Words Matter

I may be an engineer by education and an analyst by trade, but I am of the firm belief that the language we use has a distinct effect not only on the way other people perceive us, but on the way we perceive the world.

Example 1: What we call our horses and ourselves. I mentioned that AT has officially forbidden me from calling Frankie a llama. I am only ever allowed to call him Fancy WonderPony and other such posh names. The reasoning there is that if we use language implying that he’s not fancy, then we subconsciously set our expectations lower. No one expects a llama to perfect their half-passes. But we would certainly expect that a Fancy WonderPony has the ability- in fact, a Fancy WonderPony will inevitably be good at that and our job is simply to unlock those skills. In a similar sense, we are no longer allowed to call our fav 12yo barn rat Shrimp, Little One, The Tick, or other such affectionate nicknames we’ve been using for years. AT wants her to think of herself as a strong capable junior rider, and part of that is using that kind of language to refer to herself. It may seem like a fairly minor thing, but the names we use to refer to each other and our animals subtly color our perceptions of them. Calling Francis “Studly McGrandPrix” for a few days won’t turn him into a 1.45m horse, but it certainly sets a more encouraging tone to our pursuit of improvement.

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He is a fancy shmancy horse that can hold his own with the best of them. Because he is the best of them ❤ PC- K. Borden

Example 2: How we give instruction. My trainer is very deliberate about using positive instructions. I don’t mean positive as in happy-happy-joy-joy (though I often find her very positive in that way too!), but as in framing things in an active way. Instead of “don’t stiff him in the mouth,” she will say “reach forward with your hands.” Instead of “don’t lean forward,” she will say “open your hip angle.” The focus is on the action to perform, not the habit to correct. Studies have shown that negation actually can make it harder for us to understand the sentence– when someone tells you not to do XYZ, your brain automatically hears “do XYZ” and you have to process past that. Especially in a sport where timing matters so much, using the clearest possible language helps us comprehend and act more efficiently. Not to mention that for visual learners (like myself), the positive description of the action is much more helpful in identifying what I should be doing with my body.

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This is right around where she says something like “half halt and release.” PC- Tracy

Example 3: Dealing with nerves. I think it’s healthy to express when you’re not totally zen. I don’t think you should just shove it all deep down until one day you die. But I do think saying “OMG I’M SO FRICKIN SCARED” isn’t super helpful because then you’re just reinforcing how frightened you are. Acknowledging the anxious energy: yes, good, allows you to continue moving forward. There have been several times that I have gone to my trainer and straight up asked for a pep talk to help me channel my nerves into something productive. Telling everyone how nervous you are: creates a feedback loop without giving it an outlet into something productive. By verbalizing it in a more positive way, you can often talk yourself into a more positive mindset- “I have a lot of energy focused on creating a good experience through the combo” certainly makes me feel a lot better than “holy crap that oxer out of the combo looks huge I think I’m gonna die.” [Side note- show nerves are one thing, intense anxiety is a whole other animal. I’m talking about the former here]

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It also helps a lot to have a trainer who knows you well, and a horse that you would trust to take you through fire. PC- K. Borden

So three very different scenarios, but all areas that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately where the words we use have a lot of power over the way we perceive ourselves and our horses, the way we train, and the way we compete.

What are some examples you have of the way language affects your equestrian pursuits? 

PS- I realized that me posting links to my trainer’s blog is dumb, when y’all can just access it yourself on Facebook. Go ahead and follow Clairvaux LLC for blog posts, cute ponies for sale, show updates from our team, and other awesomeness!

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Speak Up and Ride Hard

I mentioned recently that public speaking is totally my jam. I love it, and I’m pretty confident up there! But this hasn’t always been the case- despite wanting to be good at public speaking, I wasn’t very strong at it.

I’d be so excited to get up to the podium, and I’d get up there smiling. And then my eyes would go wide and I’d get that wavery shaky voice we all get when we’re terrified. Cue the cold sweat.

I was able to speak in front of clients at a recent conference hosted my by company, and it was the first time I’ve ever gotten up there and jumped in without feeling like I needed my inhaler and a double dose of Xanax. I was able to pull up my slides, say good morning, and hop right into my topic.

And the more I think about it, the more similarities I see between public speaking and competing at a horse show of any level or discipline.

  • The preparation: you don’t present at a conference without thoroughly knowing and practicing your material. You go through your topic, update and refine your slides, and then practice practice practice until you know all of the details backwards and forwards. You study the information to be able to answer any questions that pop up. By the time you reach the podium, you’ve done your homework.

Just so with riding: you don’t get to a show and think “CRAP I NEED TO LEARN HOW TO POST THE TROT.” You do that at home until it becomes second nature, and then you go compete with your professional-as-hell posting trot. You learn the rules for your discipline, you practice your test, you practice HOW to learn courses to test your memory. You figure out what to do if something goes wrong- you do your homework so you can answer the questions.

  • The nerves: despite your preparation, you step up to the podium and realize your hands are shaking. You’ve done all the hard work and in theory everything should just fall into place, but suddenly you wonder if you can do this. But once you take a deep breath and pause for a moment, your nerves settle and you’re able to speak without stumbling. You find places to pause during your talk to catch your breath and it lends you the presence of mind to continue on smoothly even when you trip over your tongue.

You reach the show and realize that even though you’ve schooled 2’6″ courses at home a million times, the 18″ class you’ve entered looks HUGE. Everything is scary and overwhelming. But then you take a deep breath and pause, and you ride the way you know you can. You find places to stretch up and breath on course, and that lends you the presence of mind to continue on smoothly even when bobbles come up.

