Here we are at the end of May 2020 and looking forward to the easing of lockdown restrictions whilst, at the same time, having to maintain safety and social distancing going forwards into the “new normal”.
A couple of quick surveys have shown that most riders seem to be getting pretty much back to normal riding and are making plans for resuming training and lessons as appropriate. No competitions or shows on the horizon yet but there is still lots we can do and enjoy.
However, I am aware that a few riders are experiencing a little bit too much “nervous excitement” at the thought of riding again after a couple of months off so what can be done about that?
A few simple changes will help you to give yourself the best re-start and get your mind in the right place to be able to enjoy riding again.
The first thing is to be aware of what your internal chatter is telling you and to take charge of it! Make sure that you are focussed on what you DO want to happen when you’re riding as this is what you focus on and affects how you are feeling. So think about your horse going in the direction of your choice at the pace of your choice in the manner of your choice – if that is what your horse is doing at any moment in time then all is well 🙂
Remember to set yourself some short term achievable goals. Whether this includes the number of times per week you plan to ride or whether it includes schooling and training goals will differ from rider to rider. But setting achievable goals boosts your confidence and will help you to quickly get back on track and heading in the direction you wish to go.
When you’re feeling a bit rusty and out of practice it’s common to feel full of doubt and as though you’ve forgotten everything. Never fear….you haven’t. All of your skills and experience are still there and ready for you to tap into. Perhaps things might be a little bit hidden initially but once you’ve ridden again a few times I suspect that the past couple of months will be forgotten. You will know your own horse so it’s probably wise to be sensible and have someone with you or close by to give you some reassurance if that’s necessary.
It might be that you feel you need to stay within your comfort zone initially and that’s OK. Be wary of the temptation to stay in your comfort zone for too long though so I would suggest that each time you ride you make sure to stretch yourself a little bit and, very quickly, your comfort zone will grow without overwhelming you.
Using a calming breathing technique will help you to let go of any physical tension and will also help to calm your mind too. Breathing in calmness to the count of three and breathing out tension to the count of six is a simple ratio method to use when you are feeling tense. Practice it before you ride so that you can use it comfortably when you need it.
My guess is that once you’ve been back on your horse a couple of times then the last few months of enforced rest will fade away and you’ll be back having fun before you know it.
If however, you need a bit of extra help and support then I have an “ESCAPE FROM LOCKDOWN” OFFER of 20 minute online sessions for only £20. These will help you to get your mind where you want it to be, identify your strengths and set some short term goals.
Next week I should have been heading off for an amazing adventure riding coast to coast across the North of Scotland. The trip had been planned and prepared for, for over a year and my excitement was starting to grow in March just as coronavirus reared its ugly head. My initial reaction was to email the organisers telling them, “If it’s still on then I’ll still come” but it quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t be going anywhere for the next few months and the trip is off.
2020 is an important year for us, I have celebrated my 60th birthday and we have just had our 30th wedding anniversary. As well as my riding trip we had a wonderful holiday booked, a party planned and also several other events and adventures with friends – all cancelled!
Naturally I am hugely disappointed but this is mixed with feelings of guilt. After all I am a highly trained therapist with many years of experience so surely I “shouldn’t” have negative emotions or I “should” have the tools to deal with them and immediately add a positive spin! The feeling of guilt is compounded by an awareness of how fortunate I am that this is the main downside of the worldwide pandemic for me personally and surely this is a very shallow feeling compared to the sufferings of many people who have lost so much!
At times like these there are two main things I remind myself of: Firstly, I am a human being and, as such, it is absolutely normal to experience negative emotions. (Here’s a link to a post from a few months ago about learning to tolerate emotions) They are part of me and it is absolutely normal to feel upset and disappointment. Secondly, I DO have the emotional tools to deal with disappointment and that knowledge and confidence is something to celebrate. Getting over the disappointment I now know that I have plenty to look forward to once life returns to normal and this has been an interesting exercise in self reflection.
I have also found ways to use this period of lockdown effectively by embracing online client sessions wherever possible, doing some online learning which will greatly benefit my clients and setting up a FaceBook group which offers emotional support and guided imagery relaxation and “virtual” rides for followers.
Fellow mind-set expert Jenni Winter-Leach recognises this feeling of guilt too. She had the following to say when I asked her if she might contribute to this piece.
“As a mind-set expert, people often think I’ve got my own life absolutely sorted, never get upset, nervous or angry and I must always be on top form. Sadly it’s just not the case. I am actually human an even being an expert in something doesn’t make you perfect or indeed immune to the disappointment and angst that something like lockdown has caused. However, knowing and being skilled in lots of tools, techniques and awareness of my own thoughts, feelings and mind-set does mean I’m able to get through this with a positive spin and ultimately keep performing at my best in order to serve my clients. This has been one of my main focuses during lockdown – “what am I learning that I can help my clients to understand too?” So it’s been a huge journey of self-discovery. Perhaps the biggest difficulty for me has been 7 weeks without being able to see my horse. To some that seems like a 3rd world problem. To me it has been very hard. He is what helps me balance a very busy business with making sure I get out in the open, exercise and do something good for my soul. Over these 7 weeks I have just thrown myself into work and helping others, knowing I will soon get to see him again sometime soon and I do have to put it into perspective. It will be a huge relief when I do get to see him again.”
I hope you get to spend quality time again with your horse very soon Jenni
Of course, we all experience disappointment in normal times as well and it is important that we can learn how to deal with that so that we avoid magnifying any negative events and minimising the positives and the opportunities for learning.
