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Overcoming ptsd, and competition and career fear

Enter with determination, gratitude, and belief in you and your dance partner. Salute let the dance begin, and allow yourself to let go.

In July 2019 I competed at the North American junior young rider championships. After 2 failed attempts of making the team I finally made it my third year trying. I compete often in huge competitions all over the US and lots of CDIS in Wellington, but My competition anxiety and horse training anxiety really peaked at the championships. I felt a need to share my experience and how I overcame these mental challenges because we as Equestrian’s need to know we are not alone, and Give Helpful tips!

1 month before NAYC 2019 – My life changing career decision

1 month prior to nayc I was actually in California for a week for a job trial as a head dressage trainer. The barn is beautiful with 30 stalls connected with in and out pastures. Dressage arena, round pen, and trails. The owner of the facility breeds Dutch warmbloods. So she needed a trainer to sell and compete her horses. As well as bring in clients, and more sale horses. It was the perfect job opportunity for me. I decided to start my business as a dressage trainer at McTalley manor after the competition was over. So I made my plan “after the competition is over dazzle will fly straight to California. Then I’ll fly back to Florida and drive my car, and horse trailer to California. In the meantime I will work on my website, Clients, and advertising myself as a professional trainer.”

3 weeks prior to the competition – HOSPITAL??!

So I landed back in Florida after my week in California and My first day back to work in Florida I get kicked by one of my favorite horses faelen while we were doing natural horsemanship. (There is more detail on this in my blog “injuries”) I punctured 2 parts in my lung, and was in the hospital for 24+ hours. They said to take 2 weeks off from riding and work. Although I only took 4 days off, because working students have to work hard to become professionals. In reality It wasn’t the kick itself or the physical pain that hurt the most from the experience. The mental challenges i was left with hurt far worse then the physical. Being nervous around new horses. Being near the hind legs and picking a hoof up leaves my heart racing, and Every time I do natural horsemanship I get flashbacks of the accident.

2 weeks prior to the competition

My Brain was a mess, and my room was even messier! I was packing up my entire room to move out and on top of that packing for the championships in New York! I was also thinking about my new job and how me not being there to train them affected the shows we can compete in 2019. I was stressed because I would only have 1 month to train icaura to compete the bop test at the Dutch inspection in Holland. She is very fancy, but is green in dressage and learning the basics. So that doesn’t give me and her enough time to get to know each other

1 week prior to the competition

The week went too fast, and I didn’t feel prepared. I got my recommendation letters and it all hit me that there was a big journey ahead! I was so sad to be leaving my job at Valhalla as a working student. Every morning Erin Brinkman would give me a wonderful lesson on dazzle filled with pure joy and excitement for the beautiful sport. Everything with dazzle was running perfectly. (Except one freestyle movement. Our flying changes every 5 strides on a 20 meter circle) I wanted more jazz, but Erin wanted more basics and that helped me so much at the competition. Dazzle was calm and collected. When the days were over me and Erin would get sad about me going to a new job and my heart always broke a little every time she said don’t go.

At the show! Anxiety triggers how I overcame them.

1. In the jog my anxiety hit hard because dazzle went in giraffe mode! There was horses everywhere and it was a new environment. I was feeling poor about my natural horsemanship due to being kicked so I wasn’t confident in this situation.

What I did – Erin had my back! She noticed I was nervous. I simply walked over to the corner away from all the horses and told her “I’m having a lot of anxiety and I just don’t know what to do.” She simply worked with dazzle in hand and taught me more natural horsemanship while we waited to be called. You could also do this with a friend or with a trainer that is around. If you don’t have a trainer with you. Some Shows also provide trainers. I feel confident and knowledgable in the jogs now!

2. In the show ring competition riding trigger

5 min till show. Remembering all my past mistakes. Get bell boots off, head set off, stock tie in, no whip, throat latch, and finally check with ring person about my riding equipment. In the warm up my brain was blank it felt like I couldn’t hear my trainer at all. I wasn’t riding or feeling I was just simply there. I get in the show and I have to follow my “no bolt & spook plan”! say good morning to the judges and canter in and do walk transitions at the corner before the entrance. So dazzle doesn’t bolt. When the bell was rung Dazzle didn’t want to go in the arena and once I finally got him on the centerline I felt his back go up but then relax. He wanted to bolt but chose not too. Dazzle stayed relaxed but halfway through my test It was hard to breath and there was a sharp pain in my left lung where I was kicked. I finished the test alive thankfully! And our team won the bronze.

– How I fixed this situation

I was smart to prepare to get all my stuff off that is key and always remember bell boots and read all the rules.

Now I stop in the start of my ride and tell my trainer I can’t focus or listen well right now and tell her what I am feeling is going on with the particular horse I am riding. You can’t let anxiety take over.

Horses that spook and bolt aka dazzle. Here’s the dazzle giraffe mode I was trying to avoid at championships.

There was a lot of anxiety over this with dazzle at the competition, and I wanted a clean test so bad. I am so use to ending my test in tears because I feel my horse doesn’t trust me with the multiple spooks and 0s we got all season because of dazzles bolting etc. all season I drilled down on natural horsemanship with dazzle, and building our trust. At this show i did it a lot more then most shows. Every 2 hours he would go all over the show and play the touch game, squeeze game. Stick to me, play with banners and scary sounds etc. he would eat grain at the arena, and get lots of cookies. We played with jumps and had a lot of fun!It really helped us at championships, and made me feel confident going into the arena. You have to stay strong and put good energy into the show arena so your horse feels confident. Never force a horse when they fear something.

When your body gives out in the test. This is hard because you can’t do much. I picture myself wining or imagine my whole future is on the line. Something to motivate me to push through and take my mind off the fact of what my body is feeling. Also deep breaths.

3. Results

The last trigger I want to express and is found to bring our anxiety to the highest of level is the results of the competition.

I wasn’t over the moon about my test on the first day. It was relaxed and clean scored a 66% and we won the team bronze. Once the day was over it was easy to say I cried over 7 times because of stress.

Second day was easier as I followed all the steps I said above and felt super stress free and had a very confident test that was flashy and bold with no spooks! We placed 9th and went into the freestyle etc!

Winning doesn’t make you successful it is helpful in success but it doesn’t create success, and a score won’t change your whole career. Look at the bigger picture. When I’m in tears or sad I tend to be alone (don’t do that) or be with my horse (do this) and I can’t stress how much it’ll help to go graze your horse or be away from your phone for a while. Go get a coffee. Go talk to your family or friends. Speak with your trainer if you would like! Don’t take it out on others, and remember to enjoy the competition. I attended all the events and remember even if there is a hard day attend the events politics are important. I realized in all of theses experiences The sooner you build a more spiritual trusting bond with your horse the sooner the horses anxiety will diminish. Once your horses anxiety is at peace yours shall be too.

By Skye Simpson Dressage Shares Insight on the Sport

Skye Simpson is an FEI Dressage & Natural Horsemanship Trainer located in Banning, California.

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