Another horse show weekend is in the books, and you are feeling discouraged and exhausted. After a week of great practice at home, you headed to the show in high spirits, ready to stretch yourself and do your best.
But once you hit the warm up pen, things changed. The semi-controlled chaos of circling horses and riders unnerved you. It was like trying to drive on crowded city streets, with so much information to process that you couldn’t focus on a good warm up.
Other riders seemed unfazed, simultaneously picking their way through traffic and taking instruction from their trainers.
When you hit the show pen, you became very self-conscious—once you knew you were being judged, you became stiff and mechanical. At one point you froze completely and almost forgot the pattern. You have begun to notice that you also do this during your weekly lessons with your trainer. In fact, you have realized that your best riding happens at home, on your own.
Each week, you revel in your improvements, excited to show them off to your trainer or the judge at a show, and each time, your great results seem to vanish when someone else is around to witness them.
What’s going on? It’s possible that you are a highly-sensitive horse person. Highly sensitive people come from all walks of life. They share a constellation of traits that set them apart from others, such as extreme sensitivity to bright lights and loud sounds. They are unsettled by lots of activity, and when they must be observed performing a task, they do much worse than they would unobserved.
It’s important to note that highly-sensitive people are not “overly sensitive”, they simply have heightened senses in some aspects. Just as some horses are more sensitive than others, so are some people.
The good news is that many of the traits of highly sensitive people are advantages—typically they are aware of subtleties that others aren’t. Highly-sensitives can be great coaches and instructors because they are able to make associations between cause and effect that others can’t. While many instructors can do things but can’t explain how highly-sensitive individuals are often able to eloquently teach complex concepts. They are also usually the first to notice when something is “off” with a horse.
As mentioned earlier, trouble can arise when asked to perform in the chaotic, public environment of the horse show. Because highly sensitive individuals are so observant and adept at making connections, it is easy to get overloaded with input in a crowded arena, and because they are conscientious, they dread making mistakes, so often put extra pressure on themselves to perform well for others and in front of others.
Often, being highly sensitive is dismissed either as simple "show ring anxiety" or as being “too sensitive”. But for those who are truly highly sensitive, knowledge is power. Positive traits can be used to your advantage. Sports psychology techniques such as breath control and visualization can help you get a handle on sensory overload and performance anxiety.
Honing your powers of observation and intuition can let you see things that more advanced riders are doing and apply them in your own riding. With correct and methodical training, more sensitive horses often make world-class performers. The same can be true for riders!
The key is to strengthen your weak areas and maximize your strong areas.
Learn more at junecstevens.com
Photo credit: flikr creative commons user Jean