Thursday, January 26, 2012

Let's Talk About Anxiety

For some reason I've had the song, "Let's Talk About Sex" from Salt-n-Pepa stuck in my head all day. I have no idea how or why this song is in my head. To my knowledge I haven't heard it recently. So when I wrote the title of this post I had that melody in my head. Yeah, I don't know why that's relevant.

Anyways, I think anyone who competes in anything in any way shape or form has dealt with anxiety on some level. I have witnessed riders who have let their anxiety completely keep them from even trying to compete and I have also met riders who seem to be fearless. I would say I fall somewhere in the middle. I haven't to date ever let my anxiety stop me from competing but I have certainly let it interfere. My favorite example is from the first schooling show that I competed in with Chief. This is the only photo I have of that first show. We had camera operator errors that day.

I think Chief was just hoping to get out of there!
I have learned that the way I deal with anxiety is by "retreating." What I mean by that is while my body is there my brain is nowhere to be found. (I'm pretty sure it's off in the corner singing "la la la la" with it's fingers in it's ears.) So at this show we had two pretty simple courses to learn. The arena was pretty small so there were a limited number of jumps. I've drawn a little diagram to show you. :)

The first course was very straight forward. Outside line of A to B followed by diagonal F to A and the other diagonal E to B and finally the other outside line of D to C. (Obviously my little diagram is not to scale but I think you get the idea.) The second course was also pretty simple. It started with the outside line of D to C and then went to diagonal A to F. I would tell you the rest of the course but sadly I don't remember it because I never got past that first diagonal.

So what happened? Well, I was riding but I wasn't thinking. I had let my anxiety completely shut down my brain. When I got to jump A my eyes went straight ahead to jump B and since I was on autopilot and since I had just ridden that outside line in my last class I just kept going. I did this not just once but twice! The second I jumped the wrong fence my brain suddenly said "oops" and I realized what I'd done but by then it was too late.

I've done this in dressage too. On my beginner novice test I was riding along and had just completed my 20 m trot circle at A when all the sudden I realized I had NO idea where I was in my test and what I was supposed to do next. (I actually have video evidence from this one but I'm way too embarrassed to show it.) And if you've ever seen the Beginner Novice tests then you know how simple they are. If I ever make it past Novice I really will be in trouble!

My point to this post, I guess, is that one of my plans for this journal is to write down and have a record of the different ways I've tried to deal with my show anxiety. I think the process of typing it out will hopefully solidify the methods that have worked for me. And if anyone reads this along the way and gets something out of it that will just be a bonus!

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