Friday, March 30, 2012

Bernie Traurig Clinic Report Part One: "Don't Be Afraid to Get Effective in the Tack!"

Like many equestrians, I'm am a learning junkie.  I possess books and DVDs galore, numerous magazine subscriptions, and a plethora of live and video-on-demand subscriptions.  One of my go-to subscriptions is, an online compilation of equestrian educational videos for the jumping disciplines.  The videos are presented by Bernie Traurig, the site's founder, and other leading lights from the industry, such as Will Simpson, Gina Miles, Missy Clark, Debbie McDonald, and Denny Emerson (to name only a few).  Bernie has reached the top of the sport in Hunters, Show Jumping, and Dressage, and as junior he took top honors in both the AHSA (now USEF) and the ASPCA Maclay finals.

Bernie's detailed descriptions make the information on the videos easily understandable for novice riders and detailed enough for more advanced riders as well. The use of tools such as slow motion, still photos, voice-overs and graphics make these videos as understandable as a football game covered by John Madden and his telestrator.  Think of X's and O's diagrammed out equestrian style -- an absolute epiphany when describing how to ride a bending line!

Yep, I'm a fan, so when I had the opportunity to audit his clinic at USHJA Board of Directors member Mary Babick's beautiful Knightsbridge Farm in Atlantic Highlands, NJ, you can bet I was jumping on that opportunity!  Note -- Mary and Knightsbridge recently hosted Joe Fargis as well (my reports can be accessed here and here).  I'm thinking Mary needs to start marketing these clinics as "The Legends at Knightsbridge Clinic Series." Just saying, Mary. ;)

Bernie started each session by bringing each rider forward so he could look at their tack, examine their bits, and assess their position in the three point and two point seats.  He made adjustments where necessary, tweaking positions, adjusting cavessons (no buckles on the jawbone, please!) and evangelizing about the necessity of a deep heel and long calf for effective leg position and communication. Bernie punctuated this point by telling one rider she had daylight between her horse's side and her calf;  he then placed his fingers between the rider's leg and the horse and asked her to "mold her lower legs" to his fingers. He suggested starting each ride in the two point at a walk for as many minutes as you can without losing position (grab mane so you don't use the horse's mouth for balance) and at one point hopped up on a riser (using Mary as his assistant!) to demonstrate calf and ankle stretches he does on a daily basis.

I learned so much just from this intro portion of the two sessions I watched.  Bernie shared so many of his thoughts on details such as form, correctly fitting tack, and proper bitting ("Your horse will tell you if he loves it.  If he's not happy, change!")  One horse in the first session, described as strong by his rider, went through three bit changes in during the ride: He started out in a corkscrew snaffle, made a change to a twisted D ring, then downgraded again to a rubber D ring.  The horse went from going in a rushed, tense and inverted manner to moving out in a much happier, relaxed and controllable fashion.

One point Bernie mentioned was the correlation between lack of heel depth and stronger bits.  He spoke of how, in the downward transitions, one should always sink into the heel and set the leg before sinking one's seat into the saddle, and once that's done, THEN you should take the mouth.  Without the strength and leverage that comes from deep heel and braced position, people tend to rely on harsher bits to control the horse.

One horse was bitted with a curved D ring, which Bernie said he felt was actually harsher on the horse's mouth than its producer's claim.  The horse wearing it did tend to go in a balled up fashion, with his head down low, so Bernie recommended switching to a rubber D the next day. (Sadly, I was only able to attend the 2 sessions on Day One, so didn't see how that worked out.) 

One horse got a complete wardrobe change: Bernie downgraded his bit to a rubber D and changed his figure 8 cavesson to a regular one.  He even went a step further and had the rider use a driving rein ( Achenbach style - holding the reins between the thumb and forefinger).  These changes resulted in the horse changing from being behind the bit and leg and inverted into a much more relaxed, forward horse.  The driving rein allowed the rider's elbows/arms to follow the horse more, and that combined with the softer bit and cavesson did the trick. 

Other informative things I took away from the intro section of the session:

1) Bernie is not a fan of fuzzy girths. He feels the bulky fleece places the lower leg too far back and impedes proper communication.  For horses that need fleece, he suggested using the slip on kind and cutting it so it doesn't interfere with the rider's leg, or trimming the extraneous outer fleece on the nylon web-type girths.

