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Controlling Emotions While Riding?

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  • Controlling Emotions While Riding?

    So, I have a problem: If I have a bad day, or something bad/stressful happens before I ride, I cannot focus on my ride. I just can't "let it go" and be all there when I ride. Which is dangerous when I'm jumping(My focus is elsewhere), and also extremely annoying because I never get anything acomplished when I'm like this. (My mare is incredibly in tune with my emotions. If I'm frustrated, she's hot, spooky, etc.)

    Does anyone else have this problem?

    How do you deal with it?

    I'm worried that when I start showing her, this could really be an issue. (Stressful show morning would turn into a bad, if not dangerous, show.)

    It's not just what you would consider normal, it's like, I cannot just get oner things, even little things. This is part of the reason why I stopped swimming competitively, I'd have a bad race and then my whole meet would spiral downhill. I don't want horse shows to end up like this.

  • #2
    Have you ever considered sports psychology? A professional might have techniques to help you concentrate and let go of previous bad experiences and poor performance.

    Also, I would consider talking to your trainer to help you have the best show morning possible for you and set reasonable expectations for your day. This sounds like it will help set you up for success later in the show.


    • #3
      Try to establish a "letting it go" ritual. It can be anything that works for you...a song, an exercise. It should include at least one solid minute ( a full 60 seconds is longer than you think) of silence and clearing your mind. Take an empty box, place your frustrations in it, tie it up and put it someplace away from the rest of your ride...by the front tire of your car. Tell yourself you can revisit that stress when your ride is over, but not sooner. ALWAYS follow the routine..it has to be something you can rely on.

      But more importantly, you describe this as " not normal". If you really feel that way, consider seeing a professional and perhaps even using medication. There's no shame in that, and it can work.

      Good luck!


      • #4
        One of the biggest problems with competition of any kind is dealing with the unknown. In your case it could lead to a very unpleasant outcome. You have to teach yourself, or have someone teach you, to be completely focused and not sweat the small stuff. It's unreasonable to think that every show morning will be perfect, its up to you to make it perfect for those few moments in the tack.


        • #5
          Do you tack up yourself? I found the effort involved in grooming before putting on the saddle, especially reaching up to groom my tall horse took the ugly out of my day.
          It's like I couldn't hold on to my negativity while stretching up and having to put power into my arm (for the grooming).
          I don't like to exercise and that just knocked the "stuffing" out of me. I suggest you spend some time before getting in the saddle grooming and communing with your horse.


          • #6
            My acupuncturist deals with a lot of people w/ anxiety issues. She recommends creating a conscious way to acknowledge and release the anxiety. Whether it's taking 3 deep breaths every time you wash your hands, to taking a few minutes to meditate on everything you have done right that day (woken up, showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, etc). It's a way to train your mind so that when you feel the anxiety or lack of focus creeping up, with practice you can stave it off rather easily. I do not have this issue, but work in addiction and have a lot of patients that do. These techniques have helped them greatly. You basically train yourself to provide yourself with what you need to be your best at any given time. I would highly recommend a sports psychologist, acupuncture, meditation coach, etc.


            • #7
              I know how you feel. Horses are such good barometers to how we feel and on days I'm stressed from work, I'll bring it to the barn. I move faster, am more easily frustrated, and my horse picks up on it and sometimes will result in a bad ride. I do believe it can be changed though through positive visualizations and focusing on a happy outcome before you ride. A lot of athletes use this technique and there are lots of books on the subject. I have also read a lot by Anthony Robbins (don't laugh) who is a great teacher of 'changing your state'. A very quick way to access some better emotions is just taking some very deep breaths, and smiling!

              Another great resource is Jane Savoie. She is a Dressage rider, competitor, author, and her outlook on riding and relating to your horse is fabulous. Her daily emails are great and very inspiring.

              And of course good old therapy and medication can be great too. Don't hesitate to have a chat w your doc if you are feeling anxious...there are so many ways to work through it. Definitely not something to be ashamed of
              can you tell I've been there? Good luck and happy riding.


              • #8
                One of the things I like about riding is that it forces me to live in the present and focus on NOW.

                However, when I think that what's going on in my life might adversely affect my riding and I just can't let go of it I either put my horse away or go for a hack on a long rein.

