When I was first learning piaffe my mum would stop me and say I was doing too much. I was asking the piaffe with my body and the horse was getting confused and tense. She would tell me to take the long side and just “think piaffe”. It is amazing to feel what happens in the horse when we just picture what we what them to do. That for me is dressage. Learning over time to communicate with the horse just by thinking and picturing what we expect from them.
Sure enough the horse started the piaffe with ease. Whatever we think always translates into a change in our body, and the horse learns to pick up on these very subtle signals.
When we are angry or stressed our bodies tense up, so it’s not hard to imagine that if we set our mind up to achieve what we want on the horse, we are more likely to achieve it. You can never truly know how much horses pick up on. I know that there has been two times in the 5 years with Batialo that I was really down, and he got sick both times. Maybe it was coincidence, maybe not.
I have always had a very active mind, which is why I love sport so much. Sport is my release, and dressage in particular is a sport where a persons mental capacity is far more important than their physical strength.
I used to be physically strong, and through injury I had to learn to be much more mentally strong in order to find a balance. I have to tell my body what I want it to do, and be mentally capable of convincing my horse I can do it, even if I myself doubt it.
I am often asked how I live overseas alone, how I cope mentally without the support of my family. Truth is I learnt to be my own support. I mentally set myself up to not let myself feel alone, just as an athlete sets their mind up to not be affected by pressure.
I was talking to someone recently who said she took up acting and through learning the art of acting she gained greater confidence in everything she did. She then said she was very proud of herself for that, and I loved to hear it. We spend so much of our lives waiting for other people’s approval, that I think it’s a fantastic thing for people to just be proud of themselves and their own accomplishments.
My sister had often wondered if I ride in some way just to please my mum, a person who has had the most profound influence on my life. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t do anything to please anyone else. I love to make people happy, I love to take care of others, but I do it for me. I took care of mum when I was young and I felt a sense of purpose in doing so.
The problem is many people do most things, to gain something in return, be it praise or flattery.
I ride for the most simple reason in the world, I love it. I love my horse, and my relationship with horses is one that has shaped my life.
Sometimes it’s good to ask yourself why you do something. Do you do it for yourself, or for someone else’s approval?
We all know those people who put themselves down in search of compliments. I used to be one of them. Right now I am healthier than I have ever been, and people can see that I’m happy…This is because I stopped caring about what other people thought of the way I looked, and starting prioritising the way I felt and how the way I felt translated into me reaching my goals.
When I got injured last year my horse stopped going as well, because my mind couldn’t block out the pain. The most effective dressage riders can put aside anger, frustration, impatience, all the feelings that will cause tension in their body, and just concentrate on their feeling on the horse, and their connection to him.
Mind training and dressage go together, and until you can be mentally strong enough as a person off the horse, you will never work as an effective person on top of him.
As I begin riding again it is with that awareness, and of course the strength I have gained mentally during the time I had off!
I can now see that it was definitely not time wasted :).