Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to ride more frequently since it has warmed up. I try to have someone there with me to watch me ride, you know, just in case Copper turns into his old, wild buckaroo self even though we’re just working in the barn. So far he has been the picture of composure and obedience (minus that one time that he tried to skip our ride during bridling…) so I’ve been riding some on my own as well. I generally text my husband and let him know when I’m getting on so that he expects me to tell him when I’m done, just in case anything happens I don’t lay unconscious on the barn floor with him imagining that I’ve been ardently cleaning the barn for the last hour.
I’ve noticed that my rides seem to be more relaxing when I’m riding alone, which is odd, because I should be nervous-Sarah right? Copper might kill me, right? This was the same experience that I had when I was riding at G’s last year. While my lessons were immensely helpful, I really started to trust Copper and feel comfortable on the days that I would just show up to ride without anyone really watching me. Occasionally G would toss me a bit of advice in passing when he walked by, but otherwise, I was just enjoying Copper and practicing what we learned in our lesson earlier that week. G even remarked that I seemed to relax more when I was riding by myself. All of this is a huge progression from where I was with riding last year. On my way to take the first few lessons on Copper I would get nervous to the point of my stomach being upset. I had to play music that I knew the words to on my way to my lessons so I could sing along to distract myself from the fact that I was going to ride soon. That’s how neurotic I was about riding a horse that I’ve known since he was a baby.
So it is no wonder I struggle so much with nerves while showing. All the people are watching me (or at least it feels that way). I’ve been on the sidelines at dozens of shows over the last few years due to my insecurities with riding, and know how horse people scrutinize each other when showing.
She should lower her posting. His hands are a little rough. Her seat is all over the place.
I don’t think it is wrong to think these things, or even to express them to your friends, when watching someone show. After all, they are literally subjecting themselves for inspection based on their riding skills and abilities, so we’re only doing what they’re asking the judge to do. I think I just struggle with what people think of me when I’m riding, which is humorous, because my personality bends more towards the “I don’t care what people think” mentality. I don’t stress about the opinions of others generally, but for some reason, I care so much about what people think about my riding. It isn’t even that the judge is watching me, because for so much of the class, they’re watching the other participants. But there are so many people watching the class that it is almost impossible for me to make a mistake and it go unnoticed.
Am I afraid to make mistakes? Yeah. Am I afraid for people to see me make mistakes? Oh yeah.
I think that was part of what was so liberating about the last show I went to. I showed Copper in walk/jog western classes at a local show. I tried my best to not care about what people thought of us, minus G, who hauled Copper to the show and had Copper in training at the time. I told myself that his opinion was the only one that actually mattered because his was the only opinion that could tangibly alter our path and help make us more successful. What does it matter if someone on the sidelines has an opinion about my hands or my seat? They aren’t going to be useful in the improvement of any of those things, so it is irrelevant. Did G hang over the rail and coach me during the class? Heck no. But he was watching and made suggestions in my next lesson so that we could move forward. Copper and I improved so much over the time that we were taking lessons at G’s after the show. We improved on technical things before the show, but after the show we seemed to really get to a level of working on my confidence and how it influences my position and how my position influences Copper. Apparently I go “fetal” when I get nervous, which means I hunch forward and Copper picks up speed. Guess when I get nervous. Yup, when I lope. So, speed makes me nervous, which means that I go fetal, lean forward, and Copper goes faster!
Notice how my butt is coming up out of the cantle and isn’t up underneath me? That shoves me forward and up over his withers like I’m a jockey, which inspires Copper to racehorse greatness, but not really. He’s a pretty good kid nowadays, but he does pick up speed, which isn’t ideal for western pleasure. G’s biggest advice was to pull my butt up under myself and lean back, which automatically slows Copper down, which calms my nerves. We were doing so much better at this before I brought Copper home. I wish I had pictures/video of my riding right before we came home because I feel like I improved so much. I do worry that not riding all winter (particularly not loping) has undone all of our progress. I console myself by telling myself that regardless to whether or not we backpedaled, we are still doing so much better at this point this year than we were at this point in any year prior. My confidence is easily my biggest weakness when riding, so I try to convince myself that we are rock stars. Sometimes it works, other times not so much.
I’ve noticed that playing music while I’m riding at the barn alone helps me relax and breathe better. Poor Copper has heard me sing way too much during the last couple of weeks. Also it helps me to be in conversation with someone if people are watching me. Maybe I need to start having internal conversations with myself when showing? Hopefully that won’t influence me to develop multiple personality disorder or the like. I think I’ll just stick to singing to myself. 😉
What about you? Do you have a riding playlist that helps calm your nerves or focus you? Does it help you to talk to someone while you’re riding? Or are you full time rock stars that never get nervous? Teach me your ways!