Andrea Waldo has written a really lovely sports psychology book just for us horse people. Brain Training for Riders is in three parts: the first is about the basics of fear and our psychology, the second is about taking this information to improve our performance, and the third is about overcoming deeper fears or recovering from bad accidents.
Now, as anyone who knows me will realize: I read a lot. I read broadly. There's nothing in this book that I haven't read elsewhere, but if you're somewhat new to sports psychology and ESPECIALLY new to the idea of cognitive behavioral therapy as a method of improving your sports performance, then this book is a MUST. This book is densely packed with actionable, important information.
After all, as Yogi Berra said, "Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical," but I really think he misspoke and intended to say horseback riding.
Due to its density and especially due to the fact that the whole thing is written about my sport (duh) I had a lot of good thoughts about it and you all helped me with the first one.
Yesterday I asked you to give me ten skills you have as a rider. I can't know how much thinking or pondering it took, and I also can't know how hard it was. Most of you reached ten skills. But 4/6 of you made some hedging comment as you added the comment, and another person reached out to me off the blogosphere to ask what I intended with this question.
I'm going to quote Waldo directly on this one, "Riders who lack confidence... don't recognize their abilities, so they can't possibly have confidence in them. And when they don't have confidence in their abilities, they ride as if they don't have those abilities."
Later, she writes, "Many students tell me they're not good at a skill because they don't do it perfectly, or someone else does it better than they do. This misses the point. You don't have to be perfect at something to know how to do it, and you don't have to be the best to be good at it."
I loved reading what you guys had as skills, and I love knowing that there are so many thoughtful things you're willing to own and rely on in your riding. But enough on that!
Here are two things I took from the book that I'm going to try to implement yesterday:
1) When seized by fear, or when I see a student frozen, I'm going to ask these questions --
- What skills, abilities, or knowledge do I have that will make the worst-case outcome unlikely?
- What will I do to prevent the situation from happening?
- If the problem starts to occur, what will I do to solve it?
This methodical examination of something fear-causing (let's say a horse is rushing a fence, or perhaps even trotting too fast) will both provide the lower brain with a PLAN to avoid the worst case scenario, and reestablish the frontal cortex's control over thought patterns.
2) I'm going to start practicing single-point focus, and I'm going to make my students do it too. I'll not copy the whole section, but I will summarize --
Making sure you're safe and your horse is calm, pick something to focus 100% of your energy on. For example, holding the reins. Focus on the sensation, on the amount of pressure you feel, the way your fingers curl around the reins. For one full minute, focus entirely on your hands on the reins. If your attention goes to the arena fence or a flickering light or a deer in the distance, bring it back to the sensation of the reins in your hands. Eventually, after daily practice of 2-4 minutes on different parts of you (your seat bones, your feet in the stirrups, your thighs, your sternum, your core) then try it at the trot or the canter.
There's a lot to unpack in this book and I'm sure I'll be writing about more of it as I implement it.