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Brain Training for Riders: Your Questions, Andrea’s Answers

51892rNSrWL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_In Part I of this series, I reviewed Andrea Waldo’s book Brain Training for Riders. In Part II, she answered some of my interview questions, and in part III, she answers your questions!

Before we get to those, the winner of the giveaway for a copy of the book is…

L. Williams of Viva Carlos! Congratulations, I’ll be following up by email.

Now, your questions and Andrea’s answers.

Q: i’d love to hear more about how Andrea encourages riders to go about the act of “making better habits.” in other words, how to continue translating some of these thoughts, practices and perspectives into unconscious routine.

We have to consciously practice our riding skills in order to improve; our mental skills require the same conscious, regular practice. I go into all my rides with a plan–to practice flying changes today, for example. In the same way, if I’m working on eliminating mental chatter, I’ll plan to practice saying “delete” every time an unwanted thought comes into my mind. Rather than trying to change everything all at once, choose one mental skill to work on for several weeks at a time, which will help it become something you do automatically.

Horse Riding GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Q: I have a hard time with the sports psychology side of things. I like the positive visualizations and prep work, but it seems like as soon as I get into an actual competition environment I forget to even think about those things.

Make sure your prep work includes preparing a plan for using your psychological skills at the show. Write down exactly which skills you want to use and when. For example, plan to put on your Performance Self as you get into your show clothes. Then, post reminders for yourself in your show environment: on the truck dashboard, on the lid of your trunk, in your grooming box. Write a one-word trigger on your wrist, or stick a piece of colored tape discreetly on the crown of your horse’s bridle to remind you to use your skills. You can even set alarms on your phone as triggers: “2:45–BREATHE!”

Show Jumping Horse GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Q: I had one bad fall that sent me to the emergency room and it has been a struggle at times. It was scary. Because of what happened, my fear doesn’t really fit into the “dying” or “embarrassment” column. I don’t want what happened to me before, to happen again. It’s a specific fear. I wonder how she would address that.

As far as your Lizard Brain is concerned, this fall does, in fact, fit into the “dying” category: it believes you could have died, and it wants you to avoid getting into that situation again, because THIS time you just MIGHT die (from your Lizard’s point of view). Approach the situation gradually: for example, if you fell because your horse spooked and bucked on a windy day, start by riding inside on a quiet day. Imagine that you’re in the outdoor and he’s distracted, and practice skills for getting his attention again. Work on your seat so that you are less likely to come off if he does buck, and learn emergency procedures such as a pulley rein. Work your way up to being outside, then being out there while it’s breezy. Keep practicing your skills for coping with the situation. How do you know how much to challenge yourself? Rate your anxiety about your planned activity on a scale of 1-10. If it’s between 4 and 6, it’s challenging enough; below 4 is too easy, above 6 is too hard and you won’t be able to think clearly. Ride until your anxiety drops by 2 points, then call it a day. Keep doing this until your confidence recovers. If you backslide–something that was a 4 is now a 6–don’t worry, this is normal. Just start wherever you are at this moment, and you will get back to where you were.

Show Jumping GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Q: My question would be dealing with a psychological issue that has a physical underlining. When I broke my back falling off, I developed both a physical and a psychological issue. Now I will seize up in self-protection if my back gets hurt while riding. Bucking is really hard for me as the second my back hurts (physical) my brain shuts down (psychological) and then I often go to protective maneuvers (pulling the horse up) instead of what is actually needed (pushing the horse past the buck).

This kind of self-protection makes total sense. Your Lizard Brain is trying to protect you from further injury, which is exactly what it evolved to do. Thank it for protecting you; that way, it knows that you’re listening and paying attention to your body. Once you’ve done that, start noticing when your brain is shutting down–maybe when your horse is threatening to buck–and stop for a few moments. Take some time to breathe and let your fight or flight response slow down, so that you can think clearly again. You can’t “push past” Fight or Flight, because it literally shuts off the rational-cognitive part of your brain; you need to slow it down until you can think rationally. Then, make a plan for what you are going to do next–put him on a small circle and ride him forward past the buck, for example. Talk it through out loud while you’re doing it, if you can; this helps you to breathe and to stay in your rational brain. In addition, practice slowing your mind and body down when things are going along just fine: stop for a moment, take a few breaths, and make sure you’re present in the moment. Doing this when things aren’t at a danger point can help make it more of a habit, so it’s easier to do it when things are escalating.

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