Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Riding Under the Influence....

We didn't have lesson this week - waaay too hot. My lesson last week was sort of a non-event for me. I wasn't there mentally for the first time in a really long time. I was psyched for the lesson that morning, but my up mood completely deteriorated in the afternoon. I had to drop everything I was doing and clean up a big, time-sensitive mess that someone else made and my anger, frustration and stress left me with a bitter taste. To be honest, I was more in the mood for a vodka soda and a good ear to listen to my ranting and raving instead of riding.

I was not as patient with Gem when we were tacking up. He has started pulling his feet away from me when I am cleaning them. It's really annoying and he pulls me off balance. The first few times he pulled his foot away, I just kept picking it back up and when he eventually let me hold it for as long as it took, I told him he was a good boy and gave him a little scratch. But, by the time we were going through this routine on the third foot, I lost my patience and yelled "NO!" every time he pulled away which was, unfortunately, a lot. I am sure I looked like some crazed middle-aged lunatic....sigh. Not a good way to start.

I went through the motions of my lesson, but LA could tell something was up and asked me later in private. I didn't go into detail, but she did sense that I was still angry. She said that if my head really wasn't in it, it was OK to not to ride. She would rather me be aware and safe, not distracted or angry.

But how do you determine when you shouldn't ride because you are mentally not there? I mean, you are mental, so how would you know, right? There have been many times that I have tacked up and still had residual stress from work clouding my brain. Yes, I have ridden under the influence of stress!

Spring and summer are pretty easy for me work-wise. But, I am now getting into my busy season at work (last fiscal quarter, year end, renewals, yearly audit and two major conferences). The next 6 months will be brutal. There are going to be times when my mind will not be on riding, but thinking about what deadlines need to be met the next day. My patience level will start to lower. Last year, there weren't too many times that I rode under the influence because, frankly, I was still nervous of Gem and I was focused on staying in the saddle! This year will be a bit different. We are more familiar with each other. I have been working on his boundaries, so I am more assertive with him when he pushes them. This is where it can get tricky; depending on how much under the influence I am, I may be more physical and rough with him without realizing it.

Most times, riding has actually helped dissipate my stress and tension. But where do you draw the line between relieving stress or being unsafe? I find that doing my stretches before I ride helps reduce my physical tightness. Tacking up also helps relax me. But sometimes even my AEIOU routine does not help get rid of the pinched look on my face that appears when I am stressed. No soft face for me.

I want to get the most out of my lessons and my time with Gem. I want to be safe while riding. We all know how quickly a situation can change while riding and how dangerous it can be on occasion. You need to be aware of what is going on so that you can take care of yourself and your horse. There will be a few things over the next few months that will help me determine whether I can ride on any given day -

* maintaining an acceptable patience level with Gem
* being able to change my focus from work to the ride
* if I can loosen up my body and face to an acceptable level
* if I can remind myself that I am going to have fun riding and
not resent having to change clothing at the office and drive
40 minutes to get to the stables
* if I can stop hitting my head on the steering wheel of my car
long enough to drive to the stables
* if I can clear my mind of plotting revenge and remember that
stupid people don't know they are stupid, so deal with it
* if I am not in jail for verbal abuse

OK, I may be exaggerating a bit on some of that list but, seriously, I don't want to take my frustration out on Gem or my classmates. I am not the type to wimp out (I think I was a terrier in another life); it would have to be pretty bad for me not to ride. But, after my chat with LA, I know I can say "No" to riding under the influence, guilt-free. I am actually OK with sitting a lesson out if I am under the influence and not fit to ride....I can just groom my boy, watch the others ride and let the insanity leave my mind... at least, for a short while. You know, perhaps chilling out in this manner will be a lesson in itself. :-)

What was I thinking....?


  1. I know how you feel. When I get on and am grumpy, stressed or short on patience, I am bound to have a bad ride. I have to remember to either let it go, or don't bother riding because I don't want something I love to become a toxic experience. I'd rather keep those nasty feelings away from the barn. So know when to say no-- its better for everyone in the long run. Good luck with work :( Hopefully Gem can be your stress reliever, not a contributer through your busy season!

  2. Amen, sister!

    Gem has you pegged, he knew you weren't in the right frame of mind when you were picking his feet. If you're feeling off and he seems more "difficult" than usual that might be a clue that you should take it easy that day. If you're yelling you should rethink riding, at least take a walk until you calm down. It's not wimping out, it's showing your horse that you care enough for him not to take your temper out on him.

