On a good day, a judgment is simply a carefully considered decision or opinion, but on a bad day, it’s a list of shortcomings. Usually half of them are impossible to change. And then in the horse world, a whole bunch of us ask for it. We compete which is actually paying someone to judge us.
Here’s where some riders claim the high moral ground, saying it’s why they don’t show; that riding is something they do only for personal enjoyment or to learn the art of riding (the same reason riders compete, by the way). But isn’t that just another judgment, too, that one kind of riding is better than another?
I’m still dancing around it; judgment isn’t a problem at all if it’s positive. But isn’t there an assumption that judgment is mostly negative by definition? Is there a teenager who doesn’t feel the rub of peer pressure and social expectations, even if they never come to the barn? A woman who doesn’t feel physically judged at every age, even if she’s never in a saddle? And if that isn’t hard enough, we’re well-versed in torturing ourselves with our insecurities. It’s self-judgment that rubs the hardest; those dark thoughts that are always ready to remind us of our failings and knock us down a peg, as if confidence was somehow a rude shortcoming, as well. Self-judgment is like emotional gravity, keeping us in a constant passive choke-hold that seems to tighten if we resist it. If we get the notion we could fly.
When we drag this thought/mess with us to the barn, horses do two things; they reflect our insecurities back to us and at the same time say, “But you know we can fly, right?”
So just do it. Just give yourself permission to not feel the rub of judgement. While you’re at it, don’t be afraid. And don’t worry. Have you ever noticed how useless it is to tell yourself to not do things? It’s all scolding. When we only correct an animal, they get sour really fast.
Less correction, more direction–it works on us, too. Here’s a literal how-to method replace the negative self-talk.
First, the good news is that humans are lousy at multi-tasking. Our human brain can only do one thing at a time and research shows that our IQ actually drops when we take on more. Simple is good.
And second, what’s the best thing to do when a puppy is chewing on your brand new over-priced shoe? Do we get the best result by yelling and beating him with the shoe, or could we give him a better choice, like a nice raw bone, and then reward him for being so smart?
We need to treat ourselves like puppies; instead of getting mad and holding a grudge, gently replace those negative thoughts with something better to chew on, and then reward yourself. Say Good Girl. If you believe in positive training for dogs and horses, use it on yourself, too.
How about consciously deciding to put your horse first? It’s something everyone says they do, but when we drag negative thoughts into the saddle, horses feel it. We’re being selfish, a really bad trait in a leader. So no, really put your horse first. Prioritize him above your worries. And since we can only do one thing at a time, abbreviate it all to one word–just-think-horse.
In training, there’s an idea of creating a bubble for you and your horse, and making that it such a safe place that your horse ignores spooky things outside the rail. It’s being so connected, stride by stride, that your horse is confident in your leadership and lays down his worries. Can you let your horse be your bubble, too? A place that you’re safe from your own self-judgment?
Here’s how. While you are tacking up, think about the positive things the two of you have conquered. Think of the past just long enough to acknowledge how far you’ve come. When the fleeting thoughts of how much your canter transitions suck, or how scared you are since your last fall, come into your mind, forgive yourself like a puppy. Take a breath. Yes, literally, take a conscious inhale, and gently replace those defeated thoughts with something tastier. Discipline yourself to kindness. Lay your palm flat on your horse’s neck and know you are both perfect. Good Girl.
At the mounting block, settle into the saddle and know that this ride is special. Now matters, let the rest fall away. Say thank you, because that’s always the best way to start, and walk off. Stay in your bubble. Ask for something small, and share that success with your horse. Maybe there’s a bag on the fence, or a car coming fast on the road, or a judge watching your transitions… be aware of your surroundings but release judgment about what has happened or might happen. Forget good or bad; instead remember what matters right now. Good Girl. It’s always your horse. Take a breath, say thank you, and then ask for something small. Be Here Now.
Like any good training method, the idea is simple to understand, but it takes time and consistency to break old habits. Spanking yourself won’t help. Instead let that feeling of connection become addictive. Partnership is always a better chew than doubt and insecurity. Your horse will reward you when you get it right. Shut up the rest; it’s just chatter. Listen to him. Just him.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.