I know, asking you guys to come back a second time for the conclusion of this post was a teeny bit mean. It's actually that I was in the truck on the way to Texas Rose HT typing and my laptop battery was dying. Also, I thought the post was getting a bit long. If you have no idea what I am talking about, read PART ONE here.
Anyway, I booked a XC clinic at Pine Hill and decided that I would contact a friend of mine about teaching a yoga class on the second day of the XC clinic. She kindly agreed and onto the schedule it went.
I went into this clinic saying that I really wanted the focus of this clinic to be finding balance between our mental state and our goals. Day One I kept saying things like, "I just want this to be a more relaxed clinic" or "No worries, this was a last minute add to the schedule I really want it to be fun and relaxing" and "I'm so excited that we are all going to do yoga together tomorrow!" etc.
Here's the kicker. I change NOTHING about the way I coach a XC clinic. I didn't change the schedule. I didn't change the ride times. I didn't change the progression of the groups. I didn't change the exercises. I didn't change the focus on position corrections and the German Training Scale. I just changed my wording and drew the riders focus to find goals they wanted to achieve while schooling. It changed everything.
For warm up, when the group was ready to start jumping, we went to the startbox area at Pine Hill and I told the riders to start at the Fence 1 complex. One at a time, I asked them to start jumping whichever fences they felt made sense for the training level respective to horse/rider pair. I asked to see a fair progression in the fences they choose and a balance between left and right approaches and to just go link a few fences in that line of options as they saw fit.
*Note: this is a group of students I coach regularly and am familiar with each rider combo
The only other instruction I gave was to listen to their horses. Feel what they are telling you. Make the ride make sense to your horse and have fun
They. killed. it. Each and every rider nailed the technical stuff: great rhythm, super balance, consistent striding, excellent positions... I'm telling you, it was a proud trainer moment. The rest of the school went on from there. Everyone jumped brilliantly and made super life choices. The whole time, I was adding comments about how well everyone was listening to their horses and so on. All the warm fuzzies. Day One was a huge success.
Day Two started with group yoga and as the same group came out, the riders were looking relaxed in the tack, the horses were relaxed and swinging in their gaits and it was apparent my adult amateurs were feeling good about the up-coming school.
As I prepped the beginning of the ride for day two, I told the group that while yesterday was amazing, I wanted them to find something that made them a little uncomfortable on course or that scared them, or that they were worried about, insecure about, terrified of etc, and to bring that to their mind while they were warming up. The Adult Ammy Look Of Death returned to their faces immediately.
I went on to tell them that I wanted them to find a way to look at that fear and have it in front of their face to see the difference in the tightness of their position. I wanted them to notice that being mentally tense just locked their elbows, closed their hip angle, and encouraged them to grip with their knees. Now breathe through it.
As they moved off to warm-up in the canter, I explained that we have no way to duplicate show nerves other than going to shows, but if we can bring mental tension to the rides here, in this environment, we can bring awareness to your rides at shows when the tension of competing is added. The goal being to bridge the gap between the warm fuzzy rides from yesterday and what happens when AA's black out mid-rides at shows.
As I watched the riders struggle to show elasticity in the gait, the horses were getting harder to re-balance. There was more bracing a little less fluidity. Keep in mind the structure of the warm-up was the same as the day before. The wording change. The intention changed.
Off we went to start jumping over the same fences we had warmed up the day before. This time instead of saying, jump whichever fence you want. I pointed to rider A and directed them. I said to jump Beg Novice 1 right lead, then come back around to Novice 1 off the left, then carry on to BN fence 2... etc.
Rider A looked a tad serious as she gathered the reins and off they went. The horse was bracing, the canter wasn't through, the line was questionable. Fence 1. The horse stopped. Re-Approach. Fence 1 again. The horse stopped again.
I called the rider back over.
Rider A, who I have been training for many years, was fighting back tears and said, "I, I don't know what to do... what... why... I... " I interrupted her half-laughing and thanked her, because she just filled in the blank of how I could bridge the two worlds. I told her the only thing that changed was her mindset. The mentality/energy/focus/feeling she had when she started had shifted.
Instead of empowering her, she subconsciously felt that I was going to judge her performance simply because I had directed the action.
Her mental voice started whispering all the negative thoughts/fears it likes to harbor and it manifested into the ride. The kicker was that the fences I had told her to take were the same ones she had chosen to jump the day before- successfully and on her own accord.
So here we are.
I am not saying that training should be all "Om" and warm fuzzies. It is, however, that by bringing our attention to our horses, our breath, and our intention- we can breathe through the many challenges that this sport provides.
One of my yoga teachers said, "I'm not going to tell you how long we are going to stay in plank pose. As in life, we don't always know when we will be thrown challenges, nor how long they are going to last. When we feel that pressure, all we can do is focus on our breathe and trust our strength. Notice where your mind goes when it gets hard, breathe through the self-doubt that floods in. Keep coming back to your breathe to silence your own self sabotage. Take whatever flow you need and we will meet in child's pose."
Have you experienced anything similar with your riding? Please share your stories!