Welcome to the second in a short series to tell you a bit more about who I am and what I do.
In the early 2000’s I was looking around for a career change and wondering what to do. I had been a community midwife and left that for all sorts of reasons and had a bit of a break but then I missed working with people. I had been doing some psychology studies and the teacher suggested that I might make a good counsellor so I looked around for some suitable courses.
None that I found seemed to appeal until a friend told me about a course in hypnosis and psychotherapy which was accredited, thorough and a good challenge so I found out more. As soon as I read the syllabus I knew that this was the course I’d been looking for, so I applied and was accepted.
While I was doing the course (which took two and a half years to complete) I started to apply what I was learning to my own riding and almost immediately I noticed an enormous change.
I had never been the most confident of riders but very quickly I noticed that I was pushing myself more, worrying less and enjoying everything I did with a new found increase in confidence and self belief. I felt GREAT!
So, when I came to the end of the course I decided to see if I could use my new qualifications to help other riders and popped an advert in a freebie horse magazine to see what would happen.
This was 2004 and I was almost immediately inundated with riders saying “HELP!!” and my little business was born!
Initially, riders were a fairly small proportion of the clients I was seeing and the rest were people with various other issues like general anxiety, phobias, stress related conditions etc. However, over the years, the number of riders I was seeing was growing and these days I only see a very small number of non-riders and focus more or less entirely on helping riders with their anxieties and mindset issues.
As well as working alone I have enjoyed making connections with other equestrian professionals and collaborating with coaches to offer sport psychology and confidence boosting techniques alongside the riding skills training offered by the coaches. There is huge scope in the equestrian world for education and rider development through teaching the mental skills needed in order to fulfil goals and simply worry less.
I’m a great believer in lifelong learning and, over the years have done many more courses which help me to help my clients. Recently I have signed up for the APEC Advanced performance psychology course run by Centre 10 which starts soon and I can’t wait to get going with that and see what I will learn.
A few years ago I was driving home from giving a talk at a local riding camp , smiling to myself after a great evening and filled with the warm glow of realising that my career had brought me to a place where I felt I was meant to be and which I totally loved. It’s a very good place to be.
I’ve been set a challenge to tell you a bit more about myself and my background and what brought me to Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland.
So this is the first in a short series of posts about “Me”!!
I get asked fairly frequently about my own personal riding and horse owning experience so here we go. Here’s “My Horsey Life”.
I first started learning to ride when we lived in Germany and I was about 9 or 10. We were taught by the ever so slightly scary Herr Hase on what, I now realise, were dressage schoolmasters. We did all sorts with them but, I have to say, there wasn’t a lot of time for fun. No opportunities for charging around or heading out for hacks. It was all schooling in the indoor and, only very occasionally outdoor, arenas. I rode there for a few years but gave up after one too many experiences on Rex the Rearer.
I then rode occasionally on holidays and when opportunities arose but nothing regular.
I remember a conversation soon after my husband and I met. We were talking about what we would like to be in a position to own one day. He said he’d love a LandRover and I said I’d love a horse. I often think about the conversation and am so glad that both our dreams came true.
When we moved to Dollar in the early 90’s I decided to start riding regularly again and within a couple of years I bought my first Highland mare Judy. I was very inexperienced but we had a lot of fun together, hacking out and doing some showing.
Judy was the first of three Highland mares I’ve owned. I have her daughter Luna who was born here in millennium year plus another mare, Gigha, who I bought as a two year old from her breeder. Somehow I managed to produce two nicely mannered ponies with very little experience of riding and handling youngsters. I honestly think I got away with it because they both have inherently nice natures. Again I did some showing plus lots of hacking and fun rides with these two until they retired.
Luna and Gigha are still with me. Neither of them is sound enough to be ridden now but they will spend the rest of their lives here simply enjoying each other’s company and living a good life.
Over the years I’ve been on some great riding adventures including up and down mountains in Italy and riding across the Rajasthan on very skinny marwari horses on a fundraiser for The Brooke.
So now, whilst I own two horses, I don’t have anything of my own to ride. For a while I thought I might give up on the riding but then I started to miss it too much. I asked around and found a wonderful riding school with excellent horses and I now have regular lessons from great coaches.
