Let’s Talk About Your Fear

There’s a popular quote by George Addair the internet loves–

George Addair quote

While Addair’s sentiments are admirable, he leaves his audience with a sense that fear is a line to step over, a wall to punch through or a glass ceiling to shatter. Fear is something to combat. Once you’ve won, you are in paradise.

Yet, for most of us, fear is a conduit. It is not a line or a wall or a ceiling. It is a tunnel that transports and transforms us into being who we are meant to be. It is a tardis that takes us to a place beyond our imaginations.

Only by stepping into the fear, only by leaning in to the discomfort, we can be taken to the other side. It is not something to fight, but shows us the way through to greater freedom/peace/harmony/trust.

Fear is not something to be combated, stuffed down, or disregarded. It asks to be acknowledged, honored, respected– but at the end of the day, it does not get to be in the driver’s seat of your aspirations and dreams.

Over a decade ago, I had a riding accident that put me in the ICU. As a result, I became a timid rider. To this day, I still consider myself a timid rider. This surprises a lot of people who watch me ride, because it is not readily apparent. However, I have made it a practice every.single.time I get on a horse, regardless of how many times I have ridden that particular horse or how many other horses I rode that day, to acknowledge and honor my fear. Then, I choose to move through it and let joy, creativity and my dreams drive the car.

It works every time.

 

 

 

 

The Stories We Tell

The stories we tell ourselves are powerful.

They have the power to keep us in one spot, hitting the same wall in a perpetual Groundhog’s Day or the power to liberate us to achieve, succeed, conquer.

They can be as innocent as “I don’t know how to do that” or as overt as “If I do that, then great harm will come to me or my horse.”

The stories we tell ourselves are sneaky: they feel true and there may be a component of truth to them, but they are not necessarily true. That’s why they have so much power over us.

Driving out to the barn this morning, I realized I had a mental block around riding without stirrups in the outdoor arena. I take regular lunge lessons in the enclosed indoor arena so I’m fine riding without stirrups there. But there was something about the openness about the outdoor arena that made me afraid. The story I caught telling myself was, “If I ride without stirrups in the outdoor arena, my horse will buck and I will fall off and get injured.”

This is the voice of fear keeping me small.

It’s a story. And it’s irrational.

My horse has never ever, ever bucked. Not riderless on the lunge line. Not under saddle. And as far as anyone at the barn can remember, not even free in the pasture. There is some question if he actually knows how to buck because he keeps his legs on the ground so much. The likelihood of him suddenly figuring out how to buck and displaying uncharacteristic behavior simply because I dropped my stirrups is low. Very low.

Moreover, my horse is the exact same in the outdoor arena as he is the indoor. No spooking, no bolting, no bucking, no gawking, no nada. Since he doesn’t display different behavior from one arena to the next with stirrups, it is highly unlikely and irrational that he would start displaying wildly different behavior between the two arenas instantaneously simply because I dropped my stirrups.

Moving into my fear, I dropped my stirrups during my ride. Guess what? Nothing happened.

My horse didn’t start displaying wildly different behavior in the outdoor arena than in the indoor one.

He didn’t suddenly learn how to buck.

Instead, he shortened his stride a bit so I could more easily follow him with my seat– something he does on the lunge in the indoor arena.

What I gained from this ride was deeper trust in him and in my own seat. I found another level of depth to my seat and ease in my position.

Moreover, when I stopped being afraid and saw my fear for what it was– a story– I had more fun riding.

What stories are you telling yourself that keep you playing small?

Lamp Lights

Plateauing is never fun.

For the first day it may be (“Hey look, I’m the same as I was yesterday. Hooray!!”), but another ride or two and the “Crud. I’m stuck.” feeling sets in.

In reality, we’ve probably plateaued every 3 weeks and we’re in a holding pattern until the hindquarters are strong enough to continue increasing demands again. But it feels different.

Everything is starting to feel murky. I start second-guessing myself on how to handle situations to keep us marching on towards Grand Prix.

Here’s the thing: it is all a feeling.

While I feel like I am closing in on the edge of my experience base, in actuality I have been in this phase before: I’ve ridden schoolmasters at a higher level than where I am now; I’ve trained other horses through this phase, including my most recent horse.

Feeling like I on the edge of my experience base here is a story (an unhelpful one) that I am telling myself to justify my doubt and second-guessing. It keeps me playing small instead of boldly reaching towards the FEI levels.

When I set aside my self-doubt and fears for a moment and ask myself what exercises did I use on the previous horses and what feelings did I look for when they were in this stage, the way forward is clear: transitions, transitions, transitions, circle work and half-passes.

The answer is always inside of me, even when I doubt myself.

