book review · giveaways · Uncategorized

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.

book review · stupid human tricks · Uncategorized

Brain Training for Riders: Interview with Andrea Monsarrat Waldo

Previously, I reviewed Andrea’s terrific book, Brain Training for Riders: Unlock Your Riding Potential with StressLess Techniques for Conquering Fear, Improving Performance, and Finding Focused Calm. In Part II of this three-part series, I asked Andrea a number of interview questions about her book and about some things I was curious about that she didn’t address in the book. (In Part III, coming on Friday, Andrea will answer questions from blog readers as long as they’re posted as comments or emailed to me by midnight on Monday, February 12.)

Remember: you can enter to win a copy of the original book! Just check out the original review post for the entry instructions.

Interview with Andrea Monsarrat Waldo

Q: A lot of the situations and emotions you describe are ephemeral or inside one person’s head. How did you find the process of getting all those thoughts out into written form? Was it difficult, or did it just flow?

Many of those things came from inside my own head, so those were easy!! Others were from my students, and I’m used to getting people to describe their emotions in detail, so it flowed pretty naturally for me–it’s the language I use all the time.

Q: You write very honestly and thoughtfully about your own struggles with Lizard Brain and getting over a bad fall. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what drives people to keep doing risky things even when they get nervous about them. Really, all equestrian disciplines have inherent risk, but you’re an eventer – a sport that arguably has higher risk than most. Do you have any thoughts on what keeps driving us to do these things even when our brains are screaming no?

I heard someone say once, “Anxiety is excitement without breath.” Those two emotions are two sides of the same coin. Human beings seem to have an inherent need to challenge ourselves; the quest for growth and learning appears to be built right into our DNA. Some people have this drive more than others, and for those of us like this, the reward of the thrill overrides the power of the fear.

Q: You’ve taught a lot of clinics, both on riding and on your StressLess program. What would you say the most common fear that people have is?

There are two biggies: death and embarrassment/rejection. Often these are divided by age: people under 30 tend to fear looking foolish, while people over 30 more often fear serious injury. When you’re younger, you haven’t lost the invincible feelings of adolescence, or the self-consciousness of that phase, so you are less concerned about the physical risk. As we get older, we have more experience with the consequences of danger, both our own and other people’s; we also have more responsibility, so we worry about things like how to pay the mortgage if we are injured badly enough to be out of work. Having children is a significant game-changer too: many women tell me that they became much more cautious once they had kids of their own. Fear of embarrassment or failure is still there as we age, but it’s usually less powerful.

