Ever get the feeling your mind is running away with you? It happens to all of us at one time or another, and it can undermine your horsemanship. Getting to where you’re consistently in charge of your emotions—and not vice versa—involves practice.
[READ: FEAR IS A GOOD THING]
The goal to strive for is what I call a “transferable mindset”—that is, a mindset that’s stable and calm no matter the outside influences.
My Emotional Formula will enable you to break the cycle of unhelpful thinking and acting, so you can make progress toward confidence in and out of the saddle.
How It Works
The Emotional Formula has three parts: your focus, or where you’re directing your attention. Your internal dialogue, also known as your self-talk. And your physiology, or how you’re using your breath and your body.
Together, these three components create your emotional state, or the perceived experience you’re having at any given time. For example, if you’re feeling anxious, we’d say you’re in an anxious state. If you’re feeling confident, you’re in a confident state.
Let’s consider how we’d use knowledge of the Emotional Formula to make movements away from anxiety and towards confidence when riding or handling horses.
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How To Use It
Here’s how the Emotional Formula is working when you feel anxious.
Focus: It's in the future. You imagine a worst-case-scenario taking place (falling off, horse spooking, freezing up in the show pen).
Self-talk: It supports your focus, with comments like, “I can’t do it,” or “What if I get hurt?” or “I’m going to make a fool of myself!”
Physiology: Your body and breath mirror your mental focus. You feel unsettled, your joints are tight, your heart rate climbs, and your breath is short and shallow.
Now for the good news. Positively influencing any one of these three elements breaks the formula, automatically moving you toward a better-feeling space. All three work in what you might call a co-dependent way, such that changing up any one of them will have automatic flow-on effects to the other two.
Your best bet? Use each of these prompts in turn to speed the creation of a more confident mindset.
Prompt your focus. Concentrate on what you want, not what you’re trying to avoid. Ultimately, what would you like to make happen with your horse right now? What actions do you need to take to get you there?
Prompt your self-talk. Ask yourself useful, encouraging questions. What should I do right now? What does my horse need from me to feel focused and confident?
Prompt your breath/body. Make each exhalation twice as long as each inhalation; this activates your parasympathetic nervous system to promote relaxation. Adjust your posture into an “I’m confident” frame (chin up, shoulders back, spine erect), then scan through your body, relaxing areas of tension.
If you find trying to change your focus or managing your self-talk difficult or abstract, then start simply with the part of you that’s always anchored in the present moment: your body and breath.
Begin your practice in a low-stress situation away from your horse. Over time, emotional self-management will become a skill transferable to time spent with your horse.
Best of all, know that the more you practice, the easier it’ll be to execute this strategy when you’re riding and the pressure is on.