2) Bernie is a stickler about the proper way to adjust your stirrups or girth while on the horse.  He asked the riders in each session I watched to show him how they did it, and if memory serves, only one or two were able to do it correctly.  He then showed us all the proper way. (Hint -- your feet stay in the stirrups! Note to self -- must practice this!)

I watched two sessions and took ten pages of notes, so this review will be coming to you in several parts.  Please bear with me!  In the meantime, if you can, check out or consider ordering the DVD, The American Hunter/Jumper Forward Riding System

Monday, March 26, 2012

More Mental Performance Coaching: There Really IS Something to This Stuff!

A present from me to you. Your very own Self Talk Grid.
Don't say I never gave you anything. ;)
If you're new to AWIP or haven't been following religiously (and there's no judgement here, we all have busy schedules) you should know that I've been using a mental performance coach to help me deal with the fear issues I face when jumping.

I've been working with Sommer Christie while my trainer has been away at WEF, and have seen some pretty impressive progress even after just a few sessions. (Who knew?)  This weekend I had my first two jump schools with my recently returned trainer, and quite frankly, I was a bit nervous about them.  In the past, nerves could easily translate into Amy in the fetal position.

Last week's session with Sommer was on Self Talk and how that impacted Focus (the previous session's lesson.)  It started with Sommer stating, "Now we know that every day is not going to work out the way we want it to." My immediate (and thankfully suppressed) reaction was "Really?? No sh@#! Knew that!"  I pulled my smart aleck brain back to the moment and listened as Sommer continued by saying although things don't always go to plan, we choose what we focus on and how we react.  OK, now you've peaked my interest.

In the past, I would go around a course with a litany of "Holy Crap!" in my head.  With Sommer's help, I can now go around with my mind focused on my task, which at the moment is my rhythm.  It's a bit Sesame Street and I look a tad "special" cantering around counting out 1-2-1-2-1-2, but it's been working.

So now that we're getting a bit better at Focus, we need to learn how to manage anxiety when things don't go according to plan.  How can I manage the "Oh Crap! I totally flubbed that distance!" moment and get my focus back? 

Turns out part of managing anxiety and nerves is Focus.  Since I choose what I focus on, i choose to focus on my task.  This weekend, instead of focusing on the nerves I had as I jumped with my trainer for the first time in 6 weeks, I focused on my rhythm: 1-2-1-2-1-2.  Where all my distances perfect?  Not by a long shot.  However, when I chipped into a line, I was so focused on my task that my knowledge base/muscle memory kicked in and instead of panicking I simply kicked on to lengthen my mare's stride and we got down the line beautifully.  WHOOHOO!

Another part of managing anxiety is managing your reaction to it. One way to handle that is by eliminating Negative Self Talk.  For example, normally I would see a triple bar and start saying to myself, "Oh no, there's a triple bar on that course.  I always suck at triple bars," and work myself up into a tizzy. 

A giggle graphic from a blog I like,
The Wanderlust Project
Sommer gave me a Self Talk Grid to work with to help change my self talk.  So I know that when I see a triple bar I know that I normally allow myself to think "I always suck at triple bars," which usually results (inevitably) in a crap distance at the triple and ensuing chaos around the rest of the course. NOW I change my Self Talk to remind myself of past success or counter arguments as to why a crap distance is inevitable and tell myself "Oh, a triple bar.  I've done this successfully at home a bazillion times. No biggie." I also now use key words, or Anchors, to remind myself of these past successes. (These days my Anchor is Bad A$$, to remind me I'm like the Honey Badger.)

You can also manage your anxiety by managing your body's reaction to stress. When Sommer asked me how I might do that, I blurted out "Xanax! Girl Scout Cookies! Wine!"  The silence at the other end of the line alerted me to the fact that this was not the answer Sommer was looking for.  Turns out deep, rhythmical breathing (there's that rhythm thing again!) at the rate of 6 breaths per minute syncs your breathing up with your heart rate and shuts off your stress response.  Think slllooooooowwwwww breath in through your nose and then sllllloooooooowwwww breath out through your mouth.  I remember something like this in Labor Class.  While it didn't do squat in terms of reducing the pain of childbirth (thank God for epidurals!) it's been darn helpful with triple bar stress management!

