then I really frustrate my trainer. Then I feel her frustration and then I get more tense and everything spirals out of control.

Then the next day, outside of my lesson, I'm relaxed, my horse is relaxed and I can practice what I was supossed to be doing during the lesson.

So, do I have advice? All I can say is that occassionally I get too exhausted from being mental and I just tell myself "f*#k it" and just let myself feel the ride. I really can ride well, if I don't get in my own way. Hopefully, someone will give us ideas so we can stop driving ourselves, our horses, and our trainers crazy!:D

Jan. 23, 2012, 08:26 AM
Try breaking it up into separate parts. When you perfect that, you can combine them.

Leg yield (walk) a couple of steps.
Then halt.
Then walk forward a couple of steps.
Leg yield a couple of steps

When you can do that substitute "slow down going straight" for "halt".

Then you will find you can use the "slow down" aids while still moving laterally.

When you take it to the trot, use a transition ot walk instead of the halt.

Jan. 23, 2012, 08:49 AM
I almost always learn more from my failures than my successes. I don't go to clinics or schoolings or lessons to fail, but I know that if I am really serious about improving, it will most likely have to suck for that to happen. That's why when I hear or read someone going on and on about how fabulous their lesson/schooling/clinic was, I know they probably really haven't learned much at all. As Wynton Marsais said, "The humble improve" But damn, it is hard sometimes.

Jan. 23, 2012, 09:15 AM
Can I join the club? Because, OP, boy do I feel your pain

Same problem, except I've become so defensive and tense in the shoulders that my mare won't pick up a canter. My intructor has me roll my shoulders-actually wiggle them and shimmy to loosen them up. It looks funny and she wants me to do it without my hands wobbling too much, but it works.

The lunge lessons are a great suggestion, too.

I've cried about this so many times. I know how to do it, it just seems like my body won't listen.

This is what I was told: try to be patient with yourself, play with it a bit- I was also told to ride like a kid on a pony- just go have fun and see what works for you and your horse.

I have to thank you, because realizing that I am not the only one who suffers with this gave me hope that it will get better!

Jan. 23, 2012, 10:11 AM
OP, the good news is that the big struggle comes right before the big breakthrough. It is in those moments just AFTER the monster frustration that we go "AHA!":yes:

Without the struggle there would be no advancement. That you are aware of yourself enough to know what the problem is already sets you apart from the folks that live in the land of "my horse won't do this, or my horse won't do that, or blah blah blah".

FWIW, I had my aha moment in the leg yield when I let go of my inside rein. As in LET GO of my inside rein. Held it with my pinky stuck out like it was fine china and forced myself to ride the outside rein. Felt like an idiot but it worked. :winkgrin:

Good luck and hang in there.

Jan. 23, 2012, 10:22 AM
I think we all have these moments!!
Anyway, step #1 is recognizing the problem!!! :)

What might help is the simple whip exercise- holding the whip with your thumbs across your fists. It connects your arms and hands to your core, and FORCES you to use your body position to influence the horse instead of just taking back on the reins. It is hard at first and you want to throw the whip down like I did... but... it really helped me find the correct feel, and relax my upper body.

Jan. 23, 2012, 03:14 PM
As Wynton Marsais said, "The humble improve" But damn, it is hard sometimes.

Very good point. I get hard on myself too and feel like I am letting my horse down. We are in a rough spot right now and I have scheduled an intervention, but I can't help looking at him and saying sorry. I try so hard not to frustrate him and I know in my brain what I need to do -- why is my body not cooperating??

Heinz 57
Jan. 23, 2012, 03:27 PM
At some point in everyone's riding career (pros included), we think 'Ya know, if I could just get MY $h!t together....'

I find myself thinking that a LOT lately. Chin up, OP!

Jan. 23, 2012, 03:46 PM
Another simple thing that always helps me when I have a challenge is watching really good riders. Just watching I feel like, helps me to get a image and a "feel" in my mind. Its sounds too simple to work, but It really always helps me. Look up your favorite professional riders on youtube :)

Jan. 23, 2012, 07:58 PM
I'm much the same, OP. I put my horse to a bad distance and I psych myself out for the rest of the round. Two things that Ian Roberts told me that have helped immensely:

- Ride 'cold.' Ie, with little emotion. If you make a mistake, laugh it off and refocus on the task immediately at hand.

- DON'T use negative language with yourself, either in your head or out loud. In lessons, I would say, "Sorry... that sucked" after jumping through the grid, etc and returning to coach to chat. Ian doesn't allow me to say these things anymore and it's changed the entire vibe of lessons and my overall riding.

Jan. 23, 2012, 08:37 PM
As Wynton Marsalis said, "The humble improve"

Now that is funny. You do realize he's not talking about himself?

Here's what works for me: focusing on one thing at a time. One aid, until I get it it right. Then another aid, until I can do all the individual parts together.

If necessary, I tell the instructor what I'm doing. Not every coach understands that you can't learn everything at once.

I take this approach in all of my sports. I really don't care what anyone thinks or what it looks like. It's my learning experience and, dammit, I'm going to learn.


Jan. 24, 2012, 12:01 AM

I don't even know where to start. I am just blown away by the amazing responses! Thank you so much, everyone. For one, it is really nice to know that this obstacle is normal and will make me a better horseman once I figure out how to master it. Which I will undoubtedly do!

While talking with my SO last night I said "People would surely be offended themselves if they could hear my inner dialogue when I screw something up" which then prompted me to challenge myself to not "talk to myself" in a way that would generate shock or repulsion in public. No one deserves to be spoken to like that, let alone to themselves. So here goes nothing!

And second, there is no doubt my horse and I will overcome with all the fabulous training suggestions, further explanations and elaborations, mental images, etc that have been made. I have read every one and there are so many I want to respond to specifically, but I am in trouble if I don't finish reading a meta-analysis before tomorrow a.m. so I will have to wait to be more specific. THANKS for the support and guidance. You guys are awesome!!!

A million thanks for taking the time sit down and try to reach out and help someone hitting a speed bump. :)

Jan. 24, 2012, 12:30 AM
Be patient with yourself. We all have our good days and our bad days- and so do our horses. If it just isn't working take a break. Go for a trail ride. Do something fun. Get out of your mind and into your body. Take a deep breath. Visualize yourself doing it easily and effortlessly. Be patient. Be kind to yourself. Don't sweat the small stuff. Love your horse. It will all work out when you let go.

Jan. 24, 2012, 11:11 AM
What WONDERFUL advice Mukluk! One of the hardest things with riding is overcoming our over-thinking! You have to stop the downward spiral of thinking and do just this

Be patient with yourself. We all have our good days and our bad days- and so do our horses. If it just isn't working take a break. Go for a trail ride. Do something fun. Get out of your mind and into your body. Take a deep breath. Visualize yourself doing it easily and effortlessly. Be patient. Be kind to yourself. Don't sweat the small stuff. Love your horse. It will all work out when you let go.

Chin up Ake!!! We've all been there. HUGS

Jan. 24, 2012, 01:31 PM
This is a great thread. I'm bookmarking it for future inspiration!!!
We all get in ruts with riding... I was in a big one about a month ago. I wish I had ya'll in my head then! :)

Jan. 24, 2012, 08:06 PM
I do this, too, especially when I am trying to get "it" right, oops, perfect. So before I start a movement or have messed up a movement due to tenseness and get to start over, I try to drop or even "push" my shoulders down. For some reason, this relaxes my forearms and hands. At least for a while, til I have to remember to do it again.