At some point in the future, I will be in new territory again. But not here, not now. When I DO enter that new territory, I will have the Masters and a host of mentors to show me the way.

 

These things are lamp lights for me. They show me the path forward, even when I am uncertain.

What lamp lights do you have that exist to show you the way forward?

Are you tyrannized by time?

There’s a scarcity mindset buried so deep in the consciousness of sport dressage, that many seem hardly bothered by it’s presence anymore.

Just like the White Rabbit in Alice and Wonderland, frantically running around with pocket watch in hand, there is a similar sense of urgency in the consciousness of riders, trainers, and owners everywhere.

The Olympics are coming! WEG! Pan-Am Games! Championships!

Unfortunately, to the determent of dressage—particularly the horses—this sense of not having enough time manifests itself in a variety of ways:

  • Pushing for more than the horse is physically capable of sustaining over a long period of time
  • Relaxing standards of acceptable training, so what once was considered unacceptable is now deemed acceptable, even to the point of fully embodying an ideal
  • Shifts focus from quality of partnership to what can be done
  • Can create a sense of stress, anxiety and “never enough” that permeates other areas of dressage, outside of the arena

For many years, I lived with a deep sense of not having enough time because I was always chasing competitive goals (NAJYRC, Brentina Cup, championships). It robbed me of a lot of the joy I had when I started riding dressage, because I was constantly concerned about whether I wasn’t good enough to realize my competitive goals and/or was falling behind to achieve them. This left me feeling stressed, anxious, doubting myself, and quite frankly, unhappy. I experienced major health problems from the stress and spent thousands of dollars on unnecessary things that I thought would help keep me on target to achieve my goals.

As you might have guessed—I didn’t achieve them.

In turning my health around, learned a few things about throwing off the tyranny of the White Rabbit and his ever-ticking pocket watch. Here’s what I learned.

  • It all comes down to priorities. I’m going to be blunt here—I see more professionals care about achievement than the horse’s welfare. I get it: no ribbons or accomplishments, no getting students to meet ambitious goals = no income. I’m pointing the figure at myself: I am a former professional and know firsthand the difficult balance between client’s horse/goals and income. It takes someone of exceptional character to keep the well-being of the horse above ambition and any financial concerns. Unfortunately, it also filters down to the JR/YRs who grow up to be professionals and serious adult amateurs.
  • The importance of goal/situation alignment. In a lot of the situations contributing to my experience of “never enough time,” I was not well set up to achieve the goals I wanted to achieve. I needed to have many more conversations than I did with my trainer, parents and other stakeholders about changing present situations to be better positioned to achieve my goals.
  • Scarcity of time meant that I was a slave to something. Rather than having my goals serve me by facilitating who I wanted to become, I ended up serving my goals.

If you feel tyrannized by a sense of not having enough time, here are 3 actions you can take:

Check in with yourself on your priorities. Goals and priorities tend to shift as time goes along. What you thought was most important may not be so important any more. That’s OK! Accept these changes and recalibrate.

Find a schoolmaster. Inexperienced rider + inexperienced horse + looming deadline is a recipe for White Rabbit tyranny. To free yourself of the White Rabbit, one of the three ingredients needs to change. If you goal is most important, find a schoolmaster so you can take the time to build your skills, experience and confidence at the level you want to ride or show at in a way that is fair to the horse. If one particular horse is more important than the show, than remove the deadline. If you are both there by then, Great!  you hit the jackpot.

Change your relationship to time. Gay Hendricks shares in his book, The Big Leap, a simple belief you can adopt to help you switch from having finite time to infinite time. That belief? “I am the source of time and I can make as much of it as I need.” To facilitate switching paradigms, Hendricks invites people to ask themselves “Where in my life am I not taking full ownership?”  If you think that time is outside of you and you must fit into it, then you are victimizing yourself (and your poor horse!) rather than owning the time that you DO have.

Bottom line: if you find yourself experiencing the tyranny of “not enough time”—you’ve lost the heart of what dressage is all about.

The Monsters Under the Bed

What is the thing you fear the most in your riding?

Is it that you are truly an awful rider? That you would never achieve your goals? That you would fall off and get hurt? That your horse would sustain a career-ending injury or life-threatening illness? That you would lose your income and not be able to pay for your horse or keep riding?

All of these are real and legitimate fears. The question is– what to do with them?

Not acknowledging fears can wreck havoc in our lives and riding. Sweeping them under the rug or pretending they are not there can cause us to act in ways that we might not otherwise act if we were truly ourselves. Unaddressed fears can lead us to become codependent on others, anxious, depressed, and even make career, personal and financial decisions we might not otherwise make if were were thinking with a clear head.

The thing about these fears, is that by giving into them, we choose to let them limit us. On some level, we believe they protect us and keep us safe from something. But is what they are protecting us from truly worth the trade off?