If I’m very honest I feel like I’m finally learning to ride properly and I’m loving developing new skills and confidence on horseback.
I had a plan for a big riding adventure this year going coast to coast across the north of Scotland. Covid-19 put a stop to that but I’m very much hoping to do it in 2021. The thought of being on horseback in the wild country up there is very inviting, I can’t wait!
Before I start writing this piece I should declare an interest…….
My business involves talking to people and them paying me in return so, naturally, I am biased!
However, I do genuinely believe that it is in your best interest to consult a professional when you have any kind of issue or concern. That could be asking a vet about a horse health problem, asking a saddle fitter about signs of discomfort in that area of your horse, asking a nutritionist for advice about the best feeding regime for your much loved equine. Then, as this article is talking about “talking” I believe that if you have a psychological concern or a riding mindset worry then it is well worth consulting an expert in rider anxiety and/or rider mindset and psychology.
If you are very lucky then you might have a good friend who can help you to sort out whatever is going on but consulting a professional will have the so many more benefits including:
You will be speaking to someone who has trained, possibly for many years, to listen to you and help you to understand what’s going on. So no responses like “Oh you’ll be OK don’t worry about it”!
A therapist is trained in asking ‘questions that count” which will draw answers from you in order that you both can gain understanding.
A professional will adhere to a code of conduct and will be committed to maintaining confidentiality. So there will be no “Please don’t tell anyone about this”! followed by worry that you friend may just break your trust.
A therapist may sometimes kindly challenge you and thus enable you to ask yourself uncomfortable questions. However this will be done in a safe and supportive environment so that any “challenge” isn’t too much for you to be able to handle.
A mindset coach will have a good understanding of your sport and the skills necessary to fulfil your goals in that sport at all levels. There is no competition between professional and client in this relationship, whereas with a friend there can sometimes be a competitive element and it could be in the friend’s interest for you to hang onto your worries and concerns.
A professional will never judge you. Chances are that they will have heard similar stories before from previous clients so there won’t be any shocked face, hand over the mouth with “OMG you didn’t do that!!!” reaction!
When consulting a professional to help you with worries or mindset you will be guided in an unbiased fashion. The relationship will be friendly with a healthy rapport so that you feel comfortable but professional boundaries will be maintained. Even a friend who is a very good listener will often want to chip in with their own experiences but, while the therapist might use some personal examples to explain a point they won’t respond with things like “Oh yes, the same thing happened to me” and then go on to tell a long story about their own experiences.
There aren’t all that many opportunities in life to spend an hour or so talking about yourself and focussing totally on yourself and what’s going on in your life or in your riding. This is the luxury you are paying for.
Sometimes there is conflict or disagreement among friends and people can take offence even when it isn’t intended. When talking to a professional you are free to disagree without causing upset as you are speaking to someone who has been trained in dealing with this type of situation.
Working with a therapist or mindset coach (or ideally someone who has training in both approaches) will help you to find long-lasting solutions and make changes so that you can move forwards from the position you have found yourself in with clear understanding and a new ability to fulfil your goals.
And lastly……the professional you consult might just also make you a nice cuppa as well!
The above list is just some of the advantages of paying for someone to help you rather than having that chat over a cuppa with a friend.
If there is anything which I can help you with or any points which you would like me to clarify then please do just get in touch.
Please do note though….If at any time in your life you feel that you are struggling with your mental health in any way, then don’t wait. Speak to a friend, a member of your family, a therapist or a doctor immediately and ask for help. In a crisis, it’s so important to seek help as soon as you are able. You are not alone.
I’ve done a couple of posts recently on “success” so thought this would be a good place to expand a little on these with some more thoughts.
The OED gives three definitions of “success”:
The accomplishment of an aim
The attainment of wealth, fame or position
A thing or person that turns out well
For the purposes of this post I prefer to think of success as being something personal which we each measure for ourselves i.e. it is essentially definition number 1 above.
Perhaps one person has an aim, or goal, of completing a marathon, without concern for the time on the clock, and another has one of running a marathon in a personal best time. Both achieve their goal so, essentially, both are “successful” and can celebrate their achievements. However, if the first runner starts to compare herself with the second she risks damaging her sense of success because she is measuring her success on someone else’s terms.
