Eventing Nation: Confessions of an over-thinker

“Just do it already!” Kate Samuels enthuses in her latest column on the heels of her first Advanced horse trials of the year.

Top photo courtesy of Lauren Kennedy, Crows Toes Photography

From Kate:

You wouldn’t know it to meet me, but I spend an inordinate amount of time in my own head, thinking, re-thinking, and mostly over-thinking just about everything. I’m an over-analyzer, and it is only sometimes to my own benefit. I see the problem in students and other riders, and I intellectually understand that their brain is getting in the way of their ability to feel what they need to do, but that doesn’t stop it from happening to me at inopportune times. This affects me the worst in lessons, when one mistake can lead to another, and then I start picking for every distance and god bless my horses for putting up with it.

The other time I really feel on edge with my hamster-wheel brain is when I’m moving up a level at a competition. Have I prepared my horse enough? Have I trained for the new questions asked on the cross country? Does he/she have the requisite strength to complete the new tricks required  in the dressage? Did I practice enough grids to make sure that he/she can handle that one jump in show jumping that I inevitably blow the distance on? I think that my consumption of Tums leading up to a new competition would rival that of a ninety-year-old man who’s been eating fried food his whole life.

This weekend, I moved up a level with both of my horses, and the brain was going full-tilt. My big horse, Nyls, was moving back up to Advanced for the first time this year, and for the first time since his injury last spring. My younger horse, Ella, was going to do her first Training event. Their situations were completely different, but equally stressful. I knew that Nyls could complete the necessary tasks, after all, he has done it before a few times, but what about now? Did I have his fitness correct? Had I jumped him enough so that the increase in size wouldn’t stress his body too much? Was he going to remember how to do flying changes, and not FLYING changes? Was the increased effort going to bother his old injury? With the mare, was she going to jump straight into water? Was she going to be able to do a reasonable medium trot? Would the show jumping, held the day after cross country, unravel her completely?

Photo generously taken by Christine Lafreniere

In my jump lessons this spring, Jan discovered that I have a tendency to over-prepare for my obstacles and look for my distance waaaaaay too early, and thus make myself completely blow it. I have to force myself to look away from the jump until I’m five to six strides out, or else I will be my own worst enemy. This is exactly like that. I have to force myself to stop thinking about every possibility, and look away until I’m closer to the destination. Instead of worrying about my test or obsessing over how I’m going to ride a combination, I give the thoughts their due time, and then I make myself listen to audiobooks and distract my brain with stories.

Once I’m actually on the horse, I can mostly stop the whirring noise of my overactive brain. There are still minute moments, when I’m on course, and I’ve got an especially big jump coming, and I think, “What if I totally miss to that, and I finally ruin this amazing horse that has taken care of my ignorant butt all these years??!!” As the years have gone by, I’ve gotten a little more adept at seeing that worry coming, and cutting it off at the pass. That annoying voice that says you can’t find a distance, you can’t hold your balance, you’ll probably miss your line in this combination, it never really goes away totally, but I’ve realized that I have to tell it to shut up, and with distinction. When it comes