Here’s part 2 of the case study – what DID happen next!

Why?

If you didn’t read last week’s entry, a quick update on why I decided to share my experience with you. It’s worth going back to last week’s so you’ll understand what happened next.

I realise that we have many new readers of these posts and it occurred to me that you might not know why I’m so passionate about what I do. You might be wondering about my background and experience and how this might relate to you. I’ve known some of you for a lot of years, so you might recognise some of what I say. For others, we might have met more recently, so I hope the following will help explain.

Immediately afterwards

My first priority after making sure Snoop was uninjured and safe was to get myself home to check my own wounds. Luckily nothing external other than cuts and grazes. After a while, I realised that my hip and shoulder were very sore. It took a while for me to notice as my adrenaline levels had been so high that the pain was masked. The hip is an ongoing issue, but nothing that gets in the way of life, so we were both home and safe.

Mentally and emotionally, I didn’t feel too worried as I think I was still in shock so was protected from any anxiety. So, at first, I didn’t think too much about this aspect.

A few days later

As often happens with these things, it wasn’t until a few days later when I was schooling that the impact really kicked in. (sometimes it can be longer) I clearly remember feeling Snoop go really tense and rigid underneath me. I’d felt this before as he’s a bit of a worrier. However, what I’d never experienced before was the rush of adrenaline I felt. My palms were sweaty. I became hyperfocused. My heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest and I definitely held my breath. What was going on????

So, even though my conscious brain had passed the incident off as ‘one of those things’, my unconcious brain was clearly hanging onto the experience and making me relive it in all its technicolours! We know that the more vivid or sudden that the unconscious brain experiences something, the ‘stickier’ the memory becomes. So, my brain was sending out warning signals as it had noticed sensations (horse going tense) that it had registered before, in the moments before there was a very dramatic incident.

Now, I couldn’t have told you that in the moments before I came off, Snoop was tense and rigid. My conscious brain hadn’t registered it, but my unconscious sure had. And, at the first sign of something similar, my body was flooded with all of the brain chemicals necessary for me to take immediate action – either run away or stand and fight. Phew, this was nearly as scarey. Not only did I have these unpleasant sensations, I didn’t appear to have any control over them – they could just appear!

I knew something had to change.

Action stations!

So, I decided to have a few days off riding to consider what to do next. It’s really important in these circumstances that our bodies have time to reset and recover from the fight or flight brain chemicals. It can take some time for this to happen and if I was constantly getting a repeat of the circumstances, (sometimes called trigger stacking) then my body would never have chance to ‘come down’.

Then, I went back to my learning. No riding coach had ever taught me these skills which is a shame really as how often do we get a fright when we’re riding? Or even at other times in our lives? I’ve never heard anyone even mention what to do in these circumstances except ‘get back on’. There is merit in the ‘get back on’ approach, but it doesn’t take account of the trauma that the brain has experienced. We have to acknowledge how important our brain is in dealing with things.

Happy Brain

First of all, I acknowledged what was actually happening in my brain and I referenced Happy Brain (www.thehappybrainco.com) for this. Happy Brain is a model which describes the brain in three parts; reptilian, mammalian and thinking. I came to realise that I’d been trying to deal with what had happened logically in my ‘thinking’ brain

  • ‘It was a one off’;
  • ‘he’s not generally spooky, so it’ll not happen again’;
  • ‘I’ll ride out with someone from now on’;
  • ‘I’ll go a different route next time’, etc.

All of these things were very valid and useful, but didn’t really get to the crux of how I felt.

The sensations I got in my body were immediately associated with fear, so I had to take some time to re-engineer them. As an example, the tightness I got in my tummy, I learned to soften and expand. My hunched shoulders, I learned to relax. My quickened breathing, I learned to slow. So, I was able to give myself some space between feeling the sensations and taking action.

I’m not saying that these sensations aren’t useful – of course they are. If I’m about to get run over, I need to take action and run; and it’s these brain chemicals that are needed to do that. However, just because I feel Snoop tense, doesn’t mean to say that something dreadful is going to happen. And, I had to learn to ‘take a moment’ so that I could be of more use to him – helping him relax. (I’ve taught him some relaxation techniques too so that he can manage his own state better)

Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP)

I can’t go into what NLP is here (there are hundreds of books on the subject!) but essentially it helps us to model excellence in our thinking and behaviour.

One of the methodologies in NLP is to reverse engineer the events that happened so that our brain dis-associates the experience from the feelings. This means the sensations and their meaning are not glued so tightly together. It’s called timeline work. I took my brain back through events to before the incident happened.

Another really useful technique is to shrink the image that I had in my brain of what happened and replace it with more helpful images of successful hacking and riding.

I also challenged my catastrophic thinking that this would happen EVERY time I rode – really?????

Positive Psychology (actually, mixed with Happy Brain and NLP)

Again, there’s a whole host of academia dedicated to positive psychology if you’d like to look further. However, one of the things that is central is to focus on the good that has happened and build on it. ‘Traditional’ view of psychology tries to fix what is wrong, PP very much focuses on what is right and how can we use that to make things even better.

This challenges our thinking. So that we don’t stay stuck in negative loops, building things up to be something way more than they were.

And, now?

I had to work hard to overcome how I felt after this event. It’s much easier when being guided by someone else, but I’m an independent soul and like to do things myself (to my detriment sometimes). But, using all of the above (and some others I added in along the way) I was able to bring myself back to the confident, competent rider I knew myself to be.

It wouldn’t be true to say that I’ve not had some wobbles along the way. And I’ve been very practical about how I’ve approached things too. It’s been a massive learning curve, but I’m enjoying my boy so much now. I love seeing him being more confident in himself too. We’re out competing regularly (in the nice weather) and I know where he might feel anxious and can find ways to help him too. We ride out on our own (tho I’m careful and sensible about it) and we’re mostly pretty chilled about life. Of course, he’s Spanish, so we do see some Wheeeeeeeee moments, but I wouldn’t have him any other way!

It was this experience that made me realise how much it can help others. I’ve worked with riders

  • with fears of cantering and hacking;
  • riders who want to boost their performance in competition;
  • riders who may not have any identifiable trauma but who have lost their confidence with their horse.
  • I have many clients who have hormonal changes due to menopause and we can work to help you too.

Recent feedback has included; ‘Thank you again for your incredible insights for both him and me – I am truly grateful, you have an incredible gift.’

For you?

Now, whether you’re a horse rider/carer or not, you might recognise some of this. Maybe you’ve had an experience that keeps you stuck? Or something that you’re now afraid of which you’d like to change.

If you’d like any more information about anything here, please do just message, ring or comment on the post. Always happy to chat as I’m so passionate about what I do.

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one thing for wellbeing - for your horse