Q: A lot of the challenges you describe are problems of action: you can act to change them, or at differently, or apply work to get through them. What advice would you give for riders facing problems of inaction? In other words, what the brain gets up to when the best solution is to do absolutely nothing. I know I’m not the only one who has turned around halfway home from the barn to go and make absolutely sure I latched the grain room door securely, or turned off the lights, or gotten the blanket changes right, or other, similar weaselly thoughts. How do you recommend easing the brain through those kinds of anxiety moments?
 At that point, it’s practicing anxiety tolerance, or getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. You have to do nothing, then discover that everything turned out ok, before your brain will allow you to do nothing without the intense anxiety. This SUCKS, btw!! To make it a tiny bit easier, it helps to give your brain some crutches, or something else to focus on. You could write yourself a note when you close the grain bin: “Hey, I closed the grain bin today, Jan. 28th. You don’t have to check again.” While you’re riding it out, give yourself something else to focus on–practice leg-yielding while you’re hacking, keep your horse on the bit, talk to yourself about your goals for the year–anything to keep yourself occupied while you wait to see that everything turns out okay. Getting past any anxiety, though, is all about learning to sit with the discomfort and realize “I’m anxious, it feels awful, and I’m still okay. I hate this feeling, and I’m still okay–it’s just a feeling, and it will pass.” Our Lizard Brain needs to recognize that every anxious thought isn’t true, and that anxiety isn’t fatal. It doesn’t know this on its own; we have to train it to listen to our Rational Brain.
Q: I personally tend not to worry about my own skin. I guess I’m lucky in that. I figure if something bad happens to me I made my choices, and I have pretty high pain and embarrassment tolerances. But I do worry about causing harm to my horse. If he bolts outside, the panic in my brain is not “what if I fall off and die?” it’s “what if he keeps running and never comes home and gets trapped in the woods and colics and dies or gets hit by a car or…?” Yells of “loose horse” at a show scare me almost more than the ambulance does. Any thoughts on overcoming that niche fear?
I think this must be what parents deal with on a regular basis when they send their kids out the door every day. The fear of loss is the flip side of love. To a certain extent, we have to do the same thing we do with the danger of riding: accept that there is inherent risk in dealing with flight animals, and that sometimes they make bad/downright stupid decisions, and that we can’t control every single thing that happens. In the moment, though, what we need is action: never mind what *could* happen, the question is, what do you need to *do* right now to prevent those things from happening? He’s loose-grab a halter and grain. Also, remember what you know: “What if he never comes home?” Remember that horses are herd animals, if he gets lost, he’ll do his best to find buddies–so put the word out that he’s lost. And remember that you’re not alone–horse people come together in crises. We look for lost horses, we hook up a trailer as fast as we can to get someone’s horse to the surgery clinic when they’re colicking. We can’t 100% rid ourselves of the anxiety, but we wouldn’t want to–it’s the thing that reminds us to buckle throat latches on halters, to do night check when we don’t feel like it, to notice when a step sounds a little bit off when they’re walking next to us.
Q: Horse people are not always the easiest to get along with. There’s a reason we chose a sport in which we relate to one-ton animals instead of other humans. Are there any StressLess techniques you’ve found useful in applying to barn drama?
Haha I think you just handed me my next book subject! First, we have to be brutally honest with ourselves: what role do we play? No one thinks that they create drama! Notice whether you join in group bitching sessions, or get worked up when that person does the annoying thing she always does (my biggest habit–why am I surprised when people are who they have always been?), or roll our eyes behind someone’s back. Second, I live by the saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” If it’s not my problem, I try to find something better to do.  If it *is* my circus–it’s happening in my barn–that doesn’t mean they’re my monkeys–it’s not necessarily my job to solve it or get involved. If they are, in fact, my monkeys–two of my students are sniping at each other, or I’m pissed off at one of my business partners for something–then it’s time for me to deal with it, and deal with it directly, not by complaining to someone else to let off steam and then not do anything to change the situation. Like I said, I could write a whole second book on this one!
Q: Your section on how to transition people on from a horse that’s not a good fit for them was fantastic. I’m starting to think about retiring my partner of over a decade. I was in the same position as the young rider you described – I chose him over a specific discipline or specific goals. I hope my next horse will be a bit more competitive and ready to event, though. Any advice on transitioning from a longtime, beloved-but-not-easy partner to a new horse?
It’s a bit like dating someone new after you got out of a difficult but meaningful relationship. You have to let yourself grieve for the old one, no matter how right the decision to move on is. Next, be sure you’re not getting the old guy in a different package–we all have a type we gravitate towards! Bring along a friend who is willing to say, “Stop picking the bad boys in leather jackets!”  I can’t emphasize this one enough, because we’re comfortable with what’s familiar, and we gravitate toward it. I’ve always had challenging horses; when I was shopping for Chauncy, I tried a horse down at Sue Berrill’s. She told me to stop picking at him and just soften the rein on the way to the jump. I did, and he sailed over it. I looked at her and said, “I could be a monkey up here and he’d jump.” She just said, “Yup.” I said, “But it doesn’t count unless you suffer for it!” She just about fell off the jump she was sitting on, she was laughing so hard!
Once you find a new horse, then you have to be aware of the baggage you’re bringing to the new relationship. When you get into familiar scenarios with the new guy–you’re working on going through water, and your last horse was allergic to getting wet–it’s really important to remind yourself to ride the horse you have now, not the one you used to have. And you have to give yourself the same patience that you give your new horse: it takes time to get used to a new horse, even when the last one was easy, and getting over “baggage” always takes longer. You’re going to make mistakes, but you’d be making mistakes anyway, right? A good trainer or any good set of eyes on the ground is really helpful at this point. After I sold my ditch-phobic Dutch mare, my business partner Mary came to the start box with me at every event and said, “Remember, ride Sizzle out there–don’t ride Lizzy.” The first time I jumped a ditch on Sizzle, I separated the poor girl’s ribs with my spurs. She was like, “WHAT?!? I’m going already! What’s your problem?” Fortunately she jumped it, instead of bucking me off, which was what I really deserved!
Thanks SO much to Andrea for taking the time to answer these questions – I think you can all see through her interview answers that she’s just as terrific as she comes across in her book!
Now: make sure to enter the giveaway to get your own copy, and comment here (or email me, beljoeor[at]gmail[dot]com) with your questions for Andrea by midnight on Monday, February 12 and look for Part III with Andrea’s answers on Friday!

 

horse blog yard sale · Uncategorized

Horse Blogger Yard Sale is a GO!

horsebloggeryardsale

People expressed enough interest via the poll in my post on Wednesday to make this a go, so we’re on!

Here’s how it will work:

On Sunday, February 25, I will post a kickoff post. That post will include the blog hop widget. When you post your list of things for sale, make sure you go to that first post and link through. Then, copy the code to your post so that everyone can get to you.

Basic rules of civility and adulthood apply. Please represent the things you are selling accurately, communicate politely, and follow through on your commitments. No one’s policing anything, but let’s just all be cool, ok?