If we look at riders, is the rider who fulfils her goal of completing a BE80 any less successful than the rider who fulfils HER goal of completing a 3* event? Both riders might be thrilled with their achievements on the day but, again, it’s not going to help the first rider if she compares herself to the second.
If the BE80 rider is happy with her goal achievement at that level then all is good for her. If she wishes to re-set her goal for the next level up or being more accurate and have fewer penalties at this level then she gives herself something to work towards and can enjoy more success as she works towards these new goals. There is no rule which says any rider must compete and aim to move up the levels in competition. Many rider’s goals are to enjoy riding at home and simply spending quality time with their horses and if they fulfil those goals then they too achieve success.
The beauty of setting goals is that when they are achieved one of the many rewards is that sense of “success” and by then setting further goals motivation is increased, new skills are learned and experience is gained. This can be apply in any life area such as sport, business, professional life, education and hobbies.
The way I like to look at success, and the way I encourage my clients to look at it, is to fully commit to working towards their goals and by fully committing they will be “successful”.
If you would like any help with finding your own success then please do get in touch and, together, we can make a plan.
Like many of you reading this, I posted a simple black square on instagram yesterday, 2nd June 2020, but in doing so I admit to feeling a little bit uncomfortable. Since yesterday I’ve been thinking about wanting to do more than just post that square.
Like all of you, I have been horrified by the recent events and by the death of George Floyd and I feel that I want to show some solidarity with the millions of people affected by oppression and injustice all over the world.
But, I’m asking myself what on earth can I do and what gives me the right to think I am qualified to write anything on this subject?
I am a privileged white woman, living in rural Scotland and working in the equestrian industry (more of that later). I have no personal experience of oppression and I am confident that I will never be judged negatively by, those in “authority”, on the colour of my skin. I am totally unqualified to write about this BUT I feel like I want to and therefore that’s what I’m doing.
I have just spent a few minutes scrolling through my Instagram feed and there is NOT ONE SINGLE photograph of a person with coloured skin…..NOT ONE.
I then chose two small equestrian clothing brands, two large ones and two equestrian photography businesses and scrolled through their websites looking for faces of people with dark coloured skin – NOT ONE! I’ll say that again – NOT ONE!! NB this wasn’t a “scientific” survey just a quick look for the purposes of this post.
I don’t for one minute believe that young people with dark coloured skin have no interest in horses, horse riding and all the fun that goes along with equestrian sport so why are they apparently completely absent? I don’t know the answer and I am not really qualified to speculate but I suspect that it is to do with equality, opportunity and, to some extent, an unconscious racism.
I also don’t believe that the owners of the businesses I looked at are consciously and deliberately aiming purely at white people but I do think it’s time for all of us working in the equestrian industry to ask ourselves some challenging questions.
So what can I do and what can we all do? I don’t know what we can do on a large scale but I would like to suggest a couple of things we might do on a personal level. Again, I stress, that I don’t consider myself to really be qualified to write on this subject but I am speaking from my heart here.
The first thing which comes to my mind is the well known phrase adopted by Friends of the Earth in the 1970’s, and obviously related to the environmental movement, “Think globally and act locally” and in this context the local action comes down to the behaviour of individuals.
What I can choose to do is to challenge myself daily to become aware of those situations where I might judge another person on their appearance and make unconscious assumptions based on that judgement. I like to think that I don’t judge people on their appearance, after all I am a trained therapist working with all sorts of different people, but I think I probably do, unconsciously, and I intend to work hard to be aware of this and make changes where needed. If I start with the people I am meeting locally then that can only have a positive effect.
If EVERY person reading this chooses to challenge themselves in the same way then maybe, just maybe, together we can start a ripple of change?
The second thing I can do locally is to challenge other’s throwaway remarks which might reflect prejudice against people based on their background, colour and appearance. I don’t want to antagonise my friends and acquaintances but if I challenge people kindly then perhaps I can raise awareness and I think YOU could probably do that too.
The final thing I can do is to investigate ways that I can support genuine movements which campaign against oppression and in favour of real justice for all. And this is something which YOU can do as well.
Some reading this may question why I have written on this subject and that’s OK. It just felt like the right thing for me to do today.
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.