So I breathed and counted my way through two very successful jumping lessons this weekend, and quite frankly, I'm happy as a pig in poop.  Did I already know most of this stuff Sommer is sharing with me?  Yes.  It's not like we've discovered a new solar system or anything.  However, was I using that knowledge in a logical, consistent manner? Nope.  And that was the problem.  Now I am, and while things are not and will never be perfect, I am getting better at living with that, and adjusting to it accordingly.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Great Start to the Weekend!

Don't have time to share it all now, but YAY!!! Great start to the weekend!

This Mental Coaching stuff really seems to be working! Had my first jump school with my trainer since she got back from WEF and I managed to keep my neuroses in check and focus on my task. Were we perfect? No. We were effective, and I reacted correctly to the situations I found myself in, instead of going fetal. Major progress there.

Today I had the priviledge of auditing a clinic given by Bernie Traurig at Mary Bbaick's Knightsbridge Farms in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. Bernie, aside from being a world class rider in Show Jumping, Eventing, and Dressage, is the founder and President of

My kids and I have been enjoying the learning from for some months now. I have numerous DVDs of competitions, but the problem is that I can only guess at what I think is going on when I watch them. When watching, it's like having John madden of the NFL do his X's and O's and diagram what's going happening on horseback. This lead to a LOT of Ah-hah moments for yours truly.

So, no time to write it all out now, as I took 8 pages of notes today. Will try to distill it into something coherent shortly. In the meantime, if you've never seen, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My New Motto (Warning: Salty Language!)

This used to be my mantra.  It was meant to help me get over my fear issues, keep my focus, and concentrate on my task and using the skills I know I possess.

This is my new mantra.  Because not only do I need to keep my focus, concentrate on my task and use the skills I possess, but I need to do it in the same Bad Ass, Take No Prisoners way the Honey Badger does.  Miss a distance?  Amy and Honey Badger don't give a shit. Fences look really big?  Amy and Honey Badger don't give a shit.  We're Bad Ass.

In case you've been living under a rock and don't know the whole phenomena that is Honey Badger, here you go.  Again, be warned, the language ain't exactly PG.

So that's it.  I'm accessing my inner Honey Badger.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Somebody needs a little more massage,
and fewer Girl Scout cookies.
Not only is this a fabulous song off The Clash's Combat Rock album, but it was the main question I was asking myself tonight.  See, I tweaked my lower back last week, and it's been acting up so badly it's seriously curtailing my riding time.  Which makes me cranky.  Cranky Amy = No Fun.  Just saying.

I've been icing myself so much I swear my tuckus has frostbite.  My friend the equine massage therapist has has been kind enough to treat me with the same cold laser she uses on my mares.  This involves me dropping trou and bending over an ottoman.  I'm a little concerned.  I think she's seen more of my tush in the past week than is healthy.  I'm not sure if I should take her out to dinner or at least buy her a drink, or announce her as my SO in my Facebook status.  I've also been slathering on so much Tiger Balm and Ben Gay I smell like a cross between a Red Hot and a Wintergreen Life Saver. 

BTW - A couple of funny ha-ha moments for you to giggle at:

#1 - Be careful when applying Tiger Balm/Ben Gay, especially if your injury is anywhere near your gluteus maximus.  Also, if you wear contacts, put on mittens immediately after applying topical muscle relief and make no attempt to adjust, insert, or remove contact lenses.

#2 - If you have a TENS unit, do not attempt to use it and multitask.  This is a recipe for failure.  Case in point: I called a client and attempted to adjust the level of the output from the machine while I was waiting for the client to answer her phone.  Let's just say I overestimated the level of stimulus I was capable of handling, and shocked the beejeebus out of myself.  My poor client picked up the phone to something along the lines of  "ARGH! #@!#^%$#@!"  Thankfully she knows me well. Sigh.

