Re­dis­cover the Joy of Rid­ing

Strate­gies to re­con­nect with pos­i­tiv­ity

Dressage Today - - Arena News - By Jenny Susser, PhD

Q Over the course of sev­eral years, I had some bad ex­pe­ri­ences with a horse who wasn’t a good match for me. I have since moved on from that horse, but it seems that I for­got how to en­joy rid­ing. Horses are still a big piece of me, so I don’t want to give them up com­pletely. How can I re­dis­cover the joy of rid­ing? A

Where does the joy of rid­ing come from? What are the el­e­ments that com­pose this mag­i­cal feel­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence? And when they seem lost, how do you re­dis­cover them? These are the ques­tions that, with some re­flec­tion, con­tem­pla­tion and search­ing, might help you find that feel­ing again.

Maybe your ini­tial love of horses was a gift you in­her­ited from your par­ents or was sparked by a movie you saw or book you read as a child. Or maybe it’s just the way you are wired. But it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter where this won­der­ful love of horses comes from. What mat­ters now is un­cov­er­ing it from what­ever has damp­ened it.

As al­ways, there are sev­eral roads to Rome, so let’s look at a cou­ple of them. You should choose your path based on how you think and work. You can also draw from how you have tack­led some is­sues suc­cess­fully in the past.

One way to tap into and flush out some of the road­blocks is to write. I hes­i­tate to use the word “jour­nal­ing” be­cause it seems to elicit the all-too-fa­mous eye roll these days. The thing is that jour­nal­ing does ac­tu­ally work. When you write with pa­per and pen, it does some­thing to the brain that typing on a de­vice does not. It taps into and cre­ates path­ways in the brain bet­ter (see work by Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gist James Pen­nebaker). Many peo­ple re­port be­ing sur­prised by what falls out of their pen onto pa­per when do­ing writ­ing ex­er­cises. It is a won­der­ful way to tap into thoughts or feel­ings hid­den from view as well as to cre­ate new path­ways.

If you feel like this might be a good method for you (and es­pe­cially if you think it would not be), buy a jour­nal (yes, I did just use that word) or a com­po­si­tion book and a pen you like to write with and pick a time each day to write. Ten min­utes is a good time frame to start with. Write at the top of the page what­ever topic you want to ex­plore, set a timer on your phone and just write what­ever comes to mind. The chal­lenge is ig­nor­ing the men­tal edit­ing we all do. You will hear your pri­vate voice say things like: It’s not good enough, it’s stupid or ir­rel­e­vant or this isn’t work­ing.

Thank your pri­vate voice for shar­ing and then keep go­ing. What you are look­ing for is in­sight. What has hap­pened to your love of rid­ing and how can you get it back? Like any other skill, it will take a lit­tle while to get good at this.

Another pos­si­ble ac­cess point is to en­gage in a lit­tle nar­ra­tive work or sto­ry­telling. Nar­ra­tive ther­apy reaches into the hu­man na­ture of sto­ry­telling. We love sto­ries! We love to tell sto­ries, read sto­ries, watch sto­ries. They have an emo­tional el­e­ment, that is what makes them so pow­er­ful.

Los­ing the joy of rid­ing can be con­nected to a story. Some­thing or a se­ries of some­things hap­pened and you can weave those things to­gether to form a story. Of course, this sto­ry­line was not in­ten­tional or even planned, but any se­ries of events can eas­ily turn into a story.

Next, you need to re­write your story of rid­ing in or­der to over­ride this neg­a­tive and de­struc­tive nar­ra­tive that has taken hold of your re­la­tion­ship with your rid­ing. How to do this is by iden­ti­fy­ing what your cur­rent story ac­tu­ally is and then re­plac­ing it.

You have to lis­ten to the story you tell your­self and oth­ers about rid­ing. Ask your horse friends to tell you their im­pres­sion of your story. Lis­ten to what falls out of your mouth as you talk to peo­ple close to you about rid­ing. What do you com­plain about con­sis­tently?

All of this has be­come your story. Once the old story clears, you must write a new one. The new one might even be the story you had be­fore it took a neg­a­tive turn. But you need some­thing to re­place the neg­a­tive nar­ra­tive.

Both meth­ods will take 10 to 15 min­utes a day and about a month to re­ally take hold. But re­mem­ber, a month will go by quicker than you think!

Jenny Susser has a doc­toral de­gree and is li­censed in clin­i­cal health psy­chol­ogy, spe­cial­iz­ing in sport psy­chol­ogy. A four-year all-Amer­i­can swim­mer at UCLA, she swam on two na­tional teams and at the 1988 Olympic Tri­als. She has worked with athletes of all sports and ages—col­le­giate, pro­fes­sional, in­ter­na­tional and am­a­teur. She was the sport psy­chol­o­gist for the 2010 WEG South African Para-Dres­sage Team and the 2012 U.S. Olympic Dres­sage Team. Dr. Jenny is also a per­for­mance coach with Hu­man Per­for­mance.

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