I was listening to a podcast the other day and the speaker was talking about training first responders, firemen and the like not to panic in emergency situations. He was talking about freeze and flight and the minds desire to keep us safe. As he was talking about it I realized that all of what he is talking about could be applied to riding, and wouldn't it be helpful if trainers had some of this knowledge.
I believe that many students are incapable to get their bodies to do what we want, (and what they want,) because their mind is telling them to be careful. There are several ways to override this. One way is to push through, not acknowledge that you are riddled with tension and try to make pretend with your horse like everything is okay. This method creates a lot of pressure between the rider and the horse and eventually leads to misunderstanding. Another way is to keep yourself in a "safe" environment, never challenge your control and ride with the fear that has manifested itself, and is actually quite real. A better way to manage this is to teach your body and your mind that you are safe, you have control and nothing is going to happen because of this control. The control comes down to awareness and presence.
The first and foremost way to deal with fear is to notice that you have it and to find how it manifests itself in your body. The fear does not have to be about getting injured, it can be about doing something wrong, not being good enough and/or what people think. We all have these fears. What is the most predominant fear in your riding? (Life?)
Ask yourself how does this fear show up in my riding? (Life?) Some ways can be physical tension, gripping, holding on, stiffness, grabbing when your horse becomes unsteady, not being able to sit in the trot and in the canter, spooking, resistance, pulling, the list goes on. How could we look at this in life? Are there other aspects of our lives where we don't feel in control?
We all have fear, some of us have trained our minds/bodies better than others. Some have chosen to ignore it and ride (and go through life) with out acknowledging the damage this fear is causing.
Letting go of fear.
Ride the right horse! Get a horse that is less reactive until you feel like your body is under control. A horse that knows the job and is confident in his/her surroundings.
If you notice tension in your body and an inability to tell your limbs what to do: Talk to your trainer (this could also cause fear!)
Meditate, there is a specific way I meditate for these situations. I will sit or stand and ground myself. Focus on my breathing. Then I will put myself into the situation I am stressed about in my minds eye. I will go through the test, lesson, training session (conversation) in my mind and I will breath through any difficulties I believe might arise. I will notice the tension and where it comes in my body and I will breath it away. I will also tell my brain that I am capable to deal with this situation, we have trained for this and I can trust myself to react in the correct way when necessary.
Get yourself good training on how to deal with unpredictable horses.
Learn to read body language, horse and people.
Know that everyone has something they fear, so do not compare yourself to others. Someone may seem to be ahead of you in some aspect of their life, and yet they may have been on a different journey, you have learned other things while on your path.
Be in the present, try not to think about past bad experiences. If it helps to bolster your confidence, remind yourself of other times you have had success, but live in this just a moment and then bring yourself to the present. Being in the present will help you to respond correctly according to what is happening now. You cannot imagine how many times we are responding in the present moment to something from the past.
Be aware. Get out of your head and develop your peripheral vision. Open your head. Relax your eyes and your brain. Take in the surroundings in a relaxed way. This ability will help you to notice what your horse might notice. Because of this you will be be able to tell him/her that it is okay, your communication and ability to ask them to turn, stop or go will put their mind back on you, and thus at ease.
Know that your horse knows everything about you. You cannot fool them. Build a true connection and trust your communication and they will grow from this. Doubt them and ultimately yourself and this will manifest itself. We all need help with the skills, learn the skills. However, it is important that on the inside you know you can do it. Practice this knowing.
Teach your body slowly and methodically not to react to stress by getting tight. We can do this while driving, yoga, exercise and anytime in our daily life we have a conversation or stressful activity to do. This tightness and tension does not just manifest itself when we are riding, it is there in other areas and we can work on it then to help train it for our riding.
Practice not judging others. If you are able to be compassionate about where other people are on their learning curve. You will have a much easier time not judging yourself. In order to improve we must start where we are. That is acknowledging our strong points and our weaknesses and then putting one foot in front of the other to improve. We cannot jump over certain lessons. We must work through them. You know on the inside what you need to work on, don't pretend. True success will not come if you pretend.
Some people have this mantra "fake it till you make it". I am not a believer in this. I believe that you must know who you are and behave like this person. We all need to learn, however, we also have an innate ability to find the right answers and the correct action when we are open, present and relaxed. Faking it will bring you to an outcome that does not represent you. Knowing who you are and then being that person even in stressful situations, that is created over time and with practice. Stress can be created in many different ways. What is easy for you may be hard for someone else. Don't worry. Start where you are. This is the only way to improve.
I hope this helps you and brings you the success you are looking for.
Be Youthful in Your Approach
Remember Anything is Possible
Connection is the Key
Dressage (a French term meaning "training") is a path and destination of competitive horse training, with competitions held at all levels from amateur to the Olympics. Its fundamental purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse. At the peak of a dressage horse's gymnastic development, it can smoothly respond to a skilled rider's minimal aids by performing the requested movement while remaining relaxed and appearing effortless. Dressage is occasionally referred to as "Horse Ballet." Although the discipline has its roots in classical Greek horsemanship, mainly through the influence of Xenophon, dressage was first recognized as an important equestrian pursuit during the Renaissance in Western Europe. The great European riding masters of that period developed a sequential training system that has changed little since then and classical dressage is still considered the basis of trained modern dressage.
Early European aristocrats displayed their horses' training in equestrian pageants, but in modern dressage competition, successful training at the various levels is demonstrated through the performance of "tests," or prescribed series of movements within a standard arena. Judges evaluate each movement on the basis of an objective standard appropriate to the level of the test and assign each movement a score from zero to ten - zero being "not executed" and ten being "excellent." A score of nine (or "very good") is considered a particularly high mark, while a competitor achieving all sixes (or 60% overall) should be considering moving on to the next level.