There you are on your horse, waiting for your lesson to start. Things have been very challenging recently, and to say you've been having a rough time is an understatement.
These difficulties are constantly on your mind; in fact at this point they have created enough anxiety to fill a large wheelbarrow. Today you are feeling particularly off-kilter. You do a quick self-assessment and this is the worrisome report: "Heart in my throat and can't seem to catch my breath. Legs are weak like spaghetti. Arms are tight and strangely lifeless. I'm imagining nothing but mistakes!"
You pause and then think the truly scary thought, "I love riding my horse, but right now I am wondering why I am even here." Uh-oh! Houston, we have a problem. Riding is supposed to be fun. What happened?
There can be times when your mental and physical energy feels out of control, as if you're a small boat being tossed around on a sea of adrenalin. Extra energy in your body can take strength away from places that need it and add too much of a charge to areas that need to be supple and relaxed. Understandably, this can be quite frustrating, but changing your perspective about what energy is and what it can do for you is the golden ticket to finding your way to shore.
To start adjusting and successfully utilizing mental and physical energy, you must do just that: Simply call it energy. You may have too much or you may have too little?either way you do yourself a disservice by vilifying the state you're experiencing. It is just a state of being, and with practice and the proper techniques, you can learn to ?effectively control it. Then, instead of getting stuck judging how you feel with a negative label like "nervous," "anxious," "tired," "flat," "zoned-out"?as if that is a state you are trapped in and have no control over?you can spend your time getting yourself to the energy level you need. This will happen in one of two ways:
1. Let go of the energy you don't need, then channel the rest productively. You can learn to release unneeded ?energy and effectively direct the rest to help you accomplish your goals. Remember this at the moment your energy is spiking; your body is on your team, trying to help. Sure, it may be a bit overzealous, but energy in its pure state represents your body's readiness to get the job done. It's a bit like the engineer's assistant in an old steam train throwing too much coal on the fire. Ideally, the head engineer simply says, "Thanks for your help, but this is a bit more than we need. I am going to let off some steam here at the station, and we'll use the rest to get us to Chicago."
2. Generate energy for the focus and intensity you need to ride your best. When you are tired, unfocused, ?underwhelmed or generally feeling blah, you may need to boost your energy level to ride your best, and there are many strategies that can help you.
First, assess your current state and be clear about the energy level you're going for?which is your Optimal Energy Zone?and then choose the most appropriate tools to utilize in that moment. Ideally (and with practice), it will feel like your energy is on tap, and anytime you need to, you can ?either make more or draw on your reserves.
Remind yourself that you do in fact (1) need your energy and (2) have control over it. These are important steps in becoming a consistent rider. You simply assess your energy level, choose the best tools to adjust it appropriately and away you go.
Ways to Bring Your Energy Up
Wouldn't it be great if you had a large volume knob for your energy? You could easily read the current level, and then turn it up smoothly and efficiently as needed. Here are five great strategies for waking up your mind and body with an added burst of energy:
1. Focus on what's fun. Appreciate riding and being with your horse. Shifting your perspective to one of enjoyment can raise your energy level by helping you feel a sense of freedom and gratitude for where you are.
2. Bring your energy up with physical activity. Although it may sound counterintuitive at first, this is very effective. With thoughtful, proactive time management, you can shape your riding or competition days to include a small portion of your typical exercise routine.
Taking a short run or a brisk walk around the show grounds before you put on your tall boots, for example, can get your blood moving, activate your mind/body connection, help you take some deep, full breaths, and elevate your energy level.
Having some physical activities you can do anywhere, anytime, is also valuable. For example, the following physical exercise sounds silly (in fact, silliness itself can be an excellent energy boost) but it's surprisingly effective. It goes by many names such as "Silent Applause" or "Penguin Ovation"?you get the idea.
Directions: Stand up straight, with your feet slightly spread. Face the palms of your hands toward each other as if holding a basketball, keep your elbows at your sides. The palms of your hands and your forearms should be relaxed. Begin to move your hands quickly, bringing the palms in turn closer together and then further apart (hence the term "Silent Applause"). The movements should be fast and short, and your hands should never touch. For thirty seconds, make as many movements as possible. Try to have your tempo at about six to eight repetitions per second. This will get you going and wake up your mind and body (don't knock it until you try it!).
3. Listen to energizing, upbeat music. Remember hearing your favorite song last week on your way to the barn? What did that do your mood and energy? Listening to something that makes you want to move your body will help you create energy and get you looking for fun in what you're doing. Try to keep music fresh by adding new songs into a playlist and getting ideas from friends, the Internet, or the radio.
4. Consistently watch your nutrition. It is difficult (if not practically impossible) to manufacture physical energy out of thin air. If you haven't eaten well for days, your gas tank may be empty, and as talented as you are, you're probably not a magician. To prevent the need for magic, be mindful of what you eat, thereby bringing up your baseline energy over the course of a full day or week.
Eliminate energy sappers like excess sugar, which can cause drastic fluctuations in your blood sugar, resulting in plunging energy levels. Keep enough protein in your diet, especially over the course of a multiday horse show. For example, pack some almonds and raisins for a quick and convenient protein snack. Be careful with coffee and caffeine as they can lead to physical burnout. Drink plenty of water; feelings of dehydration include feeling unfocused, tired, and flat.
You may also want to identify and have on hand your favorite snacks and fluids. Then if you do notice your energy lagging, you can give yourself a quick nutritional boost such as a banana, almond butter sandwich, or electrolyte water.
5. Paint a mental picture. What do you feel when you imagine yourself at your next show, championships, medal finals, or a clinic you're looking forward to? Chances are, the very thought of them brings your energy up and perhaps even gets a butterfly or two flying in your stomach. To bring up your "oomph" factor in the moment, you can visualize an important upcoming event, show, or situation. This will allow you to access your passion for riding well and turn it into energy to use now?in the present moment.
For example, if you need to turn up the volume on your energy while you are at a regular horse show, you can set the scene of championships, which are a few months away. As you walk on your horse waiting to compete, you can visualize the venue and environment of championships, imagining you and your horse there, getting ready to go. The energy you create with that visualization is then all set to be channeled into the job at hand.
Ava's Energy Routine
Now when Ava (the irregularly breathing, motivated and hardworking eventer) goes to an event, she has the following tools in place to adjust her energy. At home when Ava is riding on her own, her mental and physical energy is often low, so she uses this routine to bring her energy up:
- Listening to an upbeat, fun playlist while grooming and tacking up her horse after work
- Imagining the environment of her next competition and visualizing herself walking into the arenas, start box, and in-gate
- Using the motto "Let's get this the first time"?before asking her horse to begin any new part of their work?to create a sense of positive pressure (for more on this, see chapter 10)
- Taking three circle breaths, done at a more rapid pace, emphasizing the inhale during any walk breaks during her ride
For lessons or shows?when her energy is often up at a 6 or 7?Ava uses these three tools to reduce her energy level so she can get to a 5, her Optimal Energy Zone:
1. Find a quiet place before a cross-country school or jump lesson, or at the show to do Ratio Breathing to relax and clear her mind.
2. Use three circle breaths and a short form of the centering visualization to feel grounded and balanced when she first gets on her horse.
3. Channel energy to places in her body that are part of one or two of her performance goals for that ride, such as adding weight to her heels and lengthening her spine.
Learn more techniques for adjusting your energy up or down for better performance in the July 2012 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.