Here is the thing about Negative Thoughts. You cannot get rid of them.
Our brains are hard-wired to notice the negative. That is how our cave woman ancestors survived. They noticed the scary saber-toothed tiger, they experienced emotions of fear, they certainly had negative thoughts about the situation, and if they were lucky their fight-flight-freeze response kicked in and they were able to run, fight off the saber-tooth tiger, or freeze and hide until it went away.
Now, today we have very few situations where our lives are truly in danger. However, these negative thoughts still occur. See, we still have this inner cave woman who notices all of the negative things, and she is really good at bringing them to our attention, so that we can do something about it and survive another day.
So, when you try to get rid of negative thoughts, your inner cave woman thinks that you are ignoring her. When you ignore her, she gets more scared, and the more scared she gets, the louder she gets, and the more those negative thoughts keep on appearing.
We need to address the negative thoughts by showing our inner cave woman that there isn't any actual danger, or addressing the fear with action.
Speaking of fear/danger, there are two types of fear: Situational Fear and Psychological Fear.
Situational Fear is the fear we experience as a response to a real and present danger.
Psychological Fear is fear with no concrete, immediate cause. It can be fear of what might happen, fear of what other people think, fear of failing, etc.
Now, our bodies respond with the fight-flight-freeze response whether the fear is situational or psychological.
We get a surge of adrenaline, our heart rate increases, our breathing gets faster, our muscles tense, etc. Our body is making sure that we have the ability to take action, to fight the danger, run away from the danger, or freeze and hide until the danger goes away. This reaction to fear is normal and is deeply embedded in our biology-this is the response that ensured that our cave woman ancestors didn't get eaten by saber tooth tigers.
This fight-flight-freeze response might be helpful when getting ready to run away from saber tooth tigers, but it generally isn't helpful when we are working with our horses. As prey animals, horses are very sensitive to the emotions and body language of others in their environment. So when our thoughts shift to the what ifs, and we start to feel afraid, our brain sends signals to our body, and we get tense, we might crouch forward into the fetal position, we might get fast with our hands on the reins, etc. Our horse senses that we are afraid, and it triggers our horses' fight-flight-freeze response, and our horse reacts, which further makes our thoughts more afraid, and the cycle continues, until either the danger passes or we break the cycle.
Psychological Fear can become Situational Fear:
Let’s say something scary happens, like your horse is walking calmly down the trail, then all of sudden he stops and shakes. In the moment you grab the saddle horn and hang on. After he stops shaking, and you realize that you stayed on, you probably have a thought like “Whew-that was close!” and you take a few deep breaths, confirming that you really are ok now, before continuing on your ride.
The key here is that after an incident of situational fear, once the cause of the danger is gone, you realize that “I’m OK now,” and your body returns to its normal heartbeat and respiration rate, your muscles relax, and you go on about your day.
Now, with psychological fear, because there isn’t an actual real and present danger that we can overcome, we might not get to the point of “Whew-I’m ok now.” So our psychological fears accumulate, and we stay in this state of anxiety. And our horse may pick up on our psychological fears, and their response might even transform into situational fears.
For example, let's say you are tacking up your horse, and you are thinking about the how he crow hopped the last time you rode him. You start worrying that he is going to crow hop again, and you start feeling anxious. Even though your horse isn’t acting up at this moment, you are worried about the “what ifs” that might happen. Your thoughts start affecting your body-your breathing, your heart rate, your muscles, your posture. Pretty soon your horse will start picking up on your fear, and he will likely respond by getting nervous himself, and he might start misbehaving. This is how psychological fear can become situational fear.
Break the Fear/Anxiety Cycle, and don't allow psychological fear to become situational fear. If you feel afraid that your horse might crop hop, then spend some extra time doing groundwork before you ride. Or maybe go on that trail ride with a friend instead of alone until you and your horse feel more confident. Remember, that inner voice of worry is just your inner cave woman, trying to keep you safe! Sometimes she worries needlessly, but sometimes not-so listen up! Ignoring her will just make her more worried and louder anyways, so listen to that voice!
Awareness is the first step, then once you are aware of the fears of your inner cave woman, you can take action to prevent your psychological fears from actually occurring.