My chiropractor gave me the okay to ride today if I took it easy, but really, if one has been eating Motrin and muscle relaxants like they're candy and basically parking one's derriere on a glacier, maybe the riding thing isn't a good idea.  However, the not riding thing makes me crazy-go-nuts, which is not good for me and definitely not good for my family. So, I went.  And took it easy.  Trot sets on the hills in the fields around the barn (with me posting) and canter sets (in a half seat) and a gentle meander around the fields to cool her out. 

The riding part went fine.  The getting off and driving home part, not so much.  Thank goodness for the friend and the laser -- although pity the poor neighbors who saw more than they needed to while I was bent over the ottoman.  (Note to self: Get friend curtains for Christmas.)  Looks like a few more days of chiropractic, rest, and laser treatments and no riding.

I'm guessing that means I'll be getting my horse fix by watching my DVDs, FEItv, Equestrian, and oh heck yeah, the US Show Jumping Selection Trials on!
In case you didn't know it, and felt like losing some productivity at work, you can access the live broadcast schedule here.  Oh, and if you choose to go the no-work route and watch the selection trials on Wednesday the 21st, stop on by Horse Junkies United for a live chat at 12:50.

Don't get me wrong, I get that as far as riding setbacks go, I've got nothing to whinge about.  After all, look at McLain Ward, Tim Stockdale, Cameron Hanley, and my blogging buddy Miranda, who broke (this seems like an inadequate term given the severity of the injury) her leg in two (TWO!) places above the ankle.  She's rocking a really sporty purple cast, but that's small comfort when you were hoping to ride in a Peter Leone Clinic at Equine Affaire Ohio.  She'll still be going to EA, but will be riding a wheelchair instead of her mare.

How do you handle it when you can't ride, for reason of injury, travel, or general life craziness?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

In the Spring a Broad's Fancy Lightly Turns to Thoughts of...STALLIONS!

I apologize for the mangled reference to the Tennyson poem.  I simply couldn't help myself.

Let me qualify this post by saying the following: THIS IS A COMPLETE FANTASY.  IT HAS NO CHANCE OF HAPPENING.  Not on this planet or the next.  For many reasons. Number one being that I have no idea what I am doing, number two that even if I did, I do not have the money to support the resulting foal, and number three, there are a gazillion other horses currently on the planet that need homes. There are more reasons, but those are the top three. That being said, a broad can dream, right? 

So, when Spring is Sprung and my mailbox is filled with stallion issues from the plethora of equine publications I subscribe to, I find myself looking through breeding values and picking out potential Sugar Daddies.  I've literally spent hours researching what stallion and dam lines would potentially cross well with my Indoctro ds.Nimmerdor mare.  Again, one can argue that this is a COLOSSAL waste of time, but then, I'm learning new things, and learning is a good thing, right? (Classic example of rationalization, yes?)

Why would I want to do something as silly as breed my mare, when she's not a perfect specimen, conformationally speaking? Well, I suppose because (and I know this is selfish and self-serving, but remember, this is never gonna happen!) she's the most amazing horse I've known and I want to have something of her when she's gone.  Yep, I know, bad reason. 

She also has an amazing brain, and is incredibly intelligent, willing, and rideable.  Set out a gymnastic, and Sug figures it out first time through.  My trainer has joked that when she sets a course, she swears Sug sneaks out of her stall and studies it at night, because she seems to know the questions it asks from the start.  Basically, my trainer has told me (I like to think lovingly) to let the horse do the thinking for me, because she's better at it. 

And the mare LOVES her job.  She WANTS to jump.  If she doesn't jump for a while, she will start pulling me towards fences in the ring.  I can tell she gets bored with the piddly 3' stuff I jump, so every now and then I ask my trainer to give her a little fun and school her over something bigger.  Lastly, I've done clinics with a former Olympic rider, and every time her sees her, he tells me what a wonderful horse she is, how lucky I am to have stumbled on a class animal like her, and has even asked if I've considered breeding her.  To which I answered, "Nope. I don't have the money.  I don't know what I am doing. I am completely winging it with my human children, which is bad enough, and Lord knows I have no clue how to raise equine babies."

So, it's Spring.  And I've got about half a dozen stallion issues strewn about with dog-eared pages.  And I'm up to my eyeballs in pink and blue thoughts and images of a little bay baby cavorting around green fields.  And then I imagine that baby has grown up and is in the ring with either my daughter, my son, or myself.

