Sunday, September 20, 2015

Letting Go of Mental Braces

Sometimes when we struggle with something - with our horses - we just can't stop fretting/worrying/obsessing about it.  We tell everyone, "my horse does x!"  And, every time we ride, we think about x, worry about x, and expect our horse to do x.  That's a pretty good description, I think, of a mental brace.  And one of the things about it - it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you're expecting x, x is pretty darn likely to happen, even, or especially, if you're closely connected to your horse with mental feel.  And then it becomes a habit, for both you and your horse . . . And we all know habits are hard to alter.

Red and I have struggled, for longer than I'd like to tell (years, actually) with our walk/trot transition. And not all walk/trot transitions - the very first one in a work session, and that one only.  We're walking, I mentally ask for trot, his head pops up and body gets stiff (no trot), I go to a secondary cue, he fusses, sometimes contorting his neck and body, and trots.  Sometimes, if he's feeling fresh, he leaps into canter rather than trotting - almost like he's bursting through a barrier.  It happens almost every ride. After that first, ugly transition, the problem just evaporates - every other walk/trot transition is as perfect as can be, even if we stop working for a while, stand in the middle of the ring and pick things back up again.  This makes it particularly difficult to work on, since it only happens once per ride. I can refine and polish my other walk/trot transitions as much as I want - they're pretty darn perfect - and nothing improves about that pesky first walk/trot transition.  It's unlikely to be a soundness/soreness issue as he immediately has no problem whatsoever, even seconds later, with another walk/trot transition - those happen just with feel and I never have to resort to secondary aids.

I'm anticipating the balk/brace, and he's delivering it. Now we get to the "don't think about pink elephants" part . . .

Stay tuned.


8 comments:

  1. I've been waiting for this post.... Mental bracing is something I'm trying to fix in myself. I want to have a better way of dealing with it before I make bad habits develop with my new horse.

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    1. Shirley - don't know if I'll have any answers, but I'll pass on whatever I learn/figure out.

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  2. If only I could overcome the mental barrier that holds me back...it creates the history that repeats itself. Sigh.

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  3. I think we all struggle with our mental braces. For me I guess it would be Dusty at the mounting block. It's hard to overcome thinking she's always going to swing her butt out or move off as soon as my foot is in the stirrup. Then again, when I decide we're just going to do it and I take a no nonsense attitude, she stands just fine. So, yes, I do admit it's probably all me. Although, I have no problems with any other horse I ride when mounting, so it might be both of us together who have a mental brace.

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    1. I don't have any problem with the walk/trot transition with any horse other than Red. I think, Red, perhaps like Dusty, is extra sensitive to what I'm feeling or expecting and so it's a question of me plus the particular horse that's creating the issue.

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  4. That was a perfect description of a mental brace. And of course we have them in all aspects of our lives, not just riding. We can only live up (or down) to our own expectations. As the saying goes one of the hardest things to change is your mind, which is why I find dealing with a mental brace to be so challenging at times.

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  5. I had the same thing for about a year with Keil Bay at the mounting block. It was all me - I had forgotten to tighten the girth ONE time and slid down with the saddle upon mounting - for about a year after that I always hesitated when mounting, wanting to recheck the girth, or just feeling worried for a moment that I hadn't. Keil Bay, who had never in his life moved away from the mounting block, started moving away! It was clear he was reacting to my nervousness. It got worse and worse until one day I just told myself I had to stop fretting the mounting - and I marched up the mounting block and got on before I could think twice - and he was back to his rock solid self. It took about another year of me consciously focusing on mounting quickly and w/o allowing myself to do the worry thing - and then it was gone. I think once we deal with one of these little (or can be big) braces or glitches in ourselves we realize just how much they affect our riding. I do think it becomes easier to work through them once we've done it a few times. But they can be powerful habits and sometimes require us to trick ourselves to break them.

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  6. I do this alot! That's why riding is such a mental challenge for me. I have to learn to "let go" of my anxiety and fears

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