Many a horsewoman experiences the frustration caused by a never ending, and never satisfied, expectation of perfection. It is common for performance horse riders to have high standards and expect nothing less than perfection from themselves and their horses.
In theory, that sounds like a good thing. Striving for perfection can help performance by being dedicated, by having a commitment to practice, by being focused and paying attention to the little details.
More commonly, however, perfectionism is perilous to performance. When a rider has placed so much pressure on themselves to perform perfectly, they become outcome focused. This leads to anxiety, and anxiety leads to not performing their best. When a perfectionist does not perform well, they tend to become extremely self-critical, leading to becoming overwhelmed and discouraged. This can lead to the rider wanting to quit, and not even try since they feel that they will not be able to perform at the perfect level they expect of themselves.
You don’t have to do much research about horsemanship to hear that it takes Feel, Timing, Balance and Experience to become a Horseman. Of these words, Balance and Experience are pretty easy concepts to understand. Timing is a little more complicated, but most riders can be taught the idea of the timing of their cues.
Feel, however, is much harder to define, and hard to teach. Feel is a vague word that is often used by trainers, clinicians, and instructors. Most of them agree that to become a True Horseman, you must develop feel. It is a word surrounded by confusion, with the connotation of having an almost magical quality, leaving the reader confused and wondering if “feel” is some magical talent that only horse whisperers possess.
In this blog, I will examine different definitions of Feel. Some of these definitions come from Natural Horsemanship trainers/clinicians, and some from top Performance Horse trainers. I will look at the connection between Feel and Timing, take a quick look at Balance, and also at the role that Experience plays into developing Feel, Timing, and Balance.
Hopefully this will help clear the confusion around “Feel” and help you on your horsemanship journey!
I talk a lot about your "horsemanship journey" around here, because I truly believe that horsemanship is a life-long learning process and that we are never truly finished.
I also talk a lot about shifting your focus from your outcome goals to focusing on your action goals, and the things that you do every day with your horse.
Now, don't get me wrong, having big outcome goals (things like winning in the show pen) is important, as these big goals are inspiring and motivational.
However, to be truly happy and successful along our horsemanship journey, we need to be mindful and aware of our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Horses live in the moment. They are not thinking ahead of their performance next month in the show pen. They do not sit in their pasture and replay last weekends horse show events and regret all of the mistakes they made.
Sure, they have memories, and when triggered by a situation or stimuli that reminds they of a previous experience (whether negative or positive) they will respond. For example, a horse that had a bad experience in a trailer may become reluctant to trailer load. But does that horse repay the negative trailer experience while grazing in their pasture? No!
So why do we let all of this negative baggage follow us around?
Let's learn from our horses, and live in the moment. And that is where mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness, as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, means "maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment." (Learn more about his mindfulness work at http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition)
Can you see how this awareness, this mindfulness, can be helpful to performance horse riders? How good are you at being mindful when you ride your horse?
It is simpler (although not always easy!) to be aware of the surrounding environment and bodily sensations when we ride. And indeed, starting at this point is a great first step to being mindful when we ride.
I want you to think back to your last ride. We you aware of your thoughts and feelings? I mean, really aware? Did you notice when you felt frustrated with your horse? Did you notice when your thoughts maybe led to labeling your horse as uncooperative or resistant?
By being mindful, and aware, of your thoughts and feelings, you are much more likely to be able to do something about them. By being aware you can remove judgment from them, accept what is, and plan for what you can do to make your riding better. By being mindful and aware of when our thoughts and feelings are leaning more towards the negative, we can pause. We can take a deep breath, step back for a minute and analyze the situation. By focusing on what is happening in the moment with our horse and being aware of our response to it, instead of letting our emotions get away from us and focusing on the outcome, we can be a better horseman.
So how can you start to bring mindfulness to your horsemanship journey?
First, assume best intentions on the part of your horse. They don't spend the night in their stall how they will tick every pole in a trail class, or ignore your leg cues and refuse to lope on the right lead. Remember that they are living in the moment!
Second, practice being aware of the environment and bodily sensations when you ride. Use your senses-what sounds do you hear? What do you see? What do you feel? Smell? Taste? Record this in your journal!
Third, practice being aware of your thoughts and feelings. Pay attention to your inner dialogue, your self-talk. Is it helpful to your riding and being able to communicate more clearly with your horse? What are you feelings? Record this in your journal too!
Next week I'll share some more mindfulness tips and techniques. Until then, I'd love to hear
from you-what are you mindful of when you ride? Leave a comment, or share your thoughts in my free Get Gritty facebook group!
Want to learn more about how to work with me? Click here.
Until next week, Get Gritty!
I help competitive western performance horse riders "get gritty" and master the mental aspects of competition to be more successful with their horse and reach their horsemanship dreams.
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