Somebody smack me.  HARD.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

One Thing At A Time...

You know those days when you're already starting out exhausted and overwhelmed?  Yeah, me too. 

Had one of those recently.  Didn't help that I'd just gotten back from a long business trip and got up at o' dark hundred the next morning to go to the barn, which was then followed by lacrosse practice and something else which I can't for the life of me remember.

So, we were on a schedule.  Or, rather, I was. The kids were not.  Despite several countdown style warnings of imminent departure no one was standing at the door ready, and when my daughter came down still wearing her pajamas after 20 minutes in her room doing God knows what, I lost the cheese off my cracker.

Seriously, it was not a Mother of the Year moment.  More like a Mommie Dearest moment.  The cats and the husband ran for cover. I said yelled bellowed something along the lines of "You have @#!$% #@!&%!" and slammed off into the car to wait for the sheepish offspring.  The drive down to the barn was quite, except for the radio and my deep breathing.

Here's another area where this whole mental coach thing comes in handy.  This whole "forget outside distractions and focus solely on one's task" helped me focus on breathing.  Then I could focus on driving.  Which meant I was not choking my children or distracted by all the other crap that I was allowing to irritate me.  Which was good.

When we got to the barn and the boy couldn't bridle the mare (he had her full cheek snaffle shank poking up her nostril) and the girl disappeared, leaving her half-tacked pony on the crossties, I focused on my immediate task, which was finding the daughter, breathing and not choking my children, and somehow getting them onto their respective mounts.  I did not think of the house I needed to clean, or how I would get the boy fed before lacrosse practice.  Just got the job done.  Somehow.  Without bloodshed or pharmaceutical or oenological assistance.  (Who knew?)

I even managed to give the boy a longe line lesson on the Sainted Mare.  It went well.  And despite the fact that the daughter did her best to disappear again, I got the boy home in time to eat lunch and get to lacrosse.

Focus on the immediate task, huh?  Drop all the other baggage?  Seriously, who knew?

Monday, March 12, 2012

WOW! Just WOW! Monday Morning PSA...

NOT the enemy, although it bloody well feels that way some days.
 Ugh, I still have a bit of a travel hangover brought on by my business trip from last week and the whirlwind weekend of riding, soccer, and lacrosse combined with the lost hour of sleep didn't help. Damned Spring Ahead.  How 'bout we skip the springing ahead and just fall back in bed? Blech.

Anywho, had all kinds of things to share about the offspring, my first jumping lesson in over a month (Madame Mare was QUITE excited!) but have had very little time so that will have to wait.  Instead, I will share with you a very thought provoking post by my blogging buddy Emme, over at I Pick Crazy!

Many of us adult ammie riders struggle with our fitness, jiggly bits, and a habit of eating too much and exercising too little (who has the time and energy, what with careers, kids, and whatnot?)  We know too much weight and not enough fitness is bad for our health, and we know it affects our ability to be the effective partner we want to be for our horses.  It's the doing something with that knowledge that's the hard part.

My barn mate and lesson buddy Tamsin and I were joking about this very issue at our lesson this weekend, and then my buddy Libby and I were talking about it over lunch after we left the barn.  The irony here was that we were gorging on a Mexican orgy of burritos, Mexi-fries, and tacos while discussing the additional sub-cutaneous adipose tissue we'd accumulated and it's caseous appearance under our breeches.  Libby's a DVM/scientist/brilliant person, so if you'd like the layman's version, we were discussing our added winter layer of fat and the lovely cottage cheese-like ripples one sees under one's breeches.

Which is, of course, why I came home, got on the treadmill, and then made fried chicken, southern fried corn with bacon and cheesy mashed potatoes for dinner.  Followed it up with a sleeve of Do Si Dos and a sleeve of Thin Mints. Drat those Girl Scouts and my feeble willpower!  DUH!

