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Posts Tagged ‘Sports Psychology

July 2011: SITREP

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Written by Katherine Walcott, Illustration by Jean Abernethy

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves.” Anatole France (The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard 1881)

FORM: New Home, New Directions
The first nine installments appeared as a monthly commission for the US Eventing Association’s website. I wrote about my new horse and our goal of getting back into eventing. Then, a change in editorial emphasis left my column as a heap of electrons on the digital cutting room floor.

Meanwhile, I have grown intrigued by the challenges of documenting a process without a known endpoint. As an adventure in writing, I will continue by self, without benefit of market. In 22 years of equestrian journalism, writing has meant interviewing experts and arranging their opinions. It’s time to see if I have anything to say in my own right.

CONTENT: The Journey Continues
The story is simple. I have a fantastic horse. I can’t ride him. The reasons behind the story are myriad. Is this the slow beginning to a beautiful friendship or a classic amateur mistake of buying too much horse? My answer changes daily. Horse and Rider both have the physical skills required to show tomorrow. The problem lies between the collective ears. I’ll talk about his mindset at a later date, perhaps when I have a better handle on the subject. My issues form a layer cake of dysfunction.

My most obvious problem is simple nerves. Hyped up on a high-energy feed, Rodney shook me off a while back [see January column]. The feed problem has been corrected but the memory lingers. Counter to expectation, when he gets tense, I don’t have flashbacks to the fall. Instead, I channel the numerous near-misses when he would spook, jump, spin or perform an exciting mixture of all three. Even though I didn’t come off, the fits he pitched were mindbendingly irrational, athletic, and sudden. The sense I had of impending doom is what knots my stomach. By the time I was actually airborne, I was too busy bouncing and grunting to fret.

Before the rodeo act, I had what I’ll call the Ferrari Complex. I deliberately found a quality horse to step up to a new level. When I sit on his back, however, I wonder who I am kidding. My rides are accompanied by a litany of voices in my head telling me that I have no business driving a Ferrari.

Even if I were to become sane overnight, my body requires retraining. As I’ve said elsewhere, I had Previous Horse for 20 years. That’s the majority of my adult riding life on the same horse. All those tiny, automatic muscles that keep a rider centered above her horse are set to one pattern. Previous Horse was an ill-tempered, barely 16-hand Thoroughbred who moved like a collection of rusty sewing machine parts. Rodney is willing and 17+ hands, 15 of which are leg. He tacks like a stilt walker in a high wind. I get thrown back to front and side to side. While my mind knows that a lovely way of going = high dressage scores, my muscle-memory signals an ongoing state of imminent collapse.

The final layer lurks down where reason ends. I think that I am angry at Rodney for not being Previous Horse.

There’s no solution but work and time. So, I need patience. And I need it now.
P.S. Links to back columns on Facebook at Rodney aka Perpetual Motion.

Written by Virtual Brush Box

July 30, 2011 at 7:45 am