                I think that show nerves are different from riding while emotional or angry.
                Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
                EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


                • #9
                  I have struggles sometimes with maintaining my cool with my own horse sometimes...it never happens with green beans or other people's horses...I think it's because I expect much more out of my own because I *know* he can do it and it irritates me when he's being stubborn or uncooperative.
                  Of course, as a trainer, losing my patience at ALL is simply not acceptable nor is it productive. I notice that when things aren't working out during my ride or my mind is elsewhere...it always transfers to the horse...he becomes tense and nervous. A habit I have is when I know this is happening I'll transition to walk, and ride on the buckle for a few minutes..maybe go for a short 15 minute trail ride and take a breather. Then, go back into the ring and work for a bit more. If I know my mind is elsewhere before I get on...I will start my ride with a trail ride or a hack around the farm before I "go to work". It's a great way to relax and get focused!


                  • #10
                    One of my favorite quotes is:
                    On the back of a horse there is no room for baggage.

                    I keep that in mind whenever I step out the door to ride. Some people grumble about long commutes to the barn - my drive is about 45min to an hour. I use this time to crank up the music, roll down the windows and talk to my puppy. I enjoy the scenery. I use my commute to start that letting go process.

                    I also use grooming for this procedure. I spend no less than 20min grooming before my ride. My car ride has told me what kind of mood I am in - grooming tells me what kind of mood my horse is in.

                    Finally, I was allowed the luxury if showing two horses in the same division during my college years. I had to learn to quickly adapt to each ride without feeling rushed. I feel like this sealed my learning in terms of forgetting everything else going on around me and learning to ride the horse underneath me.

                    It's all part of the learning process and being conscious of your decisions and mood.
                    CLIPclop Bodyclipping by Morgan
                    Serving North GA with high quality clips.
                    --> Just Press Start // '99 Oldenburg
                    --> Always The Optimist (reg. Simply Stylin) // '02 Thoroughbred


                    • #11
                      I know it sounds crazy but I think horses communicate via some sort of brain thought wave. They SOO feed off of their handlers.. and I truly believe they know what we are thinking.

                      And yes I know how you are feeling, I have been there.... expecially those hormonal days.

                      What I do is lay on my tackroom floor and do stretches and relax... and then think to myself that I am with my horses to "forget" all the crap of life.... and we just simply enjoy being with eachother. I take the time to love my horses. Tell them they are good boys... just slow down, take my gloves off and feel their coat.... pet their forhead.... bask in the fact that we are lucky enough to have them in our life.....

                      I have had some of the most enjoyable rides because of this.....

                      Your not alone. Life stinks sometimes.
                      Live in the sunshine.
                      Swim in the sea.
                      Drink the wild air.


                      • #12
                        For 12 years I rode horses as a job 7 days a week. I started in my late teens and left in my early 30's. The one thing I can tell you is you have to learn to put your emotions to the side for those few hours and then come back to your worries later. It did not matter what was going on in my life I had to focus on the horses. Of course I had days that got the better of me. But I always had older riders to give me advice and help me focus. I remember one rider saying to me that there was 24 hours in a day. 4 of those hours I needed to focus on the here and now leaving 20 for worries. I don't know why that stuck with me but it did and it allowed me to focus knowing I had plenty of time to work out my problems.

                        I know this sounds simplistic, but it has to be otherwise it would be another worry. Whoever mentioned acupuncture, big help. I went twice a month normally to help with my injuries but when I went through a very bad spell of panic attacks and anxiety, it was the only thing that helped. She put a pin in my ear lobe that I could press in great times of emotional stress. And I also had one horse that kept me going. Indian Warrior, you were a star. No matter how bad things got, I looked forward to him and he never failed to let me realise how much I loved what I did.

                        I don't do it for a job any more but it is still very simple to place my worries in a drawer and come back to them. The trainer who has my mare told me one day if he's having a bad day he gives everyone off. I told him to grow a set, leave the worries in the truck, and enjoy the horses. He is 13 years younger than me so I can get away with that now and again. He no longer has to give them a day off because of emotions.

                        Good luck,
                        COTH, keeping popcorn growers in business for years.

                        "I need your grace to remind me to find my own." Snow Patrol-Chasing Cars. This line reminds me why I have horses.


                        • #13
                          Try some good meditation. Learning how to quiet the racing thoughts in your mind is a skill. Once you learn how to quiet unwanted thoughts you can choose how you spend your moments.

                          It takes practice and a commitment, but the more you do it, the more contented you will be in all things.

                          It will really really help your riding.
                          Stoneybrook Farm Afton TN


                          • #14
                            Just an easy tip I picked up... when ever im having one of those days. I force myself to sing a song while im riding. Its usually that song that goes, "Catch a falling star and putting in your pocket, save it for a rainy day....."


