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Discussing the course

Mental Block

The older I get, and the more I ride, the more I’ve come to realize that riding is both physically and mentally challenging. In the last year, I’ve experienced a lot of both. I think I’m winning the physical battle, although I hate to say that because horses are humbling creatures. Mentally though, it’s a different story.

Discussing the course

I always tell my trainer that I can only manage to actively think about 2-3 things at one time while I’m riding. So I have to practice certain things (like eyes up, or heels down) until they become automatic before I can add in a new thing to think about (leg off the ground or stretch up on landing). I require the occasional reminder in all things, but typically once something becomes “automatic” it stays that way. I don’t regress very often, and if I do, it usually only lasts for one ride or so.

Trotting in Ring 2 at Delaware

Mentally, it’s a whole different ballgame. Each day is different, and brings new challenges… sometimes they are new and sometimes they’re the same thing I’ve struggled with for a 100 days. My mental state is as fickle as a politician running for office. I’ve been practicing mental toughness, guts, positivity, confidence, trust, and letting go for a really long time… yet I’m not sure that I’ve actually made progress in ANY of those areas. Some days I’m tough and confident… and some days I’m not. Right now, I’m definitely on a downswing, and I thought it would go away as quickly as it came on… but it’s not.

I’m officially in a mental block and I can’t get out.

Do any of you experience mental blocks when it comes to riding? What do you do to get of the funk?


Fly On Over is an equestrian lifestyle blog devoted to connecting horse lovers around the world. By providing equestrians with practical tips and tricks related to horse ownership, discussing training techniques for horse and rider, as well as covering industry news.

15 thoughts on “Mental Block

  1. Downswings happen. I just let it roll. I look for what I love and enjoy about what I do and if it’s feed cookies and brushes horses, I do that. The feelings come and go. Instead of beating myself up for that, I accept it.

  2. Lately, I’ve just been telling my coach or husband if something’s really affecting me, no matter how dumb it sounds to say out loud. I’m lucky because coach is super good at acknowledging things, but then pushing the boundaries and getting me to a positive place. Husband is a very honest guy, but also positive, so I appreciate his input equally.
    I’m also still using the advice I got at our eventing clinic for moments I find really stressful; pretend to temporarily be someone else, someone you perceive to be capable and confident. It works for me because I can let go of all the shite I beat myself up forand focus more directly on the job at hand. Mary King got me through some rough spots in day 2 of eventing camp 🙂

  3. I used to struggle a TON with this, and the one thing that helped? Faking it ’til I made it. I would say out loud “what a great learning opportunity” when things went south, and talk about how excited I was to do the big jumps even when on the inside I wanted to puke. After saying it out loud 1298371982 times, I started to believe it, and now I genuinely can’t wait! That’s the same way I learned to love public speaking. It sounds totally ridiculous in the moment, but I swear by verbalizing confidence until that confidence becomes real.

  4. Seems like downswings have been the story of my life with Pig. I try to be nice to myself when they happen, and not beat myself up too much. But, that’s just another thing I’m working on. Haha. But I have learned a few things:

    1. I’ve found crying on the way home is not a good idea. Especially if you drive in 45 min + of heavy traffic. Clear eyes are key.
    2. Picking up wine on the way home is totally acceptable. See also: dark chocolate covered sea salt caramels.
    3. Take deep breaths and think of 1 or 2 things that make your trip to the barn worth it. Did your horse have a scrape that needed tended to? Did he make a cute face? Did you get some exercise? Did you get to see a fox on your drive in? Did you get to listen to awesome music/catch up on a podcast on your way in?
    4. When all else fails, I tap out and call a friend. Telling each other ridiculous stories of our failures always helps.

  5. You have done so well with all your recent issues! I think I would have wusses out. I play different make believe head games lol. Pretend she’s a new horse I’m trying out- I don’t know any bad habits of hers and often they don’t manifest because I’m not riding for them. Or pretend I’m showing her so sit up and just ride thru the scary end like there’s a judge watching. Lots of breathing really slowly. And some days I’m just a hot mess, and I don’t try anything other than surviving the flat. I’ve learned it does me no good to jump when my heads really not there, we both get frustrated.

  6. First off, LOOK AT YOUR SQUAD. Second, I love Austen’s comments. Great ideas 😉 And third, my main mental block to just to build up the motivation to really do focused work. Mainly after a long spell of just occasionally riding for fun. I can get in a groove of just riding for pleasure–which is great–but goals do not get achieved that way.

  7. Oh hi, hello, I am the president of this club! What sometimes helps me is to acknowledge my fear and anxiety as a living being, like the flappy butterfly. And then tell it to shut up. I also really worked with my trainer (aka my therapist) last year on pinpointing where my anxiety comes from. For me, it’s a control issue. So when I start to freak out, it helps to focus on something I can and should control like my track or straightness, instead of whatever horrible scenario my imagination has cooked up. And as much as you or I may want to push past something that scares us, it’s important not to push yourself past your abilities and end up scaring yourself more. I’m here for you if you want to chat & get stuff off your chest!

  8. I know you’ve been working really really hard and riding a lot. Have you thought about taking a small break? Not huge, not like a month or anything but sometimes even just a week will help you feel refreshed when you feel like banging your head against the wall.

  9. Definitely. I think everyone has moments of doubt and frustration. And a million other negative emotions. I recently was going through that, too, where I just felt confused and frustrated – just blocked, mentally. I had recently helped a friend going the same kind of thing by making her state at least 3 positive things every ride. So I made myself do that, too. It does help, little by little! Just don’t allow yourself to say a positive thing and then follow it up with a “but…”!

    Also: Getting a fresh perspective. I was nervous about riding in a clinic with Kirsten Nelson this past weekend because part of my frustration was coming from being confused over too many differing opinions (all from very qualified people). But getting that new take on things really set me on a positive course that I’m very excited about!

  10. No advice since you know I’m currently rocking the mental downswing when it comes to jumping, but I’m loving reading all these comments! I hope they help you!

  11. I always want to go back to basics, and do somethings that I am really good at (whether that’s horse related or no). It gives my self esteem a boost, and let’s my perspective readjust. 🙂 We equestrians are brutal on ourselves.

  12. I’m at a point right now where I don’t even want to see my horse. It’s a huge struggle. I feel stuck between options – neither of which I like. Keep my horse and continue to struggle/feel like I’m going nowhere…or sell the beast for pennies (since he’s practically worthless) and be terrified that he will end up bound for slaughter.

    So far my answer has been to just avoid him. I find that when I take extended breaks I can usually bring myself back up far enough to not hate the prospect of sticking with my horse for a while longer.

  13. So much yes to all of that… basically I could have written this post. You are so not alone with all of those things. Sometimes when I need a mental shake I literally give myself a physical shake. Sometimes it helps to reset the brain. lol! Hang in there. It will get better.

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