There was a several year period while I was in my 20s where I struggled to move my life forward. I was afraid to set goals, as I had not achieved many of the riding goals I had previously set and was bitterly disappointed. When I finally allowed myself to look at the fear and what would happen to me if it DID happen, I began to see that I would be OK even if my fears were realized. With this newfound assurance, I was able to set new goals and move my life forward.

What would realistically happen to you if those fears WERE realized? Is that potential outcome worth holding onto the fear for?

 

 

About Your Fear of Failing

Let’s get this one thing straight: the fear of failing is really about being afraid you will do the wrong thing.

The greatest cause of ineffective riding is the fear of doing the wrong thing.

Maybe things are going OK and you want to push for more brilliance and higher scores, but you are afraid of ruining what you have or if the horse is coming undone and you freeze not knowing how to handle the situation constructively. There are dozens of other examples I could give, but the effect is the same: we sell ourselves short because we are afraid of doing the wrong thing. Maybe we will apply our aids too strongly or not strongly enough, or they will be ill-timed. Maybe we will pick the wrong exercise for the situation.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

The fear of doing the wrong thing has stalked me for much of my riding life.

When I first started to learn to ride dressage, I was careful only to practice whatever I did in my lessons when I rode outside of them, least I should make a mistake and take my horse’s training backwards. He was a bit tricky, and in all honesty, probably too much horse for me at the time.  I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to ask for a half-pass, let alone a flying change or half-steps, so whatever we had done in our lessons was the extent of my know-how. But still, I practiced diligently, paralyzed that I would cue the wrong thing and set his training back.

It took years for me to step out and do something that felt the slightest bit risky when I rode.

When I finally did, it became the start of me owning my knowledge and skills. It took my riding to a different level.

If this resonates with you, do the following next time you are aware of your fear:

  • Own your paralysis — you can’t overcome your fear if you pretend it doesn’t exist!
  • Set small goals for each ride using positive language– for example, an accurate trot half-pass, and focus on the descriptor (“accurate”) when you ride
  • Give yourself permission to make errors

Trust that there is no mistake you make that you can’t recover from. Trust that you have the knowledge and skills needed to achieve your goals, and where skills are lacking, your knowledge will suffice. Trust that in the times where you find yourself in over your head, you have the people in your life to show you the way forward.

With your heart full of trust, step boldly into becoming the rider that you dream of being.

Cheers,

Meredith

On Facing Limitations

Limitations are an unfortunate fact of life. Whether they are physical, mental or emotional, we all have them to some degree. The horses have them, too.

No where in life am I as aware of my limitations as when I am riding. I start tuning in and they all start to come out of the woodwork. I no longer ride horses that have been known to buck or rear– as I’ve grown older, those those behaviors now make me afraid. I don’t have the same muscle control and stability on the right side of my body as I do my left, affecting how finely aids can be applied. Most recently, I’ve had to face a different sort of limitation, that of finite energy. Adrenal fatigue has meant re-evaluating my life and daily activities and chopping out 2/3 of what I would normally be doing. It’s like time management, only with energy.

Limits, however, serve a purpose beyond reminding us that we are mere mortals. Whether it is the horse’s physical limit of strength for collection or an emotional limit affecting trainability, it’s our job as riders to work within the limits, but to keep pushing the limits out. It takes skill and dedication to push the limits out, but they also force us riders to cultivate a great deal of patience– with ourselves as well as with the horses.

Acknowledging limits, whether they are ours or the horses’, physical or mental, is an important step to developing any horse and becoming better riders. We cannot grow unless we know the very edge at which we stand.

From there, we can strategize and try different approaches to move the limit-line back. I once had a young student who was terrified of falling off. Her fear prevented her from learning to canter. But by recognizing and acknowledging her limit, I worked with her to move her fear-line back by teaching her how to fall, should she find herself in that situation. She first learned to duck and roll while standing on the ground, then on a patient horse at the halt, then the walk, and finally the trot. At last, her confidence in herself (and the horse she was on) had grown to the point where she wanted to try cantering. It has been over 5 years since our last lesson, and I still occasionally see pictures of her riding in my Facebook news feed.

The key to pushing the limits back is that it takes time and an intentional strategy.

With some time, and much more patience, I will return to my normal daily activity. I add in more activity to my daily routine as I feel better, backing off when I experience fatigue. As with my young student’s fears, to crash through a limitation line and pretend the limit does not exist would be to ultimately experience a set back, whether it would be diminished self-confidence for my student or depleted energy reserves for me.

Are you the type to push through a limit-line and pretend it doesn’t exist (or at least not there) or do you acknowledge and respect the line, and methodically work to push the limit back?

Cheers,

Meredith