Tag Archives: horse showing

“You Are Now Being Judged”: COMBATING Riding Anxiety

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it..”
-If, Rudyard Kipling

We all know that riding and horsemanship in general is a physically demanding activity. From cleaning stalls, lifting heavy water buckets (or breaking up frozen ice buckets if you don’t have a heated option), and no stirrup work, riders must be in tip-top shape in order to keep their cores strengthened and their cardio in adequate levels to keep up with the task of riding their horses regularly. If you compete, that regiment of keeping in shape for riding and competition might include flexing your muscles at the gym, going running a few times a week, yoga for core strength and balance, and more.

In order to stay physically fit for A-rated shows, it’s important to be at the gym at least 3 times a week in the gym to keep my back, core, and body strong!

However, stress-relief and anxiety management may often be put to the wayside when it comes to the things a rider carries in their “fitness” arsenal. As a result, all the hard work you might put into your equitation, position, adjustability of stride, and more might fall apart as soon as you step into the schooling ring, the show ring, or maybe try a new skill in your next lesson.

Ask any equestrian who their biggest critic is, and the answer 99% of the time is themselves. So often, we put unnecessary pressure of where we are vs. where we “should” be, compare ourselves to other riders who seem to win everything, fancier horses, or think “I’ve been riding for so long, why are riders half my age doing better than me?” Then we sit and dwell on these negative thoughts, beat ourselves up over and over, that by the time we go into the ring we are shocked when we get a refusal at a jump or a dressage test that falls apart as soon as we salute at X. Our negative thoughts get affirmed and we are stuck in a vicious cycle of thinking “I’m never going to get any better, maybe I should just quit” – or something along those lines. We beat ourselves up, we punish our horses with our tension and nerves, that so often riders wonder, “How can I get out of my own head?” Add into the fact that a lot of riders in the hunters and equitation world voluntarily walk into a ring where the first words uttered over the loudspeaker are, “You are now being judged.” We immediately stiffen our spines to sit up straight, make sure our heels are at the correct level of “down,” and strive to create the image of perfection for the sake of a blue ribbon.

“Untrainable”

I know that riding and performance anxiety plagued my equestrian career for a long time. I always read different books and articles, watched videos, and attended clinics on what “correct” riding should be even before I started taking lessons over 16 years ago. I tried so hard to emulate the greats like Beezie Madden, Geoff Teal, Ian Miller, and others. Unfortunately, I was so set in a black and white ideal of what is “good vs. bad” riding. I developed a bad habit of not finding “feel” but rather trying to “force” horses into a correct carriage, even if their own physical or mental abilities weren’t at that point.

As a result, I would get frustrated with myself because I assumed I was doing something wrong, or my equitation was incorrect. At one point, I was riding in a clinic, nervous because I was riding a young, unfamiliar horse. By the end of the clinic, I felt accomplished and proud of the tools I added to my riding toolbox. However, all that crashed down when I was told my trainer at the time had deemed me “untrainable” to parents and auditors in the viewing area.  At that point, I was at a crossroads – why should I even continue trying if my own trainer didn’t even believe in me?

It’s very easy to internalize and dwell on negative memories. It’s even easier to get stuck in those thoughts, and think we aren’t capable with more. Speaking in my own experience, I’m was told (or gently screamed at) by my trainer to “Get out of your head!” However, it took me many years of practice and hard work to eventually get out of my inner critic mindset.

Flex Your Brain

Developing your mental skills and emotional fitness is a lifelong journey. It’s not a matter of eliminating fear – fear is a good thing. It’s what keeps us from putting a beginner rider on a 6-year-old stallion in the 1.30 speed showjumpers. The difference between fear and anxiety is that one is a response to an actual threat (fear), and the other is a response to a perceived threat – or one that we make up in our own minds (anxiety). Just like training horses, results will not happen overnight, and you can’t do too much too soon, otherwise you’ll only end up forcing, which will result in more stress/anxiety.

Often, people think that by simply avoiding anxiety-related thoughts or not allowing your brain to have these thoughts is the solution to not being anxious. However, that thought process is like avoiding the annoying neighbor who lives next door or the creepy aunt at every family reunion. Eventually, you’ll have to face those thoughts head on and acknowledge that they exist. However, you are ALLOWED to have these thoughts and they do not define who you are as a rider. Just like lifting weights, you’ll have to take time to flex your brain to develop the skills needed to tolerate those uncomfortable thoughts and realize. With regular practice and repetition, it’ll be as effortless of knowing what the correct posting diagonal is.

