Every time I climb into the saddle I am reminded of how riding is a metaphor for life. It rarely goes as planned, and I find myself rehashing my ride over and over in my mind – what went well, what went wrong. More often than not, I find myself focusing on the negative rather than the positive. Why is it that I am spending so much of my precious time thinking of all the things I did wrong instead of embracing the things I did correctly?
Riding is difficult, very difficult. Whenever I hear someone remark that the horse is the one doing all the work, I have to use every ounce of willpower not to reach out and slap them. Riding is not just hard physically, but mentally as well. As with any skill based sport, the mental strength it takes to overcome that negative voice in your head can be an ongoing challenge. I am convinced that this voice gets louder the older we get. In my head it goes something like this: What the heck are you doing? What made you think you could actually do this? You look ridiculous right now. You’re bouncing all over the place, get a grip! And so it goes, on and on.
If I have learned anything since taking up riding in my 40’s, it is this: riding, just like life, never moves in a linear fashion. With every advance, there is a setback. There are days when we feel like we’ve got this, and days when we feel out of control. Some days the negative voice inside our head is so loud, there is no chance of drowning it out. Every past failure, insult, and humiliation comes back to haunt us, creating a road block that prevents us from moving forward. How do we break down that wall and prevent it from coming back? Is it possible to look into the future and see ourselves in a state of peace and confident tranquility with our horses?
While my journey toward positivity is an ongoing one, here are a few things that have helped me to focus my energy on the good, rather than on the bad:
1. Keep a journal: I think that this is especially important when you are a newbie rider, such as myself. After you ride, write down your feelings about the ride. Try to give equal space to the good and the bad. No ride is perfect, just as no ride is entirely terrible. Keep track of what you did correctly and what you need to improve on. Taking the time to write down your feelings will allow you to look back and see the progress you have made.
2. Avoid seeing things in terms of black and white: This tends to be one of my greatest downfalls and can lead to a downward spiral of negative thinking. Time with your horse cannot be seen as good or bad. Even if you have a less than stellar ride, you can reflect on the time you spent with your horse on the ground and see success.
3. Find humor in what you find most challenging: My frustrations in the saddle are what led me to Fergus. Looking over a few Fergus comics always lifts my spirit and makes me understand that my challenges are universal.
4. Talk with other more experienced riders: Think you’re alone in your feelings of self-doubt? You most definitely are not. Even the most experienced riders question their ability on occasion and have to fight off those feelings of negativity. Finding solace in the experience of others can help to put our own emotions into perspective.
5. Spend time with your horse out of the saddle: There are a number of reasons why you chose to make horses a part of your life, and a love of riding is only one of them. Go to the barn with the sole intent of connecting with your horse on the ground. Spend time grooming him, take him outside for some grass, braid his mane, whatever it is that allows you to feel that connection. I guarantee that this experience alone will lighten your mood and put you on the path to positive thinking.
6. Communicate your feelings with your instructor: Hopefully you have an instructor who is willing to listen to your concerns. If not, find a new one, now. A good instructor will provide you with feedback that allows you to see how far you’ve actually come. You know the expression – sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees.
7. Practice mindful meditation: This is so important that it should really be listed as number one, and I will get into this in more depth in another post. For now, try this: find a quiet place and sit. Close your eyes and pay close attention to your breathing. Focus on your senses, thinking about what you can hear and smell. Give time to your thoughts and emotions, and recognize that what you are feeling at any given time does not define who you are; our thoughts and emotions are temporary.
How do you fight off feelings of negativity when they arise? Share your thoughts and let us know what works for you.