"It never feels as good as it looks, nor does it ever look as bad as it feels.”
Oh the times this could have been applied with my self conscious and wandering mind before now… trying on dresses for prom, prepping my freestyle routine for the Equine Comeback Challenge, the first time I went rock climbing, or the first time I galloped a racehorse. But, that saying got me thinking. So I started trying to be more mindful of what I felt while I was riding, and not what things might look like… That is when I got an idea..
Before I go into my light bulb moment, I’m going to give a brief background on Mindfulness Meditation. Stick with me, you will see why, just give the hokey explanation a shot.
Mindfulness Meditation is not about clearing your mind, but rather about recognizing when your mind wanders so you can respond rather than react to what is happening. Your mind is actually incapable of thinking about more than one thing at once. You may think its possible, especially when you feel extremely overwhelmed, but its not. When you feel like your mind is thinking too much it’s really just jumping from thought to thought extremely quickly. So, with Mindfulness, you typically identify somewhere to feel your breath, and mentally note In, Out, In, Out. Even if you are just identifying with one breath, for that moment you were not thinking about anything else. When your mind wanders, and when you realize it has done so, you just start again; In, Out, In, Out. The act of recognition, and returning to the breath is the act of being mindful, not the focus on the breath itself.
Why is this relevant? Well, Mindfulness is something I have been working on since the accident. I need to get better about practicing it, because especially when things get tough it does really help. With how bad things got last month, I now see I should have been doing this more, so I recently took it up again and cranked it up in scale. As it helped me feel better (not perfect, work in progress) over the last two weeks, I thought to myself… I bet I can apply this while riding.
OK, so being mindful while riding seems like it could be useful. But in order for this to work, I’ve got to take away all other stimuli while riding. This is where things got a little tricky.
See, typically I ride with my phone. I say it is because of safety, or because I want to ride with music, as the music keeps me focused. When in reality, the phone is a huge distraction. I end up checking texts, scrolling through Facebook (no longer a problem now as I took that off of my phone two weeks ago. FREEDOM!! I highly recommend it), or answering messages about horses for sale. Pretty much the second the phone goes off I am no longer training, I’m just along for the ride.. Not only that, but when I ride with music I find that I tend to react and ask for things in tempo with whatever I am listening too, without even realizing it. Think about it, one of the reasons you make running playlists is so you can run with what you are hearing. In reining, when you have a song for a freestyle, you want to be able to keep with that beat in your maneuvers. But as you are doing slow work, and start rocking out to Anna Kendrick on the Trolls Soundtrack (really… no one else but me does that?) you don’t even realize that when you should have released for one good lateral step, and moved on. You end up asking for more of them with the speed and tempo of the music.
With that in mind, I decided I am going to stop riding with music, and not even have my phone on me when I ride. This then led to another problem… Without music, and with doing mundane basic exercises that require A LOT of repetition, my mind was wandering EVERYWHERE! This is where the mindfulness while riding came into play. I decided, instead of noting the In and Out of a breath, I will mentally note the steps Cooper takes with his front feet. I can then use this to improve my timing in asking him to wind down his circle, and I can correctly time asking him to take lateral steps in a spin. Here is how it started…
Left, right, left, right, left, right….. Should I delete SnapChat from my phone? Left, right, left, right, left, right, left…. What should I do with the babies in our session today? Left, right, left, right…. I should call my blog “We can do it Wednesdays” Left, right, left… Circle feels good. Open left hand and left leg, apply right leg, crossover release, crossover release; he is starting to move his hip, quick push him back into the circle. Left, right, left, right… I can’t believe I’m getting in a horse to train for the races. Am I excited or terrified? Left, right, left, right, left… I wonder if the homemade pickles I’m making are going to taste good. Left, right, left, right, left…. And so on and so forth.
Oh, and my rides on Cooper this week were at least an hour each, so you are getting the cliff notes and entertaining version of my thoughts and how this process started. But, because I was able to identify when I was distracted or thinking about the accident as I rode and just come back to Cooper's steps; As the week went on, my focus and timing kept getting better. More than that, riding Cooper started to feel good again.
On Monday I was a little unsure on if I could say “yes” to riding Cooper. Sunday night was rough with not a lot of sleep, which led into a tough morning. I ended up going rock climbing for the day to try and distract myself. But with a friend showing up at the farm that evening, I worked babies for her, and made the decision to get on Cooper at around 7pm. Once I got on, I started on my circles. Left, right, left, right… Especially with the day I had, the above thinking mind was trying ever so hard to weasel its way into this ride. But I kept coming back to the steps. Left, right, left, right… and then, as his left foot was about to leave the ground I changed to my right seat bone, added right leg pressure, his foot moved laterally, his hips stayed still, I released, asked again, released and asked again… HOLY CRAP!!! We just did a full spin with cadence (albeit slow) and a pivot foot!!!
I don’t know where where that spin truly was on the look vs feel scale. It was about an hour and a half into the ride. It was dark, I was by myself when it happened, and we haven’t quite repeated a spin to what that felt like since, but I now know it’s in there. With improved focus and timing, it can only get more consistent. May be it looked even better than it felt, and may be KY is not so out of reach.