Wednesday, April 22, 2015

the confidence game

A few readers have left comments over the last couple months along the lines of 'time to find a new blog title, Emma!' These are encouraging comments to read (thank you!) - tho I've been quick to dismiss, thinking 'yea well, you don't know the half of it.'

But when I fell off in early January, it became clear that something had in fact changed.

i will never get tired of this haha

My shoddy confidence typically manifests itself by over-riding the horse. But that wasn't the case during that particular ride. I was practically in cruise control heading in to that grid, even tho the circumstances all called for a stronger ride (which likely would have prevented the run out, as Isabel really is a very good girl).

I began to think of it as a turning point in my confidence game. The fall itself probably wasn't the catalyst - rather the shift had been so imperceptible that I just hadn't noticed it. 

'i go better when you don't over-ride anyway, k thx' - isabel

Once I started paying attention I knew it was true: at the beginning of a jumping course I'm not trying to steady my breathing or stop shaking or calm my thumping heart anymore - no no. I am thinking about balance and track and rhythm - ya know, like the actual task at hand?? rather than controlling my own physiological response to fear?

nope, nothin scary here

This isn't to say that the problem is fixed - bc I really believe that anxiety and fear follow no rules or logic, and can insidiously creep back in when you least expect them... and honestly it's a path filled with peaks and valleys anyway.

So I fully expect to face that fear time and time again as I continue to push my boundaries and challenge myself.... Every new and unfamiliar experience opens the door to fear again (like recently, when I jumped Peanut for the first time).

i reserve the right to be worried about that thing, too

But I'm starting to feel prepared and, dare I say, confident that I've got the tools necessary to get through it one way or another!

What about you - have you struggled with confidence? Or noticed any changes in your riding for better or worse? Do the changes stem from any specific experiences? Or is it gradual?

20 comments:

  1. I used to get SO nervous before jumping (to the point where I had to go to the bathroom for 'nervous pee' beforehand!!! Sorry for the TMI but #thestruggleisreal.) The long period of time off didn't help either, my fear had a long time to fester. However, I had a lot of time to clear my mind and focus on what I really wanted to achieve with Oscar.

    Therefore, I was completely surprised when I last took my horse to jump, to find that I was completely calm about the situation. I think having the bigger picture in my head prevented me from blowing the simple jump school out of proportion, and making myself nervous. I think having the mindset that I was out achieving something much bigger stopped me focusing TOO much on what was in front of me - and to a point doesn't nervousness come from *too much* thinking in a situation? Anyway, the shift in perception worked more for me than any amount of actual practise. I've been involving myself a lot in sports psychology, and I credit that with providing me the focus to stay positive, leaving no room for fear.

    But you are totally right, the path is littered with peaks and valleys! Hopefully this peak we're both on is pretty high and long, the nervous demons can stay right away! Maybe one day it'll be 'brave-pants eventing' hehe :)

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    1. haha yep i know all about the nervous pee lol... and taking a long time off is exactly what destroyed my confidence (rather than a bad experience), without me even realizing it was happening at the time.

      that's so cool to hear that your study of sports psychology is paying off and that it's helping you view jumping with a fresh and more positive perspective. i've enjoyed reading your few posts on the subject and would definitely love to see more! it really is all a head game, at the end of the day, and i'm so so so so so guilty of over thinking things. when i just turn the brain off and start riding all is well... but it's not always easy!

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  2. So glad you're progressing in terms of confidence. It's really hard to overcome fear and anxiety. I don't have a ton of trouble with it when it comes to horses or showing (normally I get anxious but my desire to 'get it done' overrides everything else), but I've experienced it in other parts of my life. I have a particularly nasty fear of failure in front of other people, and this causes me horrible anxiety issues when trying something new. When it comes to horses I can admit when I don't know something...but anything else? I would rather avoid it all together than admit that I don't know what I'm doing haha.

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    1. really, thank god for the 'get it down' attitude! it helps so much - as i'm sure you know. tho my anxiety likes to take control of my hands so even when my legs are kicking on like 'c'mon we gotta do this' i'm still pulling with my hands so... yea not a great recipe!

      your points about 'fear of failure' in front of others are excellent too - and i think it's all very related and gets to the root of what, exactly, we're worried about. is it bodily harm? ppl thinking we're clueless? each rider's answer might vary... but the effects on our riding (or whatever other activity) can be the same...

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  3. Love this post!! You HAVE grown so much since I started reading your blog. And you're right that fear isn't logical... sometimes I think I've totally conquered a fear of a particular thing, and then I randomly find myself getting completely freaked out about it! You DO have the tools and the confidence now to keep moving forward and tackling new challenges!

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    1. thanks! i'm finally starting to feel like the rider i used to be in regards to physical ability and confidence - but actually better now bc my education and knowledge base has expanded since college.

      it's so frustrating tho when that unwelcome fluttery heart beat comes back... esp in situations like you say - when you think something has finally been laid to rest... but we gotta just keep pushing, i guess

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  4. Confidence can be a fickle friend for me. When I get rolling, I get more confident but the nature of riding & weather means at some point I always slow back down and the self-doubt creeps back in.

    But even then, I notice that I am still more confident than before. Like yeah, a 2'6" filled out oxer might make me a little hesitant, but I'm no longer AFRAID of it. It's baby steps for us weenie adult amateurs sometimes, but I'm still really proud of us!