First, it’s important to build an awareness of what creates anxiety for you. Maybe it’s the fear of falling that stemmed from a bad accident years ago. Maybe it’s being afraid of your own horse due to him reacting poorly in the cross ties or spooking on the ground when you weren’t prepared. For me, I’m at the point where I’m not working through a horse or riding-related fear, but rather wanting to bring my competitive edge to the next level.  Battling the monster of perfectionism, if you will, and defining the delicate balance between overthinking, not thinking at all, and being totally in sync with my horse at every exact moment of my ride.

Learn to stay focused on yourself. Comparison is truly the enemy in any aspect of life, but especially in riding. Learn to stay focused on your horse and what he needs helps you to not get caught up in other rider’s performance, giving you a clear mind to be fully present on what your horse is telling you in that moment. Trust that where you are now in your abilities did not happen by accident – that can not be taken away from you. Trust that each time you step into the irons, you firmly believe you have the best plan to success. As soon as you start second guessing is when you lose focus and things start to fall apart. A lot of the times, we can get hung up on a particular fence, a particular dressage movement, or a particular scary corner in the end of the arena that our energy and our mind is so isolated.

Instead, the trick to avoid getting hung up on those potentially scary situations is to create a mental film of seamlessly blending all your horse’s steps together from start to finish. Imagine a magnet pulling you toward the finish line at a comfortable pace, rather than rushing like a train off the tracks – frantic and scattered. That way, all those tools you have in place will help you adjust if there is a certain screw you know has a tendency of coming loose (ie: your horse loves to cut the corner on his left lead). Being mentally aware about 3 to 4 seconds before you reach that corner will help you prepare and set your horse up for success.

Don’t anticipate and focus on him cutting the turn, but that he is quietly lifted and balanced down the quarter line with plenty of encouragement in the outside rein to keep him square between your legs and hands. Keep focusing on that mental movie you have in your mind and set yourself up so that the magnet pulling you toward the finish line doesn’t have any bumps or shimmies.

Sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you’ll have to do it afraid.

Second, remember that your horse is your mirror. If you’re working a green baby, it’s especially important to be that reliable holding hand that is always present during particularly “scary” moments. Keeping focus on your breath will help him stayed cool and collected, the plan you have in your mind will give him a soft, safe place that he will want to stay inside. If you feed off your horse’s tension, it will become a nasty, vicious cycle, and your mental movie will quickly turn into a horror film. If he spooks or bucks, keep your deep diaphragmatic breathing and continue without a second thought. Keep your focus on the seamless line you have in your mind and come back to the teaching moment later.  I find that keeping a journal in my riding backpack is helpful because I can “dump” all my thoughts on paper rather than holding everything in my mind without a structured way to see them, and can ultimately come up with a course of action after my lesson, ride, or show round.

Lastly, give you and your horse time to decompress and enjoy each other outside of work. For Rotti and I, that means lots of playtime on the ground, massages and long grooming sessions, jogging over trot poles with him in a halter, groundwork, trail riding, and reading lots of books so I can keep my training toolbox sharp and gives me inspiration for fun things to try in the future. It’s not fair to your horse if the only time he leaves his stall is to work and have pressure put on his own fitness and mentality – give yourself the opportunity to bond with him and figure out what each horse needs.

Trail rides are a great way to flex Rotti’s muscles out of the ring – it keeps him engaged and stimulated in new settings but gives us both a chance for “playtime.”
Final Thoughts

I want to mention that these tips are not a hard and fast rule. Some people prefer more of a “tough love” approach, while others prefer to work things out quietly in the privacy of their own meditative states. Even so, once a person masters these techniques, it’s important to mention that it doesn’t mean the thoughts will vanish into thin air. However, you’ll have the confidence to know the tools you have in place are meant to set you up for success. And if you screw up, chocolate-chip your distance, canter when you were supposed to sit trot, or whatever else, tell yourself, it’s okay!  Go back to your mental toolbox and give yourself and your horse a pat on the back. Tomorrow is a new day to try again.

Enjoy the ride,
Colleen

Celebrate Small Business Saturday

Celebrate Small Business Saturday in the United States this year on November 30, 2019.

Tradition

This shopping tradition began in 2010 and has grown into a welcoming way to bring local patronage to brick and mortar shopping and create a hometown atmosphere in person or online. Shopping small means, you support your community neighborhoods and local establishments.

Hometown Proud

Big Dee’s Tack & Vet Supplies has grown into a pillar of your community. Most of our employees own horses, livestock and pets or have them in their backgrounds. Employees that share your interests in all things horse and hound, english, western or racing, give you a customer experience second to none! Our mission is to serve you in a polite, friendly, most competent way. We offer saddle, helmet, and blanket fitting tips. Gifts for all your critters and a clothing selection sure to please the most competitive to the casual equestrian. We offer holiday specials throughout the store and online. Join our customer loyalty program and receive special discounts throughout the year. In years past shoppers set records all across the country sharing their support of small businesses just like ours.

