Friday, July 14, 2017

'Fraidy Cat Presents: Brain Hacks for the Nervous Eventer

It's no secret that sometimes confidence can be a fickle bitch. That, despite our best efforts, nerves have a way of wheedling in at the most inopportune moments.

This is especially inconvenient at shows, when we've already got a million other things on our mind and definitely don't need the added pressure of uncontrollable anxiety.

overcoming fears, one alligator-infested water complex at a time
Over the last couple years of learning how to do low-level eventing as a self-described 'Fraidy Cat, I've picked up a couple tips, tricks and brain hacks for quelling those nerves - of forcing the nerves into submission. Of practicing the whole "Mind over Matter" thing.

Obviously everyone has heard of more general practices like breathing deeply, or visualizing success, and what have you. Those are all well and good too - but for today, let's talk about some actionable tips relating specifically to jumping.

Let's start with Cross Country course walking:
  • If the jump can be stepped over, step over it. Even if it's more 'awkward scramble' than 'step.' If you can do it, so can the horse!!
  • Conversely, if you can tell from a distance that the jump looks uncomfortably big to you? Just don't get that close to it. Seriously. Don't.
  • But DO look closely at jumps from the next level up. And decide that some of those are actually pretty doable too. 

cross country course walking: the art of convincing yourself that, 'lah di dah, this will be a cake walk!"

  • Because if some of the next level stuff looks doable, your level is definitely doable.
  • Related: The only time you or anyone in your group is allowed to say the word "big" is in the context of "That's not so big!"

pictured: not so big. but also a potentially challenging combination

  • DO look back at the jump from the landing side while walking - this will give you a truer read on the terrain. 
  • But again, you DON'T need to get too close to jumps that squick you out. Srsly. 
  • Look for 'schooling' options near to or overlapping with your track. Want to work on water ditches or banks? Or related distances? Is there something not on your track that you want a crack at? Keep an eye open for those opportunities - this also helps cement the feeling of 'schooling' in your brain.

alternate route to the above coop that allows for extra schooling while on course

  • Because to your brain, if you're just "schooling" it can't really be that big of a deal, right? Schooling isn't scary, right?!? (just take care not to cross any flags the wrong direction or out of order for your course!)
  • And naturally, remind yourself that when you're schooling you don't get to go walk up to every fence from the ground anyway, you just jump it. So again, you don't have to get close to the big fences on your course if you don't want to.

pictured: not a fence you need to be intimately acquainted with from the ground if you don't wanna. it jumps great tho!

  • Do walk your approaches carefully, tho - find your sight lines and points of reference.
  • And walk any related distances (remembering that "related" typically refers to jumps set 4 strides apart or less)
  • Don't over think the ground tho. Actually don't over think anything - only focus on the most important details bc things happen fast once you're out on course and you'll only have time to remember the important stuff (like the location of your next fence).
  • Brush fences are often the biggest on course - remind yourself that horses LOVE brush fences, even if this means galloping down to the fence shouting like a lunatic, "horses love brush fences, dear god, oh god oh shit, HORSES LOVE BRUSH FENCES, AHHHH".... ahem.

pro tip: if this jump looks doable to you, you're definitely probably maybe ready for BN. lol....

  • Visualize the spots where you anticipate needing a stronger ride, and plan on where you'll start preparing for that while on course. Try not to be taken by surprise!
  • Simultaneously, identify areas where you expect the horse to want to open up and cruise, areas where you can plan to let go a little, and allow the horse to carry itself forward in its own rhythm.
  • Take note of any jumps in the woods. Horses sometimes want to get behind the leg in the woods so plan accordingly.

jumping in the woods can be it's own special brand of fun tho :D

We can't leave out Stadium Jumping tho:
  • The most helpful activity is to walk your lines as accurately as possible. Which, naturally means you should have some degree of familiarity with walking distances. 
  • Your typical 12' stride is four 3' human steps. In between fences, also add a 12' distance for landing from the in jump (6') and takeoff for the out jump (6'). 
  • I start with my back against the center of the in jump, and walk: 1-2-3-Zero, 1-2-3-One, 1-2-3-Two, etc, until I reach the out jump. The number I'm on when I reach the out jump is the number of strides (the 'Zero' stride is for take off and landing).  
  • Some people learn to measure 12' by putting pieces of tape at 3' intervals on an aisle floor and walking back and forth. This works but is kind of a hassle. You can also practice by walking four steps alongside a standard 12' jump pole. Are all four steps equal in size, or did you have to stretch out or squeeze in the last one? Go back and forth a few times, remember that feeling. 

knowing how to read a course map helps - but being able to walk it out is best

  • But also know your own horse's stride length. Izzy had to really be going to hit 12', whereas Charlie can pretty easily stretch out to 14'. They'll need different canters to execute the same distances.
  • Meaning, think about not just the number of strides, but the type of canter needed for that number of strides. Did the line walk a little long or short? Is it a going canter for an open stride? Or a bouncy, balanced canter for a compressed stride? 
  • Will different lines on course require different canters? How quickly can you adjust your canter - how many strides does it take you to go from an open stride to a compressed stride? This is something to practice in warm up.

watching higher levels has the advantage of making "big" things look easy! 