                            • #15
                              Not sure what to suggest. What worked for me, honestly, was the five-odd years of not riding from after grad school until I moved back to Michigan. Part of what happened was I started doing dancesport (pro/am) and when I'd get into the "One bad round = OMG DAY IS RUINED" spiral whichever pro I was dancing with would deflect it. Tibor's method was to kind of force me to face it--"Look, what is the worst possible thing that could happen? Well, it's not going to, so stop worrying about it." Chris just acted on the assumption I'd be fine and strangely when he expected it, I was. It also helped that in a sport where bodily injury wasn't as serious a risk I could learn "Okay, had an off day. Check: did world end? No." It has REALLY helped, because now if I go to the barn and we have a crap day, I have the mental "structure" to say "Did the world end because he's cross-cantering again? No. Was it because I'm horrible or he's crazy? No, he's out of shape because you havent' cantered since December. Okay." Having a competitive, but not quite as stressful, environment working with people who were good at just...de-fusing my nerves, trained me how to apply it. Hearing it from authority figures outside my head worked better than just trying to talk myself into it.
                              Author Page
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                              Steampunk Sweethearts


                              • #16
                                If I have had a bad or frustrating day, and then I go riding I try to work on something that I know I will succeed with. I don't try to work on that problem area, or try something new or something that I have to focus a lot on. I stay away from anything where I might get more and more frustrated if my horse doesn't progress at it that day. Instead, I work on finessing something that my horse is a champ at. I might also work on ME that day, so that if I get frustrated, I get frustrated with myself and not my horse. Drop my stirrups and work on my legs, or maybe some other eq exercises.


                                • #17
                                  I found that listening to my ipod when I ride helps me tremendously. This is going to be all wrong- but I stop thinking about my horse and what I am doing, I listen to the music and swap into auto-pilot.

                                  I get really frustrated at my riding at times, get tense, get yanky and it spirals. Something about not actually thinking about riding or my horse helps me relax and ride better. I also feel the horse better when I have music.

                                  I guess it is not a good tool for shows.

                                  That and at competitions, you need to learn to laugh at yourself. Make a deal with yourself not to care about the outcome. If it doesn't work out, so what? Who cares? Next class please.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by magnolia73 View Post

                                    That and at competitions, you need to learn to laugh at yourself. Make a deal with yourself not to care about the outcome. If it doesn't work out, so what? Who cares? Next class please.
                                    Lol, this is another thing dancesport taught me--came in handy when my hair came out of its bun in jive in my first competition with my new teacher. Embarrassing...

                                    Ask yourself: is the world at an end? Is my life over? Have I ruined my horse FOREVER? Are one or both of us dead? Chances are, no. There will in fact be another class.
                                    Author Page
                                    Like Omens In the Night on Facebook
                                    Steampunk Sweethearts


                                    • #19
                                      I discovered this talk by legendary UCLA coach on TED this morning. He coached basketball, but the advice applies to all athletes. (EPSN ranked him as the greatest coach of all time, in all sports). Maybe you'll find some of his strategies useful. I was inspired.

                                      Enabling hunter/jumper addicts everywhere.


                                      • #20
                                        Really good advice here. I'm a pretty high strung individual who is easily frustrated, so the horses (and my work!) have taught me an IMMENSE amount of discipline and patience to keep my emotions in check irregardless of the circumstances (which you find helps in your personal life as well of course). What has worked for me, and mostly seconding what others have already noted:
                                        1. My ex would use breathing techniques and taught me to use them when I am uptight as well. Three deep audible "wooo-saaw" breaths. Three breaths (and audible) is key.
                                        2. Undemanding time - if I'm just too flustered for whatever reason, I back off. Maybe go for a trail ride or ride on the buckle, until I feel better.
                                        3. MUSIC! I have an ipod in or I turn on the radio in the arena. I listen to country music - or something similarly relaxing - when I ride and I just sort of sink into a zone when I ride and listen to the music. It's amazing what music can do. All else just fades away.
                                        4. Since I'm such a high energy individual, if I'm feeling particularly uptight, I'll work it off at the gym first. Run it out of my system on the tread and do some kickboxing sets until all that frustration is out. Then, a little tired, I head out to the barn for a day of horses It takes the edge of mentally when I can exert myself physically beforehand.

                                        Anyways, those are a few of the things that work for me.... definitely second most if not all the advice mentioned above
                                        ....horses should be trained in such a way that they not only love their riders, but look forward to the time they are with them.
                                        ~ Xenophon, 350 B.C.