The online yard sale will run for a week, through March 4.

book review · stupid human tricks · Uncategorized

Book Review: Brain Training for Riders by Andrea Monsarrat Waldo

51892rNSrWL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Brain Training for Riders: Unlock Your Riding Potential with StressLess Techniqus for Conquering Fear, Improving Performance, and Finding Focused Calm by Andrea Monsarrat Waldo
$12.88 on Amazon

I think it’s nearly impossible to be an equestrian and never to have experienced a moment of fear, or worry, or self-doubt. In fact, I might argue that if you sail through all horse-related endeavors with perfect confidence and ease, you’re doing something wrong.

Andrea Waldo is an eventer and trainer based out of Charlotte, Vermont. (Full disclaimer: I’ve known her for years and did an eventing clinic with her many years ago. She’s just as terrific in real life as she comes across on the page!) She was also a practicing psychotherapist for nearly two decades, and holds an MA in Counseling. So she is uniquely positioned to write a book about the brain demons involved in horse sports.

Andrea has also graciously agreed to be part of this three-part review of her book. In this part, today, I’ll summarize and review the book itself. In part 2 (next Monday), I’ll do an interview with her, and then in part 3 (next Friday), she’ll answer your questions.

I’m also hosting a giveaway for a copy of the book. SO. At the end of this post, ask any questions you might have for Andrea – and be sure to enter the giveaway widget when you do so!

The book has five major sections, and I’ll go through each.

Introduction

Sometimes, book introductions aren’t terribly useful, but this introduction actually sets the tone of the whole book. Andrea is really aiming for a full system in this book, and so she starts by laying out a few of her baseline assumptions and theories, as well as what she’s trying to do as a progression through the rest of the book. She also confesses to her own stress and anxiety issues to show that no one is immune.

The most useful takeaway for me from the introduction was her firm argument that relaxation is not the “ideal performance state for riding.” Such a simple and overlooked idea! Trainers so often talk about being “relaxed” like your mental and physical states should be the same whether you’re sipping fruity drinks on a beach or galloping toward a cross country fence. Andrea blows that myth up right away, and the book is immediately better for it.

Equestrian GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Brain Training

The progression for the book is to start by laying out some concepts and exercises to get you in the habit of using simple techniques, then to apply those techniques to everyday riding situations, then really difficult riding situations, then show a variation on them that can be useful to trainers, rather than just riders.

In this first chapter of the book, she introduces the idea of the Lizard Brain: that primordial part of our brains that is responsible for self-preservation and stress responses. She points out that the Lizard Brain does not distinguish between an actual tiger and an imagined tiger: it floods the system in response to both. In understanding that, we can start to take a step back and simply acknowledge the feelings flooding through us without getting towed under by them.

Jumping GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

She writes a lot about negative self-talk and how to work through it, the differences between bragging and assertion of competence, and advises us to “make a habit of noticing when things go well.” The best thing about her discussion of these things is that she actually lays out a compassionate, straightforward, well-written and well-argued way to go about it. She’s not talking down to her reader: she’s taking the reader’s hand and actually coaching them.

The entire book is chock full of exercises that serve as building blocks for working things through – hence the “training” part of the book’s promise. There are a lot of them, and even if you don’t have the time to physically write out your answers, I found just closing my eyes and thinking them through to be enormously helpful. They complement and add to each other as you go through.

I found one directive from this chapter particularly useful: “If you need to air your anxiety to relieve some stress, make sure you also talk about what you are going to do to address it.”

Horse Trials GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Focus, Confidence, and StressLess Performance

Once you’ve internalized the training lessons of the first section, Andrea starts to put them into practice in achieving good mental states while riding and competing.

There are a lot of different things you can do to help; the first is to establish a good sense of focus. If you’re totally in the moment, you’re responsive and not worried. I love that she pointed out that focus is not some magical personality trait – it’s a learned, repeatable behavior. I also loved that she suggested an exercise for practicing how to transition your body and mind from tense to calm.

Horse Trials GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Practice is also highlighted: what quality practice looks like, how to manage the mistakes you’re going to make, and how to start to ramp up the outside stressors. She writes about how to give yourself intentional exposure to mental and emotional risks, and shares the story of a student who had a bad fall and then wrote out a multi-step program for how to move herself past it.

Plans are really important – and setting good goals is a cornerstone of making a good plan. If you don’t know what a successful show season or ride looks like, then you’re always going to feel like you’ve come up short. It’s important to be clear and honest with yourself – Andrea writes that “luck favors the prepared.”

One of my double-underlined notes from this chapter was a summation phrase that really hit me: “you don’t have to feel okay to be okay.” Your Lizard Brain lies, and you need to recognize and work with that.