  • Definitely watch at least 2 or 3 horses go through the course if possible too - whether that's at your level or catching earlier levels. This is especially important if you weren't able to walk the course yourself.
  • While watching, count the striding other riders are getting. Is everyone consistently getting 6 down that outside line? Or is it going in anything from 5 to 8? Does it look a little tight or a little long? 
  • Find a horse that goes like your horse and see how it handles the striding and turns.
  • Identify where you'll likely need lead changes (simple or otherwise) and how much room you have to execute them.

consider it good luck too if the jumps are super pretty!

Most importantly tho? Once you're on course - it's time to trust your training and ride each fence as it comes! As Sally Cousins would say, if the fence doesn't look great as you approach it, ride it with everything you got bc it won't look any better the second time!

What do you think - did I miss anything? Do you have any tips or tricks for how you prepare to jump at an event? Or for how you get the upper hand over any nervousness? Are you a "Knowledge is Power" style rider? Or more "Ignorance is Bliss"?? Or some combination?

31 comments:

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    1. thanks! anything helps sometimes!

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  2. Great points - I've made 'it won't look any better the second time around' my mantra for jumps I don't like

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    1. that's definitely a good one. my trainer told it to me before my first ever horse trial and it came very much in handy!

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  3. I use a lot of these same tips myself :) And I have to add that walking all of my trainer's courses have helped to shift my eye on what looks big. Novice looks WAY more friendly after walking an Intermediate course. Heck, Training looks almost doable after walking the Intermediate course! :P

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    1. i know, right?? that's one of my favorite things about spectating at upper level events - they make my stuff seem so reasonable!

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  4. Great tips. In my entire experience of 1, I did watch the higher levels go and when it came time for mine the jumps looked itty bitty. It really helped.

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    1. it always amazes me how much of this sport is just plain mental. but whatever works, right?

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  5. I love the step/scramble over it idea!

    I need to build some brush jumps ASAP. I think Grif is gonna oggle those a bit since we've never jumped something of that sort!

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    1. brush jumps are definitely super fun! you can also use old hay or straw to give that kinda scruffy feeling. bc it's not really about spooking the horse so much as it is about just familiarizing them with new and unusual stuff

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  6. As I am packing my gear and stomach has started flipping for this weekend's event, lo and behold a survival guide! Haha, thanks Emma--this gold is coming with me!

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    1. oooooh good luck this weekend!!

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  7. the cross country tips are good. i like walking stadium in the morning when its set for the highest level (hopefully not what I'm doing). i convince myself i wouldnt die on those and then by the time i see my teeny fences I'm like WHAT WAS I WORRIED ABOUT?

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    1. ha yea seriously! for me there's a strange balancing point tho - if the jumps are set at a height that i've never even come close to reaching myself, it sorta becomes ... not real enough for me. like, i prefer to walk when it's just a level or two above me, where the jumps are definitely still big, while not being totally out of the realm of possibility.

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  8. Great tips. Another good one is to sing in the XC warmup and on course. Forces you to breath and it keeps others entertained :)

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    1. ha i've definitely heard that one too! i personally am a counter through and through, so if i'm getting super nervous while on course or if things have gotten a little rough, i'll count out loud. really it doesn't matter what you're saying - saying anything helps with the breathing!

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  9. Haha. I look forward to doing this again.

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  10. Love this!! The "don't walk up to big fences" tip is one that I fully embrace! No reason to be that close on foot.

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    1. yea seriously!! just gotta keep movin' along!

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  11. "It won't look any better the second time." HAHA! Love that! Sometimes the frustration of missing can help things look smaller though... but only sometimes.

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    1. ha yea... sometimes a big mistake like that can be just the kick in the pants we need to get serious. tho i usually prefer to find ways to channel that determination and resolve *before* incurring 20 penalties lol

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  12. I don't walk up to the really big ones either. Or look down into the trakehners. There are some things I just don't need to know in advance. It's to the point though where I really can't scramble over any of the fences anymore... well ok, I tried last time but got high centered on a rolltop.

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    1. now see, that's the kind of picture we need on your course walk posts lol

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  13. I love all these tips! You could really have a second career in sports psychology:)

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    1. ha now wouldnt that be something like the blind leading the blind!! ;)

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  14. I gave myself a very long motivational speech out loud this morning after getting two bad distances in a row, and though I undoubtedly sounded like a complete lunatic, it worked perfectly and we nailed everything from there out. Will possibly be deploying this tactic Sunday. I know I'm crazy, what's the harm if everyone else does too, right?

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    1. Hey it ain't crazy if it works ;)

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  15. SO MANY GOOD TIPS! I also love walking SJ when it's set at least a level above me - when Novice looks doable, Starter or BN looks like a walk in the park! Yes yes yes to walking higher level XC, too! I also like to make sure to find a focus point UP HIGH when walking XC, since I can get sucked into staring at 'scary' jumps and riding to a stop. Like "Okay, when I approach this giant scary table I will stare at THAT TREE and keep kicking!" I'm also super into counting strides like a crazy person, and making sure I only use positive words when I talk to myself. Instead of "I'm nervous" I have to purposefully change my inner dialogue to "I am brave and capable and we've GOT THIS!"

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  16. This is so great!! I love that you mention to watch a horse SJ that goes like your horse. I would always watch the lovely, big movers, and my trainer would have to remind me that while lovely, my horse does not go like that, and I need to not try to emulate it...

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  17. Ignorance is bliss pretty much defines my xc course walk. I just walk around so I know the route. I don't really walk up to anything - I figure if it's on the course it's appropriate for my level and I don't need to sweat it. Same goes for XC clinics - if the trainer tells me to jump it, I tust in their experience and do it without giving myself time to think it through. :)

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