  • The audience: you look out on a sea of judgemental faces. “Ohmanohmanohman they probably know more than me and they think I’m an idiot.” Except no- they’ve shown up to hear you talk about the topic. You’re the one that has put in the work, and they’re choosing to listen. Suddenly you realize that they aren’t there to condemn you and pick you apart, they’re there to listen and learn.

You see the judge staring out of the booth with his judgey judge face, and pass a sea of unimpressed juniors and ammies. “They all think I’m such an idiot who can’t actually ride.” Except no- the judge will see a bazillion people that day and unless he’s a total dick, won’t actually think you’re a bad person even if you hit a rail or two. Most of those ammies have been in your shoes and genuinely want to cheer you on. Most of those juniors- well, they’re probably bratty teenagers- but WHO CARES. There are two groups of people at the show: people who are supportive and encouraging and push you to learn, and people we don’t give a flying rat’s ass about.

  • The aftermath: you finish up, say thank you, and leave the stage. Your heart is still pumping with adrenaline, but it’s in a good way. How cool was that! It may not have been perfect, and you may have said “sequins” instead of “consequence,” but probably no one noticed. You made it through in one piece and feel such a sense of accomplishment and pride that you did this.

You come out of the ring grinning and patting your pony, still trying to catch your breath. Sure, you put 5 strides in the 6 and 4 strides in the 3, but you made it through in one piece. You’re so proud of the progress that you and your steed have made.

  • The familiarity: you’ve given a couple speeches by now. When you get up to the podium, you smile at the crowd and launch right in. You know your stuff, you like your audience, and any slips of the tongue are easy to laugh off. It’s exciting in a good way.

This isn’t your first show anymore. You’re there to compete, strut your stuff, and learn. You know what you’re doing, you like what you’re doing, and a round doesn’t need to be perfect for you to have a good time. It’s exciting in a good way.

With riding, as with speaking, the only real way to conquer nerves is to prepare and then to DO IT. It’s so hard to get over fear of public speaking if you never speak in public. It’s so hard to get over show nerves if you never show.

I’ve been participating in a Toastmasters group with some coworkers, and I sincerely believe that strengthening my confidence with public speaking has a strong effect on my ability to think on my feet while in the saddle. I look at it as mental cross-training for the show ring.

As someone who has always mentally blanked-out a bit on course, I’m excited to put my new skills to the test this weekend for a strong finish to our first show season together!

What do you think of this metaphor? Do you do any sort of “mental cross-training?”

Things that Don’t Scare Me

I very sadly missed my lesson last night due to stupid sniffles/sore throat/general ickiness, so no lesson review today. Instead, I’d like to focus on some positives in my riding by talking about stuff that doesn’t scare me anymore!

I’m a bit of a weenie ammy- when things get hard I get nervous. Luckily I’ve got the DragonMare watching my back and she takes this job very seriously, so I’ve been brave lately. Even when she stopped at those fences at our show, she popped her head up so I wouldn’t go flying off the front. At least, that’s the reasoning I’m ascribing to her (it couldn’t just be that it made stopping easier, could it?).

There are plenty of things that make me nervous, and I think they might be a little different than some people’s “scare list.” But there are plenty of things that seem to make a lot of scare-lists that don’t bother me, and I’m going to keep my focus on being brave!

Without further ado, here’s a list of stuff that doesn’t give me a sinking feeling of dread in my stomach:

  1. Oxers. I dunno, I just don’t ride these differently. Sure, the horse is going to jump a little harder to clear the spread, but whateva. DragonMare usually overjumps by a foot anyways, so these don’t feel that different. Maybe once the spreads start getting wider and wider I’ll start to get a little leery, but for now they don’t even register other than as a mental note on my course.
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Wuteva oxer we don’t care
  1. Combos. Why do people hate combos?? They automatically set you up for the out! Even if you come in messy, sitting up and adding leg will almost always get you out decently. And if you come in nicely, it’s the best feeling in the world to flow out. One-stride, two-stride, three, whatever. Moar combos pls. Then again, I’m lucky enough to have a horse with the power to recover in the middle, so that absolutely helps.
  2. Higher fences. Now, I’m not talking about 4′ brick walls. I’m talking within reason here. I know that Addy easily has the scope for 4′, so 3′ doesn’t feel like a big deal any more. Sometimes I’ll look at a jump and think that it looks big, but I just point Addy at it and suddenly it doesn’t feel that bad. This ties into the Dragon overjumping everything- my trainer and I joked that moving up to 3’6″ wouldn’t feel any different since she usually clears that height anyways. Why be scared of a height we’re already unofficially jumping?
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Yeah, Addy, the jump isn’t that high.
  1. Pace. This is a new addition to the list. Forward used to freak me out, HARD. I was the Queen of Collection and adding strides. But I can’t be scared of pace and ride a horse like Addy, because I would spend the whole time grabbing mane and screaming to slow down. It was SUPER weird in the jumpers to just roll with the galloping step, but it was so so so much fun! Addy has so much power and to feel her beasting around that course was incredible.
  2. Stopping at jumps. Don’t get me wrong, I HATE this. Hate with a capital H. I want that pony to get to the other side of the jump- over, under, or through. But it doesn’t freak me out to get a stop. It used to make me very nervous, but I’m apparently sticky enough to keep my seat (another new development), so I’m less likely to fall off the front or side. Now it just makes me mad. Especially when it’s a simple vertical. How is that scary to DragonMare?!
  3. Random distractions around the farm/showgrounds. Pretty Girl only gets bothered by this stuff if I do. Our last show was the first time I warmed her up myself and we went all over the place, and she didn’t blink. Sane pony means I can stop spooking at the water truck.
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DragonMare don’t care.

There you have it! I’m really happy to have such a trustworthy partner as the DragonMare that lets me focus on the joy of riding instead of my nerves.

PS- Please forgive my re-use of photos. I just love them. She’s so cute!