Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fear management, part one

Calabar and Jess, Slide Mountain trip, July 2011

I've written a lot about overcoming fear in the last couple of years and how it still seems to be a constant battle for me. When I get on and just go, I usually do better than when I think too much about it or over-prepare. I know it affects my riding, and not just the enjoyment aspect, but the physical side, too. I curl into myself, which puts me in odd positions that make the centered balance I need even harder to achieve. This causes cascading effects I'll talk about in a minute.

Peter has watched me ride for the last five years and has worked with me a lot on my position, particularly recently, and on relaxing in the saddle and moving with the horse. He also knows that's the hardest thing for me, so he gave me an article to read from October issue of Horse&Rider all about working through fears. The article had some good suggestions in the form of six proactive exercises. I'm going tackle them one at a time through my blog, which hopefully means I'll blog a little more as well.

The very first exercise asks "Why do I ride?" I'm supposed to write down, as fast as I can without censoring, the reasons I want to ride, so here goes--flow of consciousness.
Companionship, the bond between Calabar and me, strengthening it, feeling the connection, it's fun, new adventures, trails, being out in nature, challenging myself, the warm dusty smell of horse, the lightbulb when we finally click together on something, the rolling motion of the ride itself, the clean smell out on the trails, pine needles, oak leaves, dirt, warm sun on my skin, something solid and real and in the moment, something Steve and I can do together, it nourishes my soul, learning, reacting, living for now, simple and uncomplicated.
So those are all really good reasons to ride--and I'm sure there are more--and all things that get chased out of my head when I get afraid. The fear also affects my position, which in turn contributes to the increase of fear.

What do I mean? Well, when I ride, I know my body is tense and often curled in forward. Peter and Steve have both pointed this out both in the arena and even on the trail. In addition to not giving me the balance point I need, I think it reinforces the fear--mentally, but also physically. It is a fearful, protective position, but it also closes in my chest which makes it harder to breathe deeply. Breathing deeply helps with relaxation and squaring my shoulders makes me feel braver.

I experimented with this bareback the other day and I do feel a difference, as does Bar. When I'm in what I now refer to as the "brave" position, I am less in his way and he can respond to what I'm asking much easier. That makes us both feel more confident, and the downward spiral reverses. The mental mimics the physical in both directions, in both horse and rider.

So maybe if I just pretend to be a little braver and put my body in the same mindset, a little more fear will fall away and a little more riding will fall into place.

Next post will feature Exercise 2: What are your goals?


Anonymous said...

I find concentrating on breathing properly, and in time to the horse's footfalls, does a lot to release tension and induce proper posture.

I've got to go off and answer the Why Do I Ride? question . . .

Grey Horse Matters said...

I think we all get tense at times and curl up for protectiveness. What I do to counteract this is raise my shoulders and roll them back so I'm sitting up straight and take a few deep breathes. It's really important to breath. I also make sure I'm looking ahead and not down at the ears or ground. If this fails then just find a song you like and sing or hum. It will calm you down...really.

Dave (aka Buckskins Rule) said...

I think the desire to conquer fear is key to doing so.

Confession: I have a paralyzing fear of heights. My overwhelming desire to ride in the high country has forced me to face this fear head on. I won't say I've defeated it, but I rode through a steep canyon last month that once would have rendered me incapable of functioning. I trusted my horse and enjoyed the view without a care in the world, so I think I am making strides.

Why do I ride? Because I can't imagine not doing so.