Monday, February 20, 2012

Therapy for the Therapy? What's THAT About?

Saw this on Facebook and liked it. 
Certainly resembles my path.
"I thought the horse WAS the therapy?" That was my bemused husband’s first comment to me after I told him that I was speaking with a Mental Performance Consultant for my jumping related fear issues.  “I don’t get it. If the horse WAS the therapy, NOW why do you need therapy?”

It’s not a fear of looking bad, or making a fool of myself. It’s a “Holy crap, one of us is gonna die!” kind of fear. Which, understandably, affects my riding. For example, I’ll be riding to a fence and I start feeling the fear, and I start choking up on my mare. Then, I realize we’re going too slow for her to clear the fence, and I make a last second desperate attempt to gun her at the fence. Kind of a “STOP! No, crap, that’s wrong. Um, GO! Yeah, GO!!!” thing. Which is, of course, not fair to the horse at all and very likely to cause exactly the kind of catastrophic accident I’m worried about.

I don't want to stop jumping. I’ve read a few book on sports psychology and fear, and watched a number of videos. They’ve helped a bit. However, we’ve reached a point where self-help and self-diagnosis aren’t enough. I’m tired of coming home from jump schools frustrated with myself, and so I decided that now is the time to bring in a professional.

Session One
I contacted Sommer Christie, who is a certified Mental Performance Consultant, member of the Canadian Sport Psychology Association, and guest blogger on Horse Junkies United, a site I contribute to.  Session One basically covered the ground work — what did I think my issues were, when do I think they appeared, were there any times when I didn’t feel fear, how were those times different than when I did feel fear?  My skill sets and ability don't change on any given day, so what separated my Peak Performances from my Weak Performances?

During our chat we kept circling back to the idea of “preparedness.” I am a bit of a control freak, and when things go cattywumpus, I feel an intense need to go back to the basics.  Which Sommer said was a good thing as when we are in optimal performance mode, our body reacts through muscle memory. By making sure my basic skills were honed, I was actually setting myself up for success. A firm foundation in the basic skill sets allows the body to perform by rote (again, paraphrasing here) which creates kind of a comfort zone, or safety net if your mind is intent on assuming the fetal position. So, when I feel better “prepared,” maybe because of more basic skills work, I ride with more confidence. End of Session One. 

Homework was to think about my best performance ever, and what was significant about it? How did I prepare? What was I thinking before starting the round, and what was I thinking about during the round? Did I lose focus at any point? If so, how did I get it back?  Then I needed to identify the gaps.

This is so true. 
More than one way to get to Rome, after all.
Session Two
We pretty much began where we left of the week before, with the concept of "Preparedness."  I need to feel secure in order jump with confidence, and we talked about what I could do to prepare myself for the show season.  One of the things I identified was practicing over poles in order to become more comfortable with distances.  Another was more work without stirrups to have a stronger, more secure seat. 

Sommer let me know that it was not enough to simply have these goals, but that I needed to set them out as specific practice plans and then hold myself accountable with measurable results.  For example, I needed to go into each practice with a plan. For example, each day I could set up an exercise of poles and commit to cantering them 50 times.  As I rode, I needed to keep track of how many successful distances I hit and how many misses I had.  I also needed to be mindful of what happened when things went right and when things went wrong.

Afterwards, I need to do what's called a Debrief.  That means I need to write down (this is the important part -- you have to write it down in a journal) what parts of my training went really well and why. Then I need to ascertain what parts of my training need to be improved and figure out how. It's important to recognize what I did well as well as any mistakes that were made.  The object is to recognize and reward successes, and then recognize mistakes in order to learn from them. It's also important to keep mistakes in context.  Mistake = learning opportunity, and not time to pull on a hair shirt.  For example, I could write that I missed too many distances because I was off balance, however, I made more distances today than yesterday.

After all the debriefing analysis comes the action plan.  Given what happened in my training session, what are the necessary steps that I need to take in order to improve my performance? Is that more poles? More no-stirrup work? Longe line lessons?  Remember, each step must have measurable results (ie. 50 poles gives me X number of good distances and Y number of misses that I can compare to previous sessions.)

So yesterday I had a lesson and we went over poles, poles, and more poles.  Some of the poles were set in a circle, like the face of a clock.  The poles were set at 12, 3, 6, and 9 and walked 6 strides between each.  I went round and round those damn poles and I got 7 strides, 8 strides, 6 strides -- you name it, I got it.  Then we bounced over 2 poles set in the corner of the arena.  Same kind of result there.  Some good rides, but more less than stellar attempts.

Oye veh, I could tell my Debrief was gonna be a long one.


  1. One of my main mantras, with the goal of keeping a positive mental outlook, is this: "You find what you look for." So many times I have realized that I am counting the negatives, and I also hear this in others. Like this: "you will not believe the day I have had!!! First, I overslept, then I realized that I had no gas in my car, and it was raining. Sideways!! Then I couldnt find my debit card at the pump, so........" and on and on. So I try to catch myself, and count the positive parts, looking at the negative only as a means to making a better plan for tomorrow, or to make a plan to achieve objective. I have found that this becomes easier with time as I seem to notice my thoughts better. I still struggle with this, but remind myself that I am in charge of my own head. I like to think that I am, although sometimes I would like to refuse responsibility of what my head sends out my mouth. ;)

  2. You are going to laugh when I finally finish the post I was working on... we are definitely in the same universe... Same world, same issues with horses with the same name... LOL!

  3. "it was not enough to simply have these goals, but that I needed to set them out as specific practice plans and then hold myself accountable with measurable results"...

    Light bulb moment, followed by realization that therapy requires lots of work. *sigh*

    Sobering + inspiring post. ;)

  4. @Suzanne -- wow, that's WILD! Parallel lives!

    @ Calm -- Yeah, that's the hard part for me, the extra work bit. Feels like time is tight enough as it is. However, if I'm gonna whine about the fear issue, it seems counterintuitive NOT to do the necessary work, so I'm gonna suck it up and soldier on, and hope for the best.

  5. @ Emme - one of my best friends is relentlessly positive, and positive things always happen to her. I think she's wired like that, but I also think, like you do, that it's possile to train yourself to do that. That, again, comes under the "more work" cateory for me, as I am not wired like that. Ah well, that's why I'm A Work in Progress!!

  6. I like the "Success" illustration. The one on the left pretty much describes my typical pattern - on or off a horse. I like how you get "there" anyway.