On Monday I posted about how making small incremental improvements leads to major changes and growth, then I chatted a bit about this in my group so I thought I’d add something here on the blog to back this up.
Earlier this week I watched a short BBC video about learning to recognise birdsong. In the video it talks about just starting by learning a few common and familiar garden birds and then building on that as a start. I’ve always had an amateur interest in birdwatching, inherited from my Mum who loved birds, I know most of the common British birds and a few others too but I don’t recognise many by their song. On the video it talks about just learning one at a time and before you know it you can build up a library of birdsong which you recognise – an example of small incremental improvements leading to major changes.
This week I have consciously set about adding to my birdsong library and by starting with the birds I see every day in the garden, it has already grown considerably.
We can apply this simple principle to learning and growth in any area of life or horse riding. By building on the riding skills which we already have and making small incremental improvements we can rapidly expand skills and before we know it we are doing things which we may never thought would be possible.
During the current lockdown period when you might not be riding at all, or much, then now is a good time to apply this idea to mindset strengthening so that when you return to riding regularly your mind will be in a better place to help you.
Start by thinking of a situation where you feel confident, comfortable and mentally in control. What is it about that situation which allows you to think, feel and ride confidently?
Once you recognise what it is which allows you to feel confident in that situation you can make small incremental improvements and begin to apply that confidence in situations which may previously have challenged you emotionally and you can build from there. This way, by the time Lockdown is over you will be mentally more prepared to get back out there on horseback for some fun!
If this is something which you would like some help with then just get in touch.
If you would like a free Five Steps to Riding Confidence programme which you can work through at your own pace then simply sign up .
Last weekend I read a wonderful article from the Financial Times by Alain de Botton “How to travel from your sofa”. It’s all about using the experiences we already have and our amazing imaginations to allow us to travel anywhere and to re-live past experiences.
I believe that this is a skill we can all use and develop during this period of confinement at home. I also believe that using this skill now will mean that it is more use to us once this crisis is over and life returns to normality.
Personally, just three days into lockdown, I’m feeling pretty relaxed and have been enjoying the things I’m filling my days with. I’m managing to continue with some work but inevitably this has slowed down considerably. However, I guess that over the coming weeks there will be times when I do resent the confinement and wish that I was out there experiencing the wider world. This is the time when I will really need my imagination to help me and I would suggest that you will all benefit from a helpful imagination too.
De Botton talks about re-living holidays right through from remembering what you had for your first breakfast to re-experiencing the sights and the sounds of your destination. He suggests that this imagined experience can be as real as you want it to be and that by “travelling from your sofa” will help you to be more comfortable with isolation.
So how can YOU use your wonderful imagination to help you at this time of enforced isolation? I would like you all to spend some time regularly developing your technique of “How to ride from your sofa“.
The technique is really very simple. Just make yourself comfy where you won’t be disturbed for a while, close your eyes and take yourself back to a wonderful riding experience and then re-live it.
This will be most realistic if you involve ALL of your senses and because horse riding is such a physical activity you can really feel as though you are actually on horseback. You are activating all the elements of your nervous system and can really enjoy the ride.
Start right at the very beginning of the ride, for example bringing your horse in from the field and grooming him all the while allowing yourself to be aware of what you can see, hear, feel, smell and even taste. Allow yourself to look around and take in all the elements of your environment so that you are actually “there”.
Then work through to mounting up and heading off for your ride. So you can feel your seat in the saddle, your feet in the stirrups, the reins in your hands. You can see the horses neck stretching out in front of you and can hear the footfall of his movement. You can smell the wonderful scent of horse and perhaps the leather of your tack.
The actual ride will be different for all of you but IT’S A GOOD ONE! Perhaps you are out for a hack or you might be riding a cross country course. It really doesn’t matter.
Your mind is very clever at distorting time so your ride can be as long as you like whilst real time might be completely different. You can re-live an entire week long riding holiday in half an hour on the sofa!
Give it a try and see how real you can make it and notice how it helps you avoid the frustration of confinement.
This is a highly personal post which I think will help me and I hope might also help you.
In the last eighteen months my father, my mother-in-law and, most recently, my mother have all died. Each of them had lived a good, long and happy life and their deaths were anticipated and, although very sad, for each of them death was a release from a life of dependence, limitations and the associated indignities of old age. We miss them all but death of an elderly parent is a normal and expected part of life.