So it was a VERY GOOD THING that I read Emme's post this morning, as I needed a bit of a shove back onto the path of healthy living.  I'll excerpt a bit here, and then you can link on over for the rest.  While we may not look like the one picture in the scan, it's not hard to connect the dots and deduce how the extra weight can affect our quality of life.  Again, there's no judgement here at AWIP.  I'm a product of Eastern European Sausage Snarfing genes, and have had eating issues my entire life.  Nobody is advocating thin = aesthetically pleasing, either for humans or horses.  My point, and I think Emme's as well, is that the best health you and your horse can achieve is good for both of you, and should be a goal for all of us.

Thanks, Emme, for the assist!


Recently an associate has had some unfortunate medical news, and the need for surgery has been proposed by doctors. Unfortunately this person is quite heavy, and with that comes several health factors. During a previous surgery complications arose, and so surgery at this point could be risky. Weight loss is imperative, might even effect the need for surgery in the first place, but will at minimum make surgery less dangerous.

This scan is of a 250lb female on the left, and a 120lb woman on the right.

Shocking right? Click here to read more.

Your's truly again.  Looks like I'll be having a salad for lunch.  Sigh.
Have a happy, healthy Monday.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Glad to Be Back...

Had a little business trip this week.  Florida is nice this time of year, and I got to see a herd (pod? conflagration?) of manatees, which was AMAZING!

Here's where I was:

Here's what I was doing:

Judging an ice cream contest & presenting awards

Here's what I wanted to be doing:

Ice cream is great, and I love my job and getting to see my clients.  I just wish I could bring my girl with me when I go away, you know? She likes ice cream, and she's a good traveler....

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mental Performance Coaching Session 3: Achieving Focus - Easier Said Than Done...

My second mental performance coaching session resulted in some good stuff.  There really is
something to this debriefing thing.  I mean, how many times have you heard you should keep a riding journal?  A bazillion, right?  But for some reason you've never done it.  I hear you.  I didn't either.  Took this whole mental coaching initiative to make me start and now I could kick myself, because the difference in my riding and the way I think about my riding is tremendous.

When I ride, I am focused so much more on what I am doing and how the horse is reacting.  I'm noticing more about my position and the aids I'm giving and how my mare is responding to them.  True, I may have noticed some of these things before, but the difference is NOW I'M SUPPOSED TO WRITE IT ALL DOWN.  If I don't pay attention and retain laser like focus I know I'll forget something important. (Yeah, I know.  This is not like Moses missing the parting of the Red Sea because he was admiring a dandelion. )

After I'm done riding I write a Debrief.  In it I include the date, my goal for the day, what went well, what didn't, any thoughts I have on why something may have succeeded or failed, and what my next steps are in terms of fixing what went wrong. These next steps become my goals for the next ride.

All of this paying attention to what I'm doing so I can write it down has helped my focus.  You know, the thing you lose when you get past a certain age. 

Here's where we start Session 3, the FOCUS session. According to my mental coach, Sommer Christie, focus is what you pay attention to.  Optimum focus is when you can pay attention to the right things at the right time.  For example, when you are riding in your arena and you are so absorbed in the shoulder in that you don't notice that your child has forgotten to wrap her pony/has put the saddle pad on backwards/hasn't warmed the pony up yet has set off at a brisk hand gallop about the ring.  In other words, you need to pay attention to the right stuff (aids for shoulder in, how horse responds) and not to distracting external and internal stimuli (what kid is doing or how your back is feeling).

Sommer shared a graphic she called the Circles of Attention (Ta-DAH!!)  They looked like a dartboard, and the bull's eye is the primary circle, called Me and My Task.  The second circle is Environment, which in the can be other riders in the ring, horse show judges, the weather - things of that nature that are out of your control.  Circle three is Comparisons.  For example, are you busy comparing your warm up to another rider's, or comparing this ride to a previous ride?  The fourth circle is on outcomes (could be winning or losing. or even "I want this to be perfect!") and the fifth circle are the consequences of those outcomes.  The last circle is the worst one, the Questions of Meaning circle. This would be where you ask yourself  questions like "Why in the name of God am I doing this when I am so lousy at it?"

