If you missed the first part of this two-part series on Andrea Waldo’s teachings, click here to catch up.
Action is the enemy of fear. So here are the actions Andrea Waldo recommended for dealing with your inner lizard:
We talked about mental imagery, or visualization. Andrea told us that the human brain is unable to picture a negative (don’t think about purple elephants). Once you’re told what not to think about, the brain has to think of it, and then try to figure out a way to banish the image. See, all you can do now is think about that purple elephant.
So don’t think about the stuff you don’t want to happen. Think about the things you want to happen. Picture going fluidly and calmly over the jump. Imagine floating through your dressage test.
Louie: “You know you look like a deranged orangutan when you sit your trot.”
Me: “Maybe. For now. But I’m getting better. And my tests don’t require it just yet,” <while conjuring a mental image of Charlie and me in a beautiful, floating around the arena at sitting trot, channeling my best Charlotte Dujardin.>
Your amygdala doesn’t really understand the difference between an actual occurrence, a dream, and a visualization. Those distinctions get made in a different part of your brain. So Andrea suggested taking physical and mental actions to counteract your amygdala when it wigs out. While I haven’t tried this yet, I can see all of these happening in my future!
First, try channeling your favorite rider. Everyone in the room sat with their eyes closed, and moved to the edge of their chairs, picturing being in the saddle. Then, Andrea told us all to identify a rider we would most like to emulate. It could be the person in the next stall at your barn at home, or a 4* professional you admire. Now, like that scene in the movie Ghost, allow that other rider to step into your body. As we did, Andrea chuckled. Everyone had sat up a little straighter, dropped their shoulders, relaxed their hands, and deepened their seat.
Second, take that channeling the other way. When you watch video or go to an event in person, picture you in the other rider’s body, and tag along for every aspect of that ride.
Third, Andrea talked about posing like a superhero. That way, you use your body to override your head, and convince yourself that you’ve got this. Pose like Wonder Woman, with your hands on your hips and your feet shoulder-width apart. If you prefer, put both arms in the air in a “V” like you just scored a touchdown in the Superbowl. Close your eyes, and hold the position for a full two minutes, and let your body re-program your inner lizard.
If you’re self-conscious about doing this in the open at an event, feel free to lock yourself in your trailer, and do it where no one can see you.
Louie: “You’re not Wonder Woman.”
Me: “No. But I’ll practice in the basement so you can get better at dealing with my superhero impression. Then you won’t mind so much when we do it at events.”
How often have you said something like, “We stink at ditches”? Those words sting. And they program in the wrong message into your mind. Instead, try phrasing things in a past/present way: “We’ve had issues with ditches, but we’re working on making that better.” This gives your brain a way to see a different outcome.
We also talked about things like the difference between courage and fearlessness. Courage is being afraid and doing it anyway. Fearlessness is magical, but elusive. When it happens, it’s amazing, but it’s not something you can count on.
If you like, try telling yourself, “You got this!” I remember a cross country outing with a professional rider and her new OTTB. My horse got a little exuberant, and I went a little blank. We were riding right next to each other, and she called out to me, “You got this!” It was all I needed. From that I could breathe, sit back, and be the leader my horse needed in that moment on a crisp day in an open field. I’m still grateful to her for that nudge of encouragement.
Me: “I’ve got this.”
How Many Rides Do You Get?
There are some professional riders who take five, or eight, or ten horses to a single event. So keep a couple of things in mind. As amateurs, we don’t typically do that. We just take one horse, maybe two.
So if one of those multi-horse pros has a bad ride or retires or gets eliminated on one horse, they will be hopping on another horse shortly. Even if one ride doesn’t pan out, they still have lots more fences to take before their day is done.
Think about a 20 jump cross country course, and a 15 obstacle show jump round, across 10 horses. That comes to a total of 350 jumps in a weekend! That’s a lot more than I get in over a week.
Remember, too, to put what you hear in perspective. What we hear is that Ricky Rider had three horses in the top ten at a certain event. That sounds incredible, and it is. But remember, they entered ten horses. What happened to the other seven?! It’s not that they suddenly stink. But not everything works out perfectly for the pros every ride either. Keep that in mind when you start comparing your amateur ride on your one horse with those pros.
Meanwhile you worked a full week at your day job, got dinner on the table every night, oversaw homework, took the car in for service, bought groceries, and picked up the drycleaning. Plus, you had to organize your own show clothes, clean your own tack (and we’re eventers, so that’s two sets of tack), pack your own trailer, and get yourself up at zero-dark-thirty to get to the show grounds, complete with provisions for both horse and rider.
Louie: “Boy, your ride on Charlie Brown was less than impressive. Look at all the mistakes you guys made on course.”
Me: “I was happy with that ride. There were some unanticipated issues, like the lost pedestrian on course. It wasn’t a perfect ride, but I was proud of the way we adjusted to the weird things that happened, and turned in a clean round. And Louie?”
Me: “Sit down.”
The Myth of Social Media
Andrea admits there are times when she has to take a break from social media. Everybody’s posts show off their perfect position during their perfect ride at the perfect event with their perfect horse. It gives off the wrong message — that those other riders never struggle.
Well, let’s dispel an urban myth here. We all struggle! We just struggle with different things at different times. And those social media photos are chosen deliberately because that’s the one when everything is perfect. Never mind the hundreds of photos that didn’t make the cut.
Louie: “Why don’t you post many pictures of your rides on social media?”
Me: “Because I don’t usually have anyone to take pictures for me. So it keeps me from feeling compelled to post something. And that’s a better way for me to spend my time.”
So What To Do Now…
I’m putting Louie on a leash and taking him out for a walk. I’m getting better at communicating with him. But we’ve still got a few things to talk over…