Continuing our Real Life Rider Series, Louise is having difficulty leaving the demands of her stressful day and long drive home in the car when she gets to the yard. This is affecting her ability to focus on her riding.Whilst this post is written for a rider’s focus issues, it could actually relate to any concern you are having emotionally. So Louise, you’re dilemma will resonate with many, many people – thanks for asking!
Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘Emotional Intelligence’?
It is the ability to identify, assess and control our emotions. Control of your emotions (in this case, stress or anxiety) will depend on how much you feed them; how much focus you give them. Control requires us to understand them, recognise when and why we feel this way and have the tools in place to influence them.
This little monster – “spiralling anxiety” can blind us into thinking that NOW is all that matters. It makes us rush around, snapping and barking, it’s hungry and has a way of making us feed it! At stressful times look ahead beyond what is happening now. You’ll see the bigger picture. It’ll feel better.
- The first step to emotional control is to know when we are actually being emotional and why. You can’t control your emotions by ignoring them. If you feel stressed acknowledge it “Okay, I don’t like this, I’m feeling very stressed!” – now you’ve admitted it to yourself.
- Next, identify why you feel this stress: “This is because I’m late to the yard, having driven for hours in horrendous traffic and I feel robbed of my quality time with my horse”. Why you are feeling it means you’re that much closer to doing something about it.
The tendency is to think that moods just happen. They don’t. There has to be a very particular set of circumstances in order for the stress to build and eventually influence our behaviour.The thing is we can influence, even change, our moods without resorting to alcohol! …Ahem!Learning how to do this is a very powerful tool.So, try these three small exercises:
- Instantly do something else. Just do or think something different. Don’t be passively carried along, allowing the stress to consume your thoughts. So, I’m driving along wishing I was at the yard an hour ago, I’m hacked off! I take a moment to strongly imagine feeling relaxed and comfortable and even in a good mood. I consider what it would feel like to have all the time in the world – this will, at the very least, neutralise the bad mood.
- Breathing. You know how important the breathing is in your riding. Have a go at it to help YOU instead of the horse, for a change. You need to deal with the physical changes, as always, led by the way we breathe. Anxiety can only ‘work’ if we are breathing quicker with shallow breaths.
- Reset your breath by holding it for 5 seconds
- Breathe in slowly, focussing on your diaphragm
- Breathe out even more slowly (imagine that you blowing calm into your hands (on the steering wheel)
It is the OUT breath that creates the calm.
3. Force the thinking part of your brain to work. This will dilute and subdue the rampaging emotional part. Here’s how … you have just recognised that the little monster ‘stress’ is making an appearance. Force yourself to remember 3 names of riders that you admire and why, or the names of horses you like and why, or even just run through the alphabet in your head. Try it – because it really will work.My final thoughts on this subject are about our basic human needs. We all have them. There’s the very BASIC NEEDS – food, sleep, shelter, water. If these are not met you will feel more emotional – no doubt, but then I don’t suppose for one moment anyone unable to focus on their Dressage does not have the basic need for food and water met!But there is an element that we can take from this – hydration and hunger. If at times of high stress, like the period after work when the days shizzle hasn’t been dealt with and you are on your way to the yard, if you have skipped lunch or not had a drink for 4 hours, it will be harder to suppress the anxious feelings.You also have EMOTIONAL NEEDS. To be emotionally healthy you need to feel safe, regularly give and receive quality attention, be able to feel in control of your life, feel part of a community, enjoy friendship, fun, love and intimacy, feel recognised and competent.
Knowing this is the first step to creating focus beyond your emotions.Give yourself time to think about these needs and how your life is meeting them. If there are any deficiencies, try to work out activities that are likely to help you fulfil them.
When you get on your horse, feel the freedom that sitting on a horse gives you.
Take a moment to feel the privilege, keep calm and ride.
Ride well and enjoy!
The Dressage Tipster