2017 Kick the Inner Critic to the Curb

Bouncing back from injury and the lack of confidence that comes with it…

Every year begins the same way, this is the year – 100% commitment. 2016 was no exception. I had massive plans to get back into competition mode, jump the amateur circuit and come the summer, get a few one day events in. I had just finished my masters, started a new demanding job and was itching to continue where I had left off before I had returned to full time education. Eager to get back in the saddle was an understatement.

I wasn’t as fit as I used to be, riding or otherwise, and my first attempt at a meter track ended up with Giselle and I parting company mid air ( where I proceeded to hit the jump wing, and the poles and the ground…). Tail between my legs I got back up and went again, this time without any flamboyant “dismounts”. Until the next week, and the week after and probably two weeks after that too. There was something wrong and I knew it, and so did my inner critic.

The saddle didn’t feel the same, my horse didn’t feel the same, I just didn’t feel the same. With every passing week, instead of growing in confidence doubts crept in and with the doubt came the criticism. Not from anyone else but from myself. You see, I should know better, I should be able to do this.

Basically, I was suffering from the dreaded “lack of confidence”. Afraid to admit it I began to experience anxiety before show jumping. I had always had the pre-show jitters but I had always been able to turn the nerves into energy and go into the arena with all guns blazing. But this time I knew something was a miss. I felt awkward in the saddle. My legs felt useless. It just didn’t feel the same and the self-doubt frightened me.

I managed to finish the spring league and even placed 2nd in the 90cm and 1m classes. I was lucky as I had a very patient trainer who kept encouraging me (even when I was messing up strides left right and center) and a very encouraging boyfriend who pushed me to continue even when I stated for the first time in my life that “I didn’t really want to jump…” I never told them the extent of my anxiety. I was just lucky that I had a couple good weeks to put me temporarily back on track. I was able to ignore the little voice telling me that I just wasn’t up to this anymore.

You see, deep down I knew that I was asking too much of myself (and my horse, she too was only getting back in the game) but I didn’t want to admit it. I had had two good years before our break developing a relationship with my mare. We started small and ended up achieving things that I hadn’t imagined possible. My inner critic told me that my mare deserved better, that’s she’s able to do it but that I just wasn’t up to scratch. So I put the pressure on. I put it on myself and on my mare.

Basically, 2016 was the year that it didn’t happen. All of this was because of unrealistic goals and an unrealistic plan. One set back followed by another meant that the horses and I were out to pasture  for nearly 5 months. Those months were not the easiest as I had found out that the back pains I ignored and had attributed to “occupational hazards” were indeed something that needed to be taken more seriously. At this point, my inner critic convinced me that my riding days were over. The realization that I was a mere mortal was sobering to say the least. Inner Critic was feeling very smug at this point.  However, once I got over the self pity and the feeling of my life is over I somehow mustered up the courage to put my foot back in the stirrup. My life wasn’t over, I will ride again, we just need time – and help.

I took the time to re-evaluate. I took the time to re-assess. I realized my errors, admitted to them and accepted them. I put myself and my horse under too much pressure. Too much too soon. I ignored my body. I ignored my horse’s body. All the signs were there, I just chose to ignore them. All of this was because of unrealistic goals, an unrealistic plan, and allowing myself to succumb to the pressure that I, myself, was putting us under.

So, plan, right? It’s my favourite word. It’s something that I drill into my students. Plan your turn, plan your transition, plan your approach, plan plan plan plan! So now I have a more realistic plan. Firstly, we’re going back to basics. We have started flatwork/dressage lessons with a knowledgeable and reputable coach. She is teaching me to slow down and to relax. One of the first things she told me was that I was allowed to get it wrong and not to beat myself up about it. I ride a forward going warmblood mare. She knows more than I do and when I get it wrong she’s not as forgiving as my own Miss G, so she encourages me to ride correctly.

Secondly, I’ve realized that I too “must be exercised” in order to be riding fit. So, walking, jogging and yoga are a daily and weekly occurrence. Not only does this help with fitness but it’s making me more aware of my own body and helping relieve the stresses of everyday life.

Finally, our goals are smaller this year. I haven’t set any deadlines or have any particular shows in mind – yet. For now, we’ll take each show as they come and our aims will be guided by our progress, not desires!

What has 2016 taught me? It has taught me that my inner critic is destructive, if I allow it to be. It led to the belief that I should be jumping 1.10s and open tracks and when I couldn’t, it haunted me every time I put my foot in the stirrup. But taking the time out taught me that the only way to silence the critic is to go back to basics and start from scratch. If something is not working you must take time to reevaluate the situation and be honest with yourself. Sometimes you must go completely backwards in order to move forward. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day…

4 thoughts on “2017 Kick the Inner Critic to the Curb

  1. We all have to keep going back to basics. Even the Olympians have to go back to basics I train with one at home in Canada and she does that and makes me do it all the time. Inner critics (I call mine ‘the committee’) are the most destructive of critics. I admire your honesty in assessing your year. Onwards to 2017. It will get better.

    Liked by 1 person

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