Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Avoiding Rabbit Holes

The drive to Shiraz's boarding barn has been accompanied with an all too familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Shiraz can be a vastly different horse from one ride to the next. She can be a relaxed, happy potato (rarely), opinionated and confrontational to work (occasionally), or nervous, distracted and jiggity (mostly). I have been playing around with ways to promote relaxation and my coach has been helpful as well.


In my own rides I am focusing on two things:
Discipline.
I need to draw firm lines of what I expect and not slack off on those lines. This means mounting block manners are nonnegotiable and pissy attitude under saddle is getting a quick correction every time. This may seem obvious and basic but it is amazing how many little things I let slide under the radar when I don't remind myself to be strict. She is the boss mare in her paddock now, so I need to be diligent in showing her she is not top of the pecking order out of the paddock.


Relaxation.
Not just in Shiraz, but myself. I have had some great sessions lately in the indoor on my own. Shiraz has issues going past the large door at one end in particular as that has the most activity outside. The door is closed now for the winter but you can still occasionally hear people walking by talking or horses in the paddock close by. My instinct was to ride 'ready to survive a spook' going by. I tried very hard not to tighten up but I also stayed aware of keeping my legs long and seat deep, reins not too long. This has been a huge fail.


On Friday, I put myself on a 20-meter circle and forced us to go past the scary door over and over. I tried everything I could think of to relax. I put a standard in the center of the circle and focused on it. Then at the trot I worked on correct bend and tried to find a steady rhythm. Every time we approached the door, Shiraz would raise her head and tense. On every off-side to the door she would relax and step longer. With her tensing, I reacted every time with prepping to be safe, adjusting the reins slightly. With her relaxing, so would I relax. Hhmmppphhh.

I decided against all better life-preserving judgement to change the pattern. As we approached the door and her head came up, I lengthened the reins and breathed out. Instead of scooting by the door, Shiraz lowered her head and TROTTED BY RELAXED. fml.

We all know, our reaction to our horse's actions reinforces their actions. But when your horse's action is dangerous, it is near impossible not to react in a self-preserving manner. I need to work on how I react. I mean, I want to live, but there has to be a way out of this cycle of fear begetting fear.

My coach is has been wonderful about helping with this. In our last lesson we worked on finding relaxation.  We started with alternating one circle on the bit and focusing on a specific task like correct bend, outside flexion, working on my two-point, etc. and then one full lap of loose-rein trot, and repeat. As we went, Shiraz started to relax and loosen up over her back. Her steps are naturally so short but after a while her steps were definitely getting longer and posting became easier as she started to use her body better. It proved to be quite helpful in getting Shiraz on board with the remainder of the jump lesson and relaxing us both.


My coach said something I found very helpful at the time:
"It's not about trusting Shiraz. She is young and has moments that you are not going to be able to avoid right now. But trust yourself. You have ridden some pretty freaky moments with a great seat and are not coming off. Trust that you can handle it because you have already proven you can."

The truth is, most of the spooks are ridable and the fact that I am letting anxiety take over and ruin how I feel about riding needs to stop somehow. Anyone have success shutting down anxiety with riding? I have a few ideas to work with (and not just more alcohol, lol), but would love to hear any advice on calming the F down when it comes to spooks.

11 comments:

  1. Your coach sounds very wise! I LOLed at bit at the "I want to live" thing because I say that to my coach all the time haha. For me a lot of my anxiousness comes from imagining the worse case scenario as I'm riding and I've been working hard to stay present and just focus on the next moment. Fear/anxiety are on going struggles for me but I am slowly chipping away :)

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    1. I catch myself seeing the worst-case scenario too in my mind as I am riding but try to shut that down as fast as I can. I think that jumping is working for us simply because I have to be present, looking for the next jump and so mentally occupied! :)

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  2. Your coach sounds on the ball. Trust yourself and your seat(and your program!). That said, rider relaxation IS the key and it so hard to do when you are waiting for the spook. One thing I find helpful is to do a bit of yoga every day and to then bring the deep yoga breathing to my rides. You might even mentally rehearse riding through tension with relaxation, using yoga breathing(in count 1-2-3 out count 1-2-3) I don't have as much trouble with Day to day riding but I do get to wigging out on the way to shows sometimes, and the breathing helps a ton. I also usually just focus on deep breathing during my tests and that has helped improve Jet's relaxation. Just what works for me. YouTube yoga videos are the best...

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    1. That is awesome advice! I tend to either hold my breath or hyperventilate--both very bad. Counting out the breaths would really help both with breathing and a distraction.

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  3. ughhhhh being disciplined as a rider is legitimately the hardest.... my horse doesn't spook like Shiraz but he definitely makes me pay for it if i get to lax about certain things.... i'm sorry it's been such a challenge to find that soft happy relaxation, baby horses are so hard. but your coach sounds wonderful and i love your determination and attitude! you totally got this, even if right now it kinda feels like you gotta "fake it til ya make it."

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    1. I will never own a greenie ever, ever again. lol!

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    2. ha that's totally relatable :) hope you're doing ok, just checking in!

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  4. I could have written this post. In fact, I probably have! Letting go is hard. Like really fucking hard. A neck rope helps - you can lengthen the rein and hold something. You did really well. Like Shanea says, when they tense put on more leg, not less.

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    1. Athletic, smart, spooky mares. They sure can make you show up to learn. :)

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  5. Awww goodness, how I resonated with this post. I also was told by my trainer to trust myself more, that I've stuck some pretty crazy stuff my horse has thrown at me. Makes a huge difference.

    I struggle with this on P, who I know pretty much inside and out. While he's sidelined and I'm riding other horses I don't know, I've been forced to trust myself more and it's made me a better rider overall.

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    1. That is so awesome to hear! (not the forced part, but the trusting yourself more) You should definitely trust yourself--I've seen your refusal videos and you ride that tough stuff like your ass is glue. :)

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Avoiding Rabbit Holes

The drive to Shiraz's boarding barn has been accompanied with an all too familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. Shiraz can be a va...