Horse S Cross Country Jumping GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Battling the Big Demons

We’ve all had at least one really Big One – a fall, a failure, an injury, something that has taken over our brain to an outsized degree. This section moves all the techniques of the previous chapters past the everyday worries and into tackling problems that take up residence in your brain and just. won’t. let. go.

One of the best things about this chapter, for me, was how Andrea balanced things you can do yourself with when to know you need more help – from a trainer, from other people in your life, from a therapist. Books can’t do everything!

Horse Trials GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

There are some things you can do on your own, though. First, it’s important to think about psychological injuries in the same way we would a physical one. She points out that we would never put our horses back in work right after a bad injury, and we shouldn’t tough out a brain injury either. Acknowledging the emotions that come up is important, and letting yourself feel it all is the way through.

I’m sure we’ve all had people in our lives ask us why we keep doing these crazy things, and Andrea has a bit about how to work with your family and friends who ask all the frustrating questions you can imagine. I admit, I’ve fallen into the trap of getting snippy and angry right off the bat with people who ask me those things, because I have people in my life who are assholes about it, but Andrea’s methods here are much better!

Horse Trials GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

StressLess Techniques for Trainers

Technically this section is for trainers, but trust me, it’s useful for riders too. Basically, Andrea works through different types of challenges that students might present, and how to teach them. I particularly liked her statement that “every emotional, relational, and social issue in a rider’s life eventually shows up in the riding arena.” I thought “how true!” and then “yikes, my poor trainers.”

Now that you’ve read the summary of the book, I’m sure you want a copy of your own! Check out the Rafflecopter giveaway below; I’ll be drawing the winner on Friday, February 16.

And if you have any questions you’d like to ask of Andrea, comment away or email me: beljoeor[at]gmail[dot]com. She’ll answer questions in Part III of this series, on February 16. You can comment with questions up to midnight on Monday, February 12.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

lesson notes · Uncategorized

Lesson Notes: Hands Up, Leg On, Good Pony

If anyone was wondering if I still rode my own horse, the answer is yes! Mostly. Sort of. Winter sucks.

Anyway, in keeping with my 2018 goals, I had a lesson on Monday afternoon. I was nervous about it beforehand, because I did not have the best prep. I haven’t been able to ride consistently because the weather and the day job are conspiring against me. Then I was away for a week. Then he came up juuuuuust a touch off in his RF – you know, THAT FOOT.  Overall, I did pretty well in riding it out, texting the farrier a bit, going through the logic checklist of things it might be, waiting and re-checking, and so on. It paid off because on Sunday he was pretty much better and then for the lesson on Monday he was great.

In addition to being the world’s greatest barn manager, our BM does a great lesson. She gets that I do what I can, when I can, and strikes a nice balance between pushing and understanding. The barn owner is herself a Grand Prix rider and trainer and she’s amazing, but I just don’t have the funds or the time to ride with her regularly; I use her for aspiration lessons and the BM for the grind through the winter.

I’m just going to list a few takeaways, because overall it was a really terrific lesson.

  • Still need to keep my hands up. Way up. And I need to think harder about the mechanisms I use to ask for bend: up and toward my outside hip, not blocking him down too low. Then to release, release forward instead of out.
  • I need to work on the cycle of ask-release right off the bat in the walk, testing out the horse I have that day and getting him reaching down and supple through his back right off the bat.
  • His canter transitions have been stuttering in part because of my hands, as above. I need to stay up and not give in to the temptation when going up, or he’s blocked, and then I need to not drop my hands because that’s cuing him to break.
  • In the canter, keeping my shoulders open and back and loose lets me follow much more and ride through my seat more effectively.
  • Overall, she’s like to see me working much more through my seat. Both because it’s good dressage and also because it will help hold him together through his lazier moments.
  • We had one awesome/hilarious bit in the canter when his hind end was totally underneath him and pushing up, but he was also soft in the mouth and through the poll, and it was like it fried his brain because everything in between those two points was total flaily tossed salad. I just stayed in the middle of it and laughed really hard and praised him. It was a fun moment to feel, though, because I could see through it to what a better canter would be and it’s always cool, even after riding the same horse for over a decade, to feel when something totally new is taking shape.

Onward and upward! Hopefully I’ll get more consistent riding time in February, and then another lesson in March.

Uncategorized

Horse Blogger Online Yard Sale?

Yard-sale.jpg

I have what may be a great or a terrible idea.

Would anyone be interested in joining an online yard sale blog hop?

The idea is that we choose a week and during that week everyone with horse stuff they want to sell publishes a post with all of that stuff in it. We link everyone’s posts via the blog hop widget.

If anyone out there makes cool stuff and sells via Etsy or anywhere else, you can be included if you do a sale and write a blog post about it.

I’m thinking February 25 – March 4, maybe. The beginnings of spring.

If you think you’d participate, or just browse, can you answer the poll below? If you can’t see it because you’re on an RSS feeder, click through to the post to answer.