Back from Day 1 of the clinic. Last weekend was about creating a calm connection with our horses; this weekend was about managing anxiety, stress, and fear in the rider. It was a fairly different group of people than last weekend, probably not surprisingly. We did spend a fair bit of time this morning sharing our stories and reasons for being there. Some people had had fairly serious wrecks landing them in the intensive care unit, and others were carrying more generalized anxiety from their lives to the barn. I shared my story about Fizz’s fall on the ice, my general control freak nature, and the challenges of always riding alone and how that can spiral downhill.
I’d summarize the main point of this weekend as using “mindfulness” or “mind/body awareness” as tools for defusing anxiety. The rational thinking statistician in me admittedly has a hard time with this sort of thing, and I have to admit that I’ve had some bad experiences with “mindfulness” workshops for educators in the recent past. It can feel so fake and pseudo “spiritual” to me that I get turned off. However, I have to say this really wasn’t like that. The clinician is
a therapist, but I didn’t feel like she was trying to use cheezy techniques on us. Instead, she just posed a lot of questions to us about how connected we were to our bodies, how we could recognize tension and respond to it, when we felt those proverbial butterflies in your stomach, when your jaw clenched, etc.
Connected to that, we spent a lot of time on the human energy scale to match the horse energy scale from last weekend. The concepts were very similar: yellow is more lethargic and checked out; green is calm and open to learning; red can be toying with a healthy push out of the comfort zone but move pretty quickly into OMG I’M FREAKING OUT AND THEREFORE THESE TOOLS DON’T WORK. I did ask about Fizz’s forward/sideways experience last weekend (specifically, the level of energy involved)- the explanation was that with Fizz being sort of zoned out (a 3 out of 10), Lindsey’s intention was for her demeanor staying around a 4/5 out of 10. With a very lethargic horse, you’re trying to invite them into green with you- if you ramped your energy way up, it’s almost like a startle to your senses in a way that immediately puts you on alert (thus taking away your openness to thinking/learning), whereas a more measured request to yes, wake up, but do it in a calm, relaxed way is a better choice.
Our afternoon was all mounted, and our goal was to try activities in the arena that would take us from our green into a dance with high green/low red at number 6/7 on the 10 point scale. We all had a person on the ground who was there to check in with us about how we felt in terms of energy, and what energy level we got from our horse. We were intended to push ourselves to do something or some set of things that would take us from the calm, easygoing level 4 into something a little more “up” and then figure out what strategies we could use to stay in the activity but manage our bodies back to that calm level 4. I picked maneuvering around other horses moving at varying speeds. I generally feel anxious in a crowded arena having to ride trot/canter and not knowing what other horses will do, so that’s what we did. Fizz definitely woke up when we started that, which was good, because it revealed my natural tendency to want to grab onto her and hold. Intellectually I know that doesn’t help…but my body doesn’t cooperate
I got some good coaching on more intentional breathing (exhaling, exhaling, exhaling) and doing a “body check” from the saddle- literally moving from feet to calves to knees to thighs to stomach to wrists to elbows to shoulders to neck to jaw- and consciously identifying whether or not there was tension there. Fizz was so tuned in that I simply had to start at releasing tension in my feet and getting heavier there, and she’d stop almost immediately. That was kind of wild. Shows you how much tension I’m carrying around! There was another cool exercise done, which some of the riders who had had serious accidents worked through successfully when mounting, which was called “The Five Senses”- again, focused on breathing and connecting in with your body, and asks you to identify 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste, and say each thing out loud.
In the course of our mounted time, Fizz and I got to do some neat obstacles- never had been through a tarp curtain before but she never even looked at it as we walked and trotted through it
One thing that struck me on my drive home is that the word “nervous” was never used, and I want to ask about why. I think I’d tend to define myself more as a “nervous” vs. “anxious” rider, and while I guess that doesn’t really make any difference whatsoever in terms of what my body is doing while on the horse, it struck me as interesting and I want to ask about it.
Our homework tonight is to pick a song that we want to ride to tomorrow, something that makes us feel happy and upbeat. I’m still thinking through it, but leaning towards this one.
I actually didn’t know the name of this song until I had to write it down to add to the group play list (I’ve just been listening to this album a lot lately), but when I saw it was called “Tired of Fighting,” that nearly made me cry. It just sort of hit me that I have been so in my own head for the past many months that I’ve got myself tied up in knots and am not having much fun riding. Most of it is being tired of fighting with myself, but that also manifests into these little fights with Fizz. So, I think it is a symbolically as well as musically good pick for tomorrow!
Here’s to a good day 2 and more happy rides!