“Ditch the emotion - by learning to remove emotion from my riding I’ve been able to see things and act much more objectively. In turn this has helped me to develop patience which wasn’t something I initially had in abundance.”
One of the 14 ingredients of horsemanship competence identified in a study commissioned by the FEI is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the awareness of your emotional state and how it affects the communication with your horse and the quality of your interaction. The ability to remain calm and composed was considered vital to good horsemanship.
The first step in fine tuning your emotional intelligence is to become aware of your emotions. Buddhists have a unique perspective on this by viewing emotions as mental weather. As things that happen to us, over which we have little control but know that they will soon pass just as a storm does. If we can learn not to be swept away by our emotions and accept our feelings for what they are (oh that’s happiness or oh that’s frustration) without trying to understand or analyse them we can take action without having to change how we feel. Just think about that for a minute. You can be aware of how you’re feeling without it influencing your ability to take action.
One of the best ways to step back and create some space between an emotion and your response to it is to practice mindfulness. It’s also a great way to get on top of your mental chatter. You know the voice in your head that says ‘my stirrups feel too long’, ‘that dog is loose and coming my way’, ‘hope I don’t get stopped on course’. Mindfulness is a way to view what is happening in your head right now and consider your response rather than immediately reacting. The beauty is that practising mindfulness can take as little as 5 minutes a day and those 5 minutes will help you to ‘catch and detach’ yourself before you get carried away by your thoughts or emotions.
1. Set aside a time each day where you can sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
2. Set a timer or use a mindfulness app to chime at the end of the 5 minutes. This means you’re not constantly thinking about how long you’ve been sitting there. Believe me 5 minutes can feel like a long time when you’re just observing what comes up in your head!
3. Sit in an upright chair rather than on a sofa where you might be tempted to take a quick nap. Close your eyes.
4. Observe any thoughts, emotions or sensations that appear and name them, (e.g. itching, anger, sadness, feeling silly, reminiscing, thinking, worrying, planning) then let them float away like clouds passing in the sky above you or cars travelling down a motorway around you.
5. The idea is not to try and get rid of these thoughts just note them without engaging with them.
6. You may find you’re drawn to the sounds around you, that’s OK, again just name them – bird singing, binmen, dishwasher etc.
7. If you start to feel emotions, be curious about it, where do you feel them in your body, what does it physically feel like – tight and heavy or light and floating, aim to note it and then let them move on
8. Once your timer chimes that’s it, you’re done and you can get on with your day.
As with all psychological skills it takes practice and you may not see obvious benefits straight away but persevere, I promise it will be worth it. There are a multitude of scientific studies that have demonstrated changes in the structure and functioning of the brain through regular mindfulness practice.
The other benefit, once you’re able to consistently observe and note your mood is the ability to be flexible in your response. For me this is a bit like trusting your gut or your instinct. If you’re feeling cautious today perhaps choose the option with fewer risks that is in line with how you’re feeling. If, however, you’re feeling energised and confident perhaps choose a bolder option. How often do we convince ourselves to do things – enter the bigger class, do 10 more minutes in the warm up, take the direct route - when we had our reservations and then regretted it afterwards. If you can respond appropriately to how you are feeling ‘in the moment’ you may find yourself making better decisions.
Disappointment and frustration
Some of the most difficult emotions to deal with are disappointment and frustration.
It’s OK to feel both disappointed and frustrated, especially when you’ve invested a lot of time, effort and money in something. Just make sure you have a strategy for dealing with these emotions before they make an appearance. Useful responses include:
Acceptance – accept external circumstances are what they are. The more you fight or resist them the worse they feel. Focus on what you can control.
Acknowledge you have choices – you may not like the choices you have but you do have choices. Sense check with others you trust in case you have more choices than you realise.
Focus on the opportunity ahead rather than what has been lost.