    I know this well, I have to take my own advice a lot. But you've read about that ;)

    PS- stupid people really don't know they're stupid, do they?

  3. LOL - "if I can stop banging my head on the steering wheel of my car long enough to drive to the stables." Oooooh man, I have days like this all the time (just blogged about one)! This is a very thoughtful post, as I think some days it's borderline irresponsible to get on a horse when your stress level hits a certain point. I agree with your decision that it's okay to sit it out some days. On really bad days, I either get on and go for a long walk and never pick up the reins (I carry my tension in my arms and shoulders -- Tucker would know in a heartbeat) or give him a good grooming session and a hand graze. It will calm you down and make you both feel better, and there's no risk that you're going to take out your frustrations on your lovely horse. Here's hoping we win the lottery and our stress levels never again get in the way of our riding!

  4. It's true that what is in our heads carries over to riding. I try not to let this happen to me but stress is inevitable. When I do feel a certain level of stress and know it's going to affect my time in the saddle I do what Marissa does. I'll groom and hand graze or play with the horse. If the stress doesn't take a hike, I do. There's another reason to try and be totally focused on your riding and what's happening while you're in the saddle or working around horses on the ground, it's safety. If your mind's not on what you and the horse are doing there's a good chance you could get hurt. One of my stress busters is taking deep breathes to try and relax, sometimes it works sometimes not so much. Good luck with work, it sounds like a bear.

  5. Riding is our refuge. I've found when I think of it this way I don't let any of those work related stresses come into the place and pollute my paradise.

    I also play all kinds of horse related music on the drive to the barn. Made my own play list Kind of helps reset my head sometimes.

    There have been dozens of times I didn't think I could be at the barn because of stress. I generally go, just to go, but if I can't get out of that bad space, I don't ride. Its always a little sad, but eventually you get your perspective back.

    Horses are emotional mirrors + 1000 pounds - and I don't want to be on top of my pissed off stress that's grown 7 times my size.

  6. Sometimes riding helps when you're feeling like that, and sometimes it doesn't. Some days when I really don't feel like it and do, I feel much better afterwards. I have the advantage that I mostly ride by myself, which makes it easier to get into a correct frame of mind, and once I can concentrate I'm usually OK. Sometimes just hanging out with the horses is better - today was one of those days.

  7. Good afternoon!

    Rachel - "I don't want something I love to become a toxic experience." Well said! I am going to endeavour to learn how to "let it go" so that I will be in the saddle more often than not.

    Shannon - you are right....I will add "yelling" to my list of indicators of when not to ride. I have no problem with showing my displeasure in a stern voice, but yelling really isn't going to solve anything. And, yes, stupid people really don't realize that they are stupid...sigh.

    Marissa - Yes, indeed, you had a horrible day!! I agree that grooming is calming for both rider and horse. Fortunately for me, Gem LOVES to be groomed. I just hope I don't brush all his hair out over the next few months!!! We surely do need to win a lottery.....

    GHM - I totally agree with your "safety" comment. It's all about being safe for me. I am going to try your deep breaths technique!

    Breathe - "Horses are emotional mirrors + 1000 pounds - and I don't want to be on top of my pissed off stress that's grown 7 times my size." So true!!

    Kate - There have been times where I have just gone to the stables just to hang out with Gem. It's refreshing because there is no pressure to perform.

  8. It seems sensible to sit it out if you are that stressed although one of the reasons I have started riding is because it is one of the few things that destresses me in what has been a very difficult six months for me. Its the whole package that helps, the hours drive along country roads (not traffic jams), the complete lack of mobile phone reception where I ride, the beautiful scenary and the need to focus on what I am doing on the horse that helps take my mind off things and stabilises my moods.

  9. Hi JanLou - You are lucky that your riding experience starts with a beautiful drive in the country. What a great way to start. :-)

  10. To me, riding is the counterweight to the stress at work.

    I find it very difficult to concentrate on anything else than my horse while on horseback, and that makes it to some kind of a therapy to me. I just have to shut everything else out. (I havn't done yoga or meditation, but perhaps it is the same effect?)

    Even if I am tired, upset or stressed I always feel better after being with the horses.
    Just sitting down, watching them eat - whatever - makes me relax.