Sophie Tunnah gives some useful examples of how she dealt with disappointment and how she has dealt with the pressures of perfectionism (here’s a link to a piece I wrote on perfectionism a while back).
Sophie says “
Going back three years almost, I took a 5 year old Louie to a local unaffiliated dressage competition. During my first test, I became fixated on ‘perfection’ and had a tussle with him on a 20m circle. The next thing I knew, we’d left the arena and were cantering across the next one! Thankfully no one was doing their test…I came back and we finished the test sweet as anything. Annoying.
There’s the first mistake – getting annoyed by finishing well.
I had a break between the two tests and during that time became for rutted about all of the mistakes that I didn’t take a single positive outtake. So much so, we had a horribly tense second test. I got ready to come home, picked up my test sheets, didn’t read them, and came home, full of frustration.
Later, I read the test sheets, and of course, it was littered with all of the comments I knew around his tension, but it was also full of encouraging comments, even making a light-hearted remark about leaving the arena. That was a true light bulb moment. I saw everything for what it was, and suddenly the day wasn’t so bad.
From the comments, I considered a plan to work on the areas that it highlighted, and it completely put into perspective the negatives.
A very similar thing feeling happened to me just at the end of January this year during a showjumping training session. I made a few mistakes in my striding to fence, but Louie got me out of it and carried on as if there was no mistake there. We jumped around a 90-95cm course without an problems and came home.
But I felt so flat and negative. Why? Because I pick myself apart on the few mistakes I did make. It totally ruined the feeling for my day, and it wasn’t until about 9pm I watched our videos back. I saw a horse enjoying his job, jumping well, and a rider having a great time. Even as the person who had been riding and knew where those mistakes happened, I could barely see them on the videos.
Again, I had to find the perspective and positives to be able to move on and stay confident. I found three whopping great big perspectives:
1) less than four months ago, some days I’d still struggle with Louie going over a pole or basic tiny upright
2) I’ve been to ONE showjumping competition in about 3 years
3) this is all new to Louie, and a lot to me too. We’re both learning
And that last point is key…We are learning. We are not perfect and we have to make mistakes to improve ourselves.”
Well done Sophie on turning your thinking around and learning from your experiences.
Chesca Burrows describes the disappointment which comes from missing out due to a horse health emergency.
Just over two years ago, I was due to go to one of the first endurance rides of the season with my horse Jay. We used to compete at endurance – albeit at a fairly low level – but since having my daughter it has become something I can only fit in sporadically. The rides themselves often involve a fair bit of travel and organisation, coupled with the amount of riding required to get fit enough when I have no local hacking and have to make the time to box out, it just became something we did for pleasure. Still, I looked forward to them immensely, perhaps all the more so knowing there was usually only a small handful of rides a year I could manage.
So when Jay came in with a swollen eye the night before the Cerne Giant ride, it was hard not to feel absolutely gutted, despite my over-riding feelings being that of concern for her! It was late at night – I generally don’t get my horses in until after my daughter has gone to bed at 7.30pm, so it was 9pm by the time I was speaking to a vet. Alone at the yard in the dark my mind was playing all sorts of worst case scenarios! I was totally convinced she was going to end up losing an eye.
The emergency vet was simply lovely, and Jay was the model patient. We’d discussed on the phone about whether the appointment could be delayed until Sunday morning instead to save me the emergency callout but whilst I try to be fairly pragmatic and sensible about whether something needs a vet or not, the one sound piece of advice I had always lived by was ‘don’t mess with eyes’! And when the vet came and looked, and said ‘it was definitely a good job I came tonight’ I felt sick with worry. I completely forgot about our upcoming endurance ride! It was a sleepless night for sure.
But Jay continued to be a model patient – I had to get up early to do her next dose of eye drops, and already it was starting to look a little better. Typically it was the most glorious morning – absolutely perfect for an endurance ride. And with Jay’s eye looking a little better I was able to feel a little bit of disappointment creeping in – this was one of only three dates I could get to for the whole year, and she loves the rides too, she’s always more ‘zen’ in herself when we’ve done the first one of the season. It’s kind of like ‘coming home’ for her.
Although the disappointment was huge, the relief that Jay’s eye was healing well was even bigger. I’m not going to lie, I did feel sad we couldn’t go. But my horse was just such an angel to treat – she had to stay in out of the sunlight for a few days, with eye drops every 2-3 hours initially, and a cream at night. Although she can be a ‘typical arab’ in some ways, she was perfect for every application – the vet had warned they often get wise to it and can be really difficult to get the drops in, but every single time she got easier and easier – I could soon do them loose in the stable, and even loose in the field once she started going back out.
I love endurance rides because I love the feeling of one-ness with Jay – she is my heart horse through and through and every single ride she just wows me with her willingness and generosity. I missed out on a wonderful experience with her that day – but the few days I spent treating her eye were special in a different way – I was humbled, and still full of gratitude for just how wonderful she is! And it certainly made me appreciate the next ride we got to even more.
Ironically we’ve missed the same rides again this year due to the coronavirus – it’s definitely hard not to feel cheated this time! Jay’s getting older, and each ride seems more and more precious. But above all I am just always thankful that she allowed me to treat her so graciously with her eye (even the vet was amazed with how quickly and how well it healed) – each day she stays sound and happy is good enough for me.
So what I hope you can take from this piece is a reminder that you are a human being with all sorts of experiences and emotions, it is normal to feel disappointed and fed up at times but to find a way to learn from any negative experiences as then they will help you to grow as a person and develop as a rider.