Essentially, everything but the first circle is a distraction.  We need to "control the controllable," which is what what you are doing, the process you are involved in, and the immediate next step.  For me and my fear of jumping, that means I am cantering poles, and I am not focusing on the distances I am getting to those poles.  Nope, I'm focusing on my rythm.  I'm working on maintaining a good rythmical canter and maintaining it for a whole circle.  Once I can do that in a session, I canter to an exercise of poles and count 1-2-1-2-1-2 out loud so I stay focused on the cadence and not the poles.  It's about choosing productive things to focus on; for example, instead of just telling yourself you "can" do something, you tell yourself what you need to do to get something done. Make sense?

It's interesting that with all the attention I've been putting into noticing what I am doing while riding and then transcribing my thoughts into my journal, I've been more able to focus on the immediate task at hand.  The other day in  a lesson we were doing the circle of death exercise over poles (imagine a clock with poles set a number of strides apart at 12, 3, 6 and 9) and all I was doing was counting the strides like a refugee from Sesame Street.  I may have sounded like one of the Count's minions, but that intense attention to what I was doing and NOT on what anyone else in the ring was doing made a huge difference.  I'd say I nailed about 85% of the distances, and when I missed one, I was able to recover and regroup more easily.

However, the one constant thing about focus is the inevitable loss of it.  Sommer and I did not get to discuss strategies for dealing with loss of focus yet, but she gave me some homework (yep, therapy is WORK!) and that touches on some techniques. So far what I've gleaned from reading ahead is that you can train yourself to keep your focus. You can practice focusing in training sessions, as I outlined above.  You can simulate the stressors you might encounter during competition during training, such as practicing timed jump offs, or placing flowers or people in odd places or having loud music playing.  You can even practice making mistakes so you can practice fixing them. Another tactic is using visualization to see yourself  competing and successfully handling potential distractions.  Finally, you need to pay attention to your level of focus during every ride, and debrief yourself afterwards. When did you lose it, how did you get it back, why couldn't you get it back, is there a better way to do this next time?

Then you make a plan to help you regain your focus.  There are a couple well known strategies to achieve this.  You can "Tree" it -- imagine you are taking the distraction and placing it high up in a tree where you can no longer see it or reach it. (I'm more in favor of burying it in a deep dark hole, but I'm not the person who came up with this idea so to each his own.)  You can use "anchors" - re-focus reminders such as words or images.  Like getting a tattoo of the word "Breathe" on your wrist so you can see it when you ride.  Of course, there's no need to be this dramatic, but anything that brings you back to your immediate task is good.  The last strategy I read about was the use of "Meaningful Metaphors."  One of those could be "Change Channels." Imagine your brain as a TV and when you get mired in negative thinking or lose focus, change the channel back to a clearly focused picture of what you need to do.

Good luck, and laser-like focus, to you!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Root for Your Team Tonight - The G&C Farms Nations Cup Live!

Gratuitous pic of me with Beezie
World Cup '09
The $75,000 G&C Farms Nations cup is being held in Wellington, FL, tonight, and you can watch the best of the best from around the word live on USEFNetwork.  Eleven teams will be vying for top honor, and not only can you watch this event live, you can share your thoughts and excitement LIVE with other fans from around the world on Horse Junkies United!  Simply open one page of your browser to USEFNetwork, and another to HJU, and let the fun begin!  Place informal wagers with fellow fans on which team will win, vote for your favorite rider, or the most stylishly turned out horse and rider pair.  Guess how many will find their way clear to the jump off, or see if you can come close to predicting the winning time.
See if you can find a glimpse of newly appointed US coach Robert Ridland somewhere on the grounds!

Captain Canada is
 riding Star Power tonight

The George Morris-led veteran US squad is comprised of perpetual stalwarts Beezie Madden, Margie Engle, Mario Deslauriers and Lauren Hough. Over the 11 year history of the event the US and Canada have been sharing the top space on the podium - the only other team to break in and win is Ireland (gotta love the Paddys!) The US hopes to pull even with Canada by winning their fifth title tonight.  Can the Yanks pull it off against a strong Canadian squad comprised of Ian Millar and Star Power; Tiffnay Foster and Victor; Yann Candale and his new star Landsdowne; and 2008 Eric Lamaze (sigh) on one of his new mounts, Derly Chin de Muze.

Game on, horse fans!!!!

Order of Go is as follows: