Sunday afternoon, I did something I normally don’t do. I actually left the farm. Shocking news, I know, but every now and again, my little hermit crab self has to put on real people clothes and leave the nest. I drove to one of the most (in my opinion) gorgeous places in the state, Shelburne, Vt. This is where Lake Champlain collides with our stunning Vermont Mountains, providing an irresistible ambiance that lures people from all over New England. Truly something to see!
I went to Andrea Waldo’s StressLess Riding Workshop. Andrea is a friend, a fellow competitor and an upper-level event rider. She is somebody I admire and respect, not only as a rider, a trainer and a teacher, but as a person. This workshop combines Andrea’s background and knowledge as a psychotherapist, along with her passion and lifelong commitment as an event rider. The clashing of these two worlds that Andrea knows so well results in the study, pursuit and understanding of how riders can effectively learn to cope with their fears.
As riders, we feel a certain amount of fear. Some riders are deathly afraid to go down centerline at A, others are terrified of show jumping, and countless individuals fear cross country. We are all scared of something, and while we live for our various equestrian sports, we do feel fear. We have to learn how to handle this fear and be able to differentiate between what Andrea refers to as “real vs. imagined threats, or physical vs. psychological threats.”
Competitive jitters are fairly common. Personally, I am a mess right before cross country. I become very quiet, and I experience major butterflies in my stomach. Once I am out of the start box and galloping on course, those butterflies slowly subside and pure excitement and adrenaline kick in. Oftentimes, I am anxious and concerned about one fence. Usually, I imagine something horrible happening at the fence I am worried about, which only adds fuel to the fire. Andrea says in order to deal with fear, we have to first “acknowledge and accept your fear without judgment or criticism.”
One of my favorite parts of her lecture revolved around the concept of offering yourself reassurance: “Ask the worry: What makes this so terrible? Is this likely to happen? What’s the most likely thing that will happen?” Then, she says to come up with a plan. For instance, if I am freaking out about a certain jump, like an enormous ditch, I would offer myself a plan such as, SHOULDERS BACK & LEG ON! Everyone’s plans are going to be different, but being able to offer yourself reassurance and a plan in such stressful situations is comforting.
Andrea also points out common “brain traps” that we succumb to, when reacting to fear:
2. Remembering the anxiety, not the success
4. Minimizing abilities and exaggerating weaknesses
I know I personally suffer from number 4 and 5. Andrea suggests we figure out which brain traps we fall under and then come up with some alternative solutions so that we are not always falling victim to these inevitable “traps.”
My other favorite part of her workshop was the “Deep Practice” topic. Deep practice is a concept extracted from a book Andrea says all event riders should read, “The Talent Code,” written by Daniel Coyle. Coyle argues that deep practice is the most efficient way to learn. Andrea described a giant circle with three zones:
1. Comfort Zone
2. Growth Zone
3. Fear Zone
Eventually, we want to leave our comfort zone behind, steer clear of the fear zone and really spend some quality time in the growth zone. This is the trial and error zone, where we make mistakes, and where our riding is not always “pretty.” This is where we learn how to ride.
I could keep going, but you’ll just have to sign up for her workshop to hear the rest! Andrea’s workshop was a lot of fun, incredibly helpful and I highly recommend going to one! For more info or to contact Andrea visit Triple Combination Farm and StressLess Riding.