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    1. fickle is exactly the right word for it... and those little slow downs and small breaks are exactly what worries me too (like i actually worried that 3 wks of not riding isabel would set me back significantly... hopefully jumping peanut mitigated that, tho we'll see)

      nice points about being just hesitant now instead of 'afraid' - i think that's the distinction i was trying to get at but couldn't quite find the words. that worry and anxiety still exists - but we're figuring out how to manage it a little better every day

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  5. This is so great! I definitely think confidence in a progression and that it isn't along the lines of you have it or you don't, it just gets better or worse.
    Confidence definitely stems from trust for me. I am confident putting the first rides on Estella because I trust her. Not saying I don't expect her to be perfect all the time, but like what Nicole talked about with the Trust Bank, I know we have some solid trust funds built up if we were ever to get in a sticky situation. The same goes with my friends arab mare that I trusted. I could jump her 3 foot and not sweat it. But if someone asked me to ride their even "broke" 3 year old or jump even an experienced horse that I didn't know....eeeeeeek no way!

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    1. i agree - trust is so critical! that was a big sticking point with isabel for a long time... and even now with jumping - she's always got that tiny little chip stride lurking in there that i'm always suspicious of (even tho it's usually my fault), so i ride more defensively. a vicious cycle!

      but i also think there's a flip side to the trust point - which is trust in ourselves as riders. that's pretty important to me bc i DO want to get on new and different horses and ride them confidently too

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  6. I have never struggled with confidence in riding, but lots of nerves around courses and forgetting courses. I think a big part of always feeling confident at shows is that recently, I've been showing WAAAAY below the level at which we school at home. I was coursing Murray 2'9" at home when we entered at intro -- a whopping 2' -- for shows, so I knew that the only thing I had to manage was remembering the course.

    Anyway, despite all of this I one hundred percent practice the singing, mantras, and breathing exercises that Daniel Stewart uses to build confidence and suppress nerves in riders. I find that if I don't think TOO HARD about my riding, I ride better. Of course, I can't not think about it, because then I suck, but I have to find that sweet spot.

    Do you have a song you sing? If not you should find one! They are so good, help you find rhythm, keep you breathing, etc. I like the jeopardy song, personally, but I have a few others that I sing depending on the situation.

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    1. it's actually probably a really good idea to practice all that stuff even when you're not feeling particularly worried. god forbid anything happens that could potentially cause an upset, you already have a system in place to keep things on an even keel!

      i don't sing to my mare (pretty sure she would straight up dismiss me if i tried!) - but i do talk to her a LOT, and when the going really gets rough i actually count out loud (practically shouting haha) to steady my breathing and try to communicate rhythm to the horse when all else fails

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  7. I struggle with confidence at almost every jumping lesson, but it is getting better. Like you, I'm starting to work on the task at hand instead of trying not to die. We'll see if that stays the same this weekend though!

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    1. you can totally do it!!!! good luck this weekend :)

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  8. It's interesting that I am suddenly struggling with confidence lately because my horse isn't behaving well. So therefore I'm convinced it's something I'm doing that is wrong....which is creating doubt. It's a painful circle! You've come so far, even just in the past few months! I'm really proud of you for all these big steps lately!

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    1. yea that cycle of self doubt is definitely hard... good luck working through it! and thanks - it doesn't feel like i've come very far, bc honestly i'm only just getting back to where i used to be. but i'm happy about it all the same :)

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  9. Part of why I switched to dressage officially is because when I went to my first dressage show, I walked in the ring feeling like "I got this," instead of "I'm so scared but I'm just going to make myself do it anyway." You're right - there is no rhyme or reason to it, other than that a lot of people have jumping anxiety. Tucker was never really naughty at a show, 3' was super easy for him. I was just scared, and eventually I decided I was so scared that it wasn't fun. Now I am working on jumping again and staying well within the comfort zone (which is about 2' right now), until I feel like it's boring and I actually want to jump something bigger. So long as I still have to psych myself up a little, we're sticking to the shallow end. When I get to where you are now, where you are thinking and planning and riding instead of trying to control the panic, then maybe I'll jump something bigger again. But I'm happy to hear you've turned this corner! You should be proud of yourself!

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    1. yea... there's really a limit to how much anxiety/fear i'm willing to tolerate before it's not fun too. my comfort zone stayed around 2' for the better part of 2 years - and i never rushed to go higher. but i DID make a rule that i wasn't allowed to go lower, and that actually really helped.

      anyways - good luck finding that happy fun place jumping again, and i hope it stays fun regardless of the height!

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  10. Confidence is something I struggle with a lot, but you have to have goals and you have to push yourself. I find a lot of riders are with trainers who push them beyond what they are capable of doing and either burn the rider or the horse out. *shrugs* There will always be something to be afraid of and there will always be another goal to overcome. You can't really look at all things like, "I CAN'T do that." It's more of "I'll be able to do it when I'm ready."

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    1. i agree - and think we each need to have our own motivation and perspective on what we want... but like you say, far too often riders DON'T really know what they want, and that's where the potential to be over-faced happens. and getting over-faced really sucks in particular bc i think it makes a lot of ppl quit completely, instead of just going slow and steady

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