Happy Holidays!

So, shop small America and share your support for local family-owned companies just like Big Dee’s Tack & Vet Supplies! Support your friends and neighbors and the local economy along the way. From our family to yours we extend a happy holiday invitation to stop in for a cup of hot chocolate this season and to shop small!

Written by: Big Dee’s Web Products Specialist, Kathy Kilbane

Once in a whorl

Horse Electrolytes in the Winter

In the off-season when the snow is flying and the dread of going to the barn to crack water buckets is looming, reading about a favorite topic (wait for it) HORSES, can be a favorite pastime! Once in a “while,” you come across interesting reads about little know horse factoids. Yet finding historical references explaining the extent of the horse’s involvement in civilization’s prominence are not readily found.

HUMAN-HORSE RELATIONSHIP

Centurion satatue

From the beginning of the human-horse relationship, historical evidence shows us that owning horses was a privilege reserved only for the upper crust of society. With the Romans, horses were a show of power and strength. Generals rode while the foot soldiers walked. However, without the domestication of the horse ancient civilizations might not have been, and quite possibly our world could look much different. Throughout history, the horse’s usefulness has been at the forefront of what it has become. Harnessing the power of horses probably enabled the building of the great pyramids or the Coliseum. Horses pulled great shovels to dig canals and build infrastructure. Becoming a mode of transportation was one of the most significant historical turning points. No longer would humans walk but could ride and carry their wares to market or to other tribal areas with more speed than other animals. The average 1,000-pound horse can pull a wagon of twice its weight and travel at a top speed of around 35 miles per hour.

EVOLUTION

The horse has evolved over 50 million years. Originally known as eohippus, horses were no bigger than a dog and were prey animals that walked on three toes. The chestnut of modern-day horses is said to be a remnant of the toes that became a hoof. Something else that is unclear about the horse is the existence of whorls; those cute little hair patterns that look like crop circles on the face and body. No one can explain whorls any more than they can explain cowlicks in humans.  Whorls  have been studied for centuries resulting in correlations between whorls and temperament. Gypsies believed one whorl on the center of the forehead could mean an easygoing temperament and two whorls high on the forehead meant a more complicated temperament giving way to more modern training methods. Theories about flight responses and predicting the direction a horse will go when startled were recently studied by Colorado State University. After exposure to a spoke stimulus, researchers determined if the hair pattern in a whorl on a horse’s face grows counterclockwise it most likely turned to the left and if the hair grows clockwise, it will go right. Could this also indicate if a horse is right-sided or left-sided? I find this fascinating!

UNSUNG AND UNDER REPRESENTED

The human-horse relationship roles seem a bit reversed today. Have horses become our masters? We carry their water and grain to them when history tells us they carried ours. We willingly groom, clean, care for and pamper them. Well I say they have earned it! They are the unsung and overlooked heroes of our civilization. In every aspect of our world history, from depictions in cave drawings to the pinnacle of competition, the horse has always served man well. Today the status symbol of a horse is not as shiny as it once was, but caring for a horse is truly a rewarding experience. I always know that whatever is troubling can be resolved while grooming a horse. Whether you use horses for pleasure, competition, or as a therapy animal you have to agree they are in fact magnificent creatures!

Written by: Big Dee’s Web Products specialist, Kathy Kilbane

Body clipping the horse – goals and purpose

I was recently blessed with an opportunity to have my horse Paladin clipped by Natasha from A Pampered Pony for a facebook live demo. Even though I have been body clipping my own horses for years I really enjoyed the tips and pointers that Natasha was able to provide. I am so very thankful to both Wahl and Lister for helping to arrange this fabulous event. The response to the demo was overwhelmingly positive. Though I did see a number of questions surrounding the general practice of body clipping. I hope to be able to offer a little more information, about the purpose and goals of body clipping. From the perspective of a performance horse owner.

A little bit about my horse

My horse Paladin is and always has been a show horse, eventer and most recently a field hunter. In an effort to help prepare my horse for his performance career I chose to show him extensively his first

Full Body Clipped Yearling
Full Body Clip for show as a yearling.

three years of life. Regardless of if the show was local or recognized, I always take pride in producing a well turned out horse. I strongly believe that quality show turnout starts in the stable. Providing quality food and forage, regularly scheduled vet, farrier and dental care and allowing ample turnout helps to promote a strong body and sound mind. Everything that you do at home to benefit your horses overall health will be obvious in the show ring or out working in the field. I feel that clipping further enhances all of that hard work you put into your horse on a daily basis.

Clipping for show and ease of grooming

Clipping has been an important part of my horses grooming program since he was a foal.  When showing him as a yearling and two year Continue reading Body clipping the horse – goals and purpose