A Valuable Lesson In Emotional Fitness

Today my second bridleless ride ever taught me a BIG lesson in emotional fitness. My friend had surprised me in the morning by saying:

“Why not film your Level 4 Free Style today instead of tomorrow. One day won’t change much.” I thought about it and she wasn’t wrong. I did all the tasks required with the required quality in the last session.

I was quite excited – I tend to get that way when it comes to auditions – but made a point that it was not about the audition. On the contrary, it was only my second bridleless ride ever and I was just going to see how it goes and then decide from there. Even if it was not audition material, it’s always nice to have some footage.

In the end, an unsuspected change in routine, strangers whom I perceived to be judgemental (regardless of the fact whether they were or not), the excitement of filming Level 4, three other people riding in the same arena without perceivable patterns and the pressure of wanting to get it right & as best as possible, got me far out of my comfort zone.

I am at a point in my personal development where I notice rather quickly when I am out of my comfort zone and then consciously decide to stay out there so that I can learn. Only today, it took me quite a while to find the right strategy that would allow me to stay out there, learn and with that expand my comfort zone.

I am a very extroverted person and hence when I am amped up I need to move physically. So the best thing for me would have been to go for a gallop, which is not necessarily the right thing for Cash, the left-brain-introvert. So I spent quite some time staying still physically and trying to calm down emotionally. That didn’t work, on the contrary, it made things worse. My friend was speaking quite loud and provocatively with me in the aim of providing a phase four and interrupting my pattern. That didn’t work either because I was afraid, which I could not articulate in that moment. Interesting how dreams and goals are often things we are afraid of. Then she gave me the task of cantering within the question box pattern and going over the jump whilst I do that. Now that was fun, I got to move and adrenaline left my body.

Things improved dramatically, but it wasn’t enough to film a level 4 freestyle audition. My friend was still telling me that I was using my phases too fast – talking too fast, that is – and using my stick too much. So then to interrupt my own pattern, I crossed my arms and set myself the task of riding a 20m circle at the walk, arms crossed, without using my stick or savvy string. That really got me focused and I learned a whole new level of how to be effective with just my body and use less tools. Then I did it at the trot with a very soft and harmonic stop in the question box. There was little chance that it would get any better, so I got off.

So the important lesson I learned today, is just how much emotional fitness you need for Level 4 and beyond. This isn’t about achieving any level. Level 4 is simply a good indicator of a solid foundation. Meaning, that is the least I want to be aiming for.

I learned just how much emotional fitness your horse needs you to have in order to accept you as a leader and be mentally, emotionally and physically with you no matter what.

I am mighty proud that even through all that emotional turmoil I was riding in an arena, bridleless for the second time ever, on a horse I barely know and with three other people riding around patternless in the same arena. Also, that even though I did not film my level 4 audition and most probably won’t tomorrow, I eventually managed to focus myself and end the session on a good note for the horse and for me. I have also gained a lot of trust in myself and Cash, because today I had no qualms about taking everything off and riding bridleless. I knew that there weren’t any control issues and my horse was mentally, emotionally and physically on the same page as I was.

Today was also a good lesson in feel. Especially after I decided to cross my arms and not use my stick or savvy string to ride a 20m circle, it was clear to feel just how little is needed to get a response. When playing in Level 4, it is nice to feel just how little is needed. However, I find that feeling even more interesting when I think of it in terms of re-starts or colt starts.

Even though re-starts will often not respond to those small phases in the beginning because they have learned different patterns, they certainly feel that pressure and perceive it as such. So does a colt-start, maybe even more so.

To sum it up, what my phase 1 was this morning, is now my phase 4. I still have to practice to be able to use my body that way, but it has certainly clicked in my brain.

I look forward to expanding this feel with the next horse, as tomorrow will be my last day with Cash for the foreseeable future.

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