Thursday 29 November 2018

Circle Of Struggle

Last night's lesson...did not go as I had hoped it would. But, it went pretty much how my brain thought it would. Stupid brain.

I showed up with dressage saddle in tow, and EC was like "Wait, our schedules are weird right now so you're sharing with F tonight and I think she's jumping."

Me: "I'm going to die."

EC: " It's just the circle exercise. I'll keep the jumps small."

We're probably all familiar with the circle of death. It's "just" a 20m circle! (with jumps)

Me: "Logically, I know I can do can do it. Emotionally, my brain is saying I can't. I can't jump horses other than Bridget."

EC: "It's just a circle. You can do this one handed, I bet. We'll start with poles. You'll be fine."

And so, we started with poles. And it was fine. When we moved up to canter Audrey was a little more onward bound than I'm used to, but we sorted it and did a respectable job, fitting in 5, then 3, then 4 strides as asked. I was like "Yep, got this. It's just a circle and we're just practicing our different canters. No big deal."

Next EC put them up to cross rails. Yours truly forgot to breathe over the first and held Audrey to her bounciest canter, thus ensuring we got what felt like the world's biggest and most show jumpiest crossrail. There was substantial hang time the literal sense for me, having been left somewhere far, far behind.

So, of course my brain was like "See! You can't jump! You're terrible."

This is the part where I'd like to say I told my brain to shut up, fixed my error, and rode super well and confidently. But no.

I repeated the above fail a few more times, with varying distances, levels of altitude, and explorations of the entire real estate of her saddle.

And so, we trotted the exercise.

It was marginally better, although I was still basically a frozen monkey.

We finished with dropping one side of the crossrails down, and trotting into each and cantering out until I could do that without scaring anyone too badly.

The best I can say is that it happened. I got it done. It wasn't pretty. I couldn't even find a balanced two point  - I think partly because I was so tense and in my head that I couldn't relax down into my heels.

And, oh boy was I hard on myself after. Torn between listening to the mean voice in my head that says I'm simply a useless and awful rider, alternating with being absolutely furious at myself for letting that voice take over and not kicking it to the curb.

I 100% know I can do that exercise. I did it bareback on Bridget a couple of weeks ago, over slightly bigger crossrails, even. I would expect a learning curve and some fails with Audrey. That's fair. 

What's incredibly frustrating to me that my emotional brain stepped in at the littlest hint of adversity (that first awkward jump) and pretty much ran the show so that I was borderline having an anxiety attack for the next 20 minutes while basically making my negative expectations of my riding ability a reality.

That was sh!tty.

Of course we can't end this post with that. So, on the plus side:

- The first part of the lesson with just the poles was great. Super helpful for me as far as adjusting the canter.

- When it got tough, I didn't give up, get off, quit, or cry. Even though I really wanted to do all of those things at one point or another.

- I was able to recognize I was having trouble confidence and anxiety wise and verbalize that to EC. (I found saying something hard because honestly, I felt embarrassed)

- I was able to utilize some of the breathing and focus tricks I've been reading up on in some sports psychology books and practicing in yoga.

-And so, within a minute or two, I was able to calm the f down enough to breathe and listen to EC's instruction and continue the lesson.

-It feels like forever (I do remember the last time and it was a xc clinic 2.5 years ago) since my brain was a jerk like that, so despite that rough lesson last night, maybe overall I'm winning.

-I obviously care very much about my riding and being better at it.

- Next week's lesson is dressage :D


  1. I mean...the Circle of Death is named so for a reason. So great job on surviving!

  2. It's hard when you do exercises on different horses - I am like you, I freeze up even tho it's something I've done hundreds of times. I think you need to give yourself a pat on the back still bc the circle of death isn't the easiest thing in the world and despite *feeling* like it was a bad ride, it gave you an opportunity to address your demons. Audrey sounds like a bit of a spicy mare, but she didn't do anything dangerous and let you feel your feelings (at least thats how i interpreted your post!). <3

    1. She's such a good mare - very genuine about wanting to do a good job, despite my feelings and ineptitude :)

  3. Aw I’m sorry :( great positive takeaways tho and it means a lot that you didn’t quit and kept trying.

  4. I don't have any advice but just to say you are definitely not alone in feeling like that some days while riding!

    1. I wish that weren't true - I'd love to imagine everyone else consistently having a good time :)

  5. Emotional brain is a real bitch sometimes and you're definitely not alone with the freeze-up struggle! If I had a nickle.... But it sounds like you had some great takeaways so that's something to focus on. =)

    1. Also on the plus side, it seems like the older I get the less pride I have, so I'm quite happy to put all the fails out there and ask for help, lol

  6. Good job of continuing on and working through the nerves. My anxiety has gotten a lot better, but I have a much lower tolerance when jumps are involved even if small!

    1. It's funny how it ramps up so I feel like I actually would have had the complete opposite lesson had that first fence gone well and I knew I could do it.

  7. This is one of my favorite exercises and with most horses the key is just controlling that damn outside rogue shoulder. I'm sorry it caused you so much anxiety but I'm glad you had tools to deal with it in that moment.

    1. My problem used to be losing the outside shoulder, now it seems to be the jumps...I'm not sure if that's progress or not :D