Gritty riders know that mistakes are part of the process, and the only way to improve is to try new things.
Gritty riders know they miss 100% of the shots they don't take-so they throw their rope! If they miss, at least they missed trying!
What have you and your horse tried lately? How did it go? Did you win-or learn? I'd love to hear from you-share your experiences in the comments!
P.S. If you found this tip helpful, share it with a friend.
P. P. S. For a list of 10 things that gritty riders don't do, (so you know what to avoid), sign up for my free email list: https://mailchi.mp/99c612c0fb98/10-things-gritty-riders-dont-do
📸 of Chevy missing the roping the dummy taken by Changing Winds Photography at the September 2019 WIFQHA Show
"One of the great mistakes people make is to not ride often enough and to try to accomplish too much when they do." -Ian Francis
Through my Horsemanship Journey, and through helping others with their Journey, there is a common barrier to success-and it is one I struggle with too!
This barrier is Lack of Consistency.
If you want to become a better rider, and if you want your horse to be a better horse, you need to work with your horse consistently.
Horses learn by repetition, and they learn best from short, frequent sessions. It is better to ride your horse 5 days a week for 15 minutes than to ride him 1 day a week for 2 hours.
It is better for the rider also to have short frequent sessions. Riding is an athletic activity, and riders that are out of shape that attempt to ride 1 day a week for a long period of time will find that they get sore. It will also be difficult to develop balance, rhythm, timing and feel if the rider is tired and sore. If the rider is tired and sore, they will not be balanced, and they will bounce in the saddle, pull on the reins, and/or generally get in the way of the horse.
Besides the horse and rider learning better from short, frequent sessions, what people sometimes don’t seem to understand is that riding is a partnership. It takes time to develop a partnership, and once that partnership is developed, it must be maintained. A football team does not practice together only once a week, and then expect to win the game on Friday night. They practice 5 days a week. This ensures that they are prepared to work together, as a team. I believe it is even more important for riders that have goals becoming a Horseman, or goals of competing, to work with their horse consistently. Why? Because the horse is a 1,200 lb flight animal that doesn’t speak the same language, and it takes more practice on both the horse and rider’s part for them to work together as a team.
When I ride my horses, I strive for them to be 1% better than the ride before. In 100 rides, they will be 100% improved.
Consistency. It makes a big difference.
Another part of consistency is Expectations.
Let’s say I have two riders that both have the same goal-say they want to show in western pleasure.
The first rider puts in the time and effort to ride consistently, let’s say 3-4 days a week, even if most days they only ride for 15-20 minutes. This rider strives for that 1% improvement every ride. This rider is not only going to be better, they are also going to be happier. If their expectation is that their horse gets just a little bit better every day, they are able to enjoy the small improvements. They stay motivated, because they are reaping the reward of small successes every day. This rider’s horse is usually happy and tends to have a close relationship with their rider.
The second rider only rides one day a week, usually for an hour or more. This rider is usually tired and sore during and after their rides, and therefore lacks the balance of the first rider. Their horse is sometimes confused, frustrated, and often does not perform at their best. This rider also tends to expect more than 1% improvement on every ride, after all, they have the same goal-and deadline-as the first rider, but they have less time to achieve it in. The result is a frustrated rider and frustrated horse, each pushing to achieve more than they are capable of. This rider is a perfect example of the opening quote by Australian Horseman Ian Francis: “One of the great mistakes people make is to not ride often enough and to try to accomplish too much when they do.”
Which rider do you think will do better at the show?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that we all have other things besides horses in our lives-families, jobs, school, etc. I live in WI, where winters are cold, snowy, and long, and the spring is cold and wet, the summers are hot and humid, and there are a few beautiful riding days in the fall. If you don’t have access to an indoor arena, it can be hard to work your horse consistently. I have a job besides horses. I have two little boys and a herd of cattle to care for. I am blessed that I have a husband who rides and loves horses, so it is slightly easier for us to set priorities so that our horses get worked consistently…after the rest of the work gets done, of course.
And that brings us back to expectations.
If, for whatever reason, you can only ride your horse one day a week, you can only expect 4% improvement every month. If your goal is to compete, you need to understand that other riders that are able to put in more time are going to do better than you. There is nothing wrong with riding 1 day a week, if you recognize and are happy with 1% improvement each ride. You can certainly enjoy your horse, and develop your riding skills. It just will take longer.