Over the years I have also experienced the death of friends, other family members and much loved animals too. I’m sure that each person reading this will have had their own losses.
My most significant loss, which is difficult to write about publicly but which is important to include in this piece, was the death of our only son Fergus in 1997. Fergus was stillborn at full term and was a precious and deeply loved part of our lives in the short time we had him with us. We remember him frequently and often wonder about the life we wish he could have lived.
Grief comes, not only from the death of a cherished person but also from many other experiences such as:
Loss of a relationship
Loss of a dream
Loss of a pet
Loss of identity
Loss of a job, home or security
Loss of health
Loss of independence
There are many emotions associated with grief and the experience is individual and personal.
In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross published a model of the five stages of grief, namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and for many years this model was frequently quoted to those who were grieving as the “normal” process which had to be “got through”. Generally, this model has been discredited as there is very little evidence of moving through the process in an orderly fashion.
Instead, from my experience working in the NHS and subsequently in my current role and also from my own personal experiences, I believe that grief is far more complex than a defined process.
There can be a whole complex mix of emotions and they can come alone or they can arrive as a jumble all at the same time. Emotions can jump from overwhelming despair, through anger, to a sense of relief and back again to sadness all within one train of thought.
For me the overwhelming emotions initially occupied my every waking thought, and a lot of my sleep time as well. Then gradually over time feelings have settled and acceptance has come. Nothing has been “got over” but happiness has returned and life has continued whilst memories have been cherished. I distinctly remember a friend saying to me some months after Fergus had died that she was happy to see that “my smile had returned”. I think it was at that moment that I knew I was going to be happy again.
Eighteen months on from the death of my father it is now the memories of him as a younger man which I recall rather than those of him in his last months. My feelings about my Mum are still too raw and recent but with time I know it will be happier memories which rise to the surface rather than images of her being so frail and helpless.
From my own experiences of the death of much loved animals I know that the pain and emotions can be just as strong as they are for the death of a person. So if somebody tells you “it is just an animal”, in my opinion they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re just being clumsy with their words.
Grief is different to mourning. It is an internal set of feelings and emotions, thoughts and also sometimes includes physical pain. Mourning is the public side of grief. It includes the rituals of a funeral, sending and receiving cards and flowers, in days gone by the wearing of black clothes, time off work and away from socialising. With the loss of a pet it might include keeping mementoes such as a lock of hair or a horse shoe, having photographs framed and keeping a special item associated with that animal. The rituals of mourning all help with the internal grief and are an important aspect of our lives and society. If you have a religious faith then that can be a great help as can other expressions of spirituality.
Support from family and friends has been an enormous help for me over the years and I think I will share with you just a few of the things which I found of particular help and a few which actually had the opposite effect.
After Fergus died the outpouring of love and support we experienced was almost palpable. Friends who simply called round and talked about him were the absolute best. For me it didn’t really matter too much what they said it was just their being with me that helped. People who were prepared to listen to me without judgement and without chipping in with their own experiences were amazing. At a time of extreme grief I really didn’t want to hear about any comparable situations as I was so absorbed in my own.
I don’t want to be judgemental about the things which didn’t help me as I am sure that people were trying their best to be supportive. However being told that “you’ll get over it” isn’t helpful and especially unhelpful for me was people saying “You must be feeling …..” or “You will be feeling…..“. Personally speaking I don’t want to be told how I must be feeling…..
Overall, the least helpful thing was the one or two friends who simply said nothing as they didn’t want to upset me. For me, I would rather that someone made a clumsy or slightly thoughtless comment than said nothing at all. At a time of grief, saying nothing can be interpreted as simply not caring.
So if you are grieving in your own life, for any kind of loss, then I send you my love and support. If you have a friend or family member who is grieving then simply be kind and show support by getting in touch and listening to them.
If this is something you are struggling with then don’t hesitate to get in touch and I will listen to you and offer you some help and support. I consider myself to be fortunate in my attitude towards death and loss in my own life. I see it as part of the rich tapestry of life and even though life hasn’t necessarily turned out as I might have expected when I was younger I cherish each and everyone one of my life experiences.