If you can only ride 1 day a week, then you need to set realistic expectations for you and your horse, so that you do not get frustrated and discouraged.
Some things that would help a rider that wants to improve, but can only ride 1 day a week:
-Consider breaking up your one hour ride once a week into three 20 minute rides, three days a week.
-Put your horse in for training. If you are not able to ride everyday to get that 1%, consider having someone else ride your horse for you.
-Get the best broke horse that you can, so that your horse is at the level that you want to be at. A green horse or a prospect is not the horse for someone who can’t put in consistent time with the horse.
-Take lessons as often as you can.
-Consider video coaching if do not have any trainers/instructors easily available.
If your expectation is to become a Horsewoman, or to win at a competition, you need to be consistent. You need to set your priorities to allow you to spend time with your horse. That is why I call it a Horsemanship Journey (and it is a Life-Long Journey!)
Becoming a Horseman doesn’t happen overnight.
So get out there and ride your horse!
In one of my Get Gritty Facebook Groups, we have been discussing grit, and the first two parts of grit, passion and purpose.
We've defined grit as passion and perseverance for long-term goals.
We've reconnected with our passion for horses-what made you fall in love with them in the first place.
We've also uncovered our personal purpose for our horsemanship journeys.
Now I feel is a good time to step back and consider this question:
Is it possible to be too gritty?
Yes, it is.
There is a dark side to grit. We can get so focused and be so driven on our goals that we can start to believe that we can only be happy if we achieve them. So we get caught into the happiness trap, that is the "I will be happy when I can do .... with my horse," or "I will be happy when my horse and I win ......"
Here is where I caution you to not connect your happiness to your achievements. And I get it, this can be tough, especially along our horsemanship journeys! We all want to be able to do amazing things with our horses, and indeed, it wouldn't be very motivating to go out and put in the hours of effort and work required to develop a relationship with our horse if we wouldn't be able to achieve some of those goals!
And I've also studied the science of goal setting and hope, and I understand how we are naturally goal-driven beings. It is natural for our happiness to be connected to our goals.
That is where getting really clear on our passion and purpose, and making sure that our horsemanship journey and our actions align with our core values-that we are becoming the best horsewoman that we can be.
And remember that the true test of whether or not you are a good horsewoman is simple:
Does your horse trust you?
Not a ribbon. Not being able to perform a flying lead change.
Having a positive relationship with your horse. Isn't that what we all want?
So don't get so focused on your goals that you get too gritty.
A great quote from Winston Churchill sums it up pretty well:
"Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never— in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."
Keep true to your values, your personal purpose, your honor, and I take good sense to also mean horse sense. You can get gritty, be happy, and enjoy your horsemanship journey all at the same time!
What do you think-is it possible to be too gritty? Share you thoughts in the comments!
In 2004, Stanford University Researchers Liberman, Ross and Samuels* asked undergraduate students to nominate their classmates that were the most cooperative and their classmates that were the most competitive. They didn't tell these students that they had been nominated to participate because they were thought to be cooperative or competitive by their classmates. The nominated students then were assigned to two test groups, with money as the prize. Test Group One was assigned to a task called the "Community Game," and Test Group Two was assigned to a task called the "Wall Street Game." In each group, the individuals needed to make a choice-either a win-win choice that benefited everyone, or to make a win-lose choice that only benefited themselves.
No matter if the individual's initial quality was cooperative or competitive , the students in the Community Game group were more likely to be generous and choose the "win-win" and the students in the Wall Street Game group were more likely to be selfish and choose the "win-lose."
The only difference between the two groups?
The name of the game.
Burdens, hardships, crisis and other negative situations will happen. It is simply a fact of life.
How we handle these negative situations, however, is our choice.
Sure, it is natural to complain when bad things happen, especially when things happen that we have no control over.
Does that really help though?
Hi, I'm Chevy. I'm a Mama to two adorable cowboys, a Farm Wife helping manage our herd of Hereford cattle, I prefer to be horseback whenever possible, I have a passion for horsemanship and helping riders learn the mental skills they need to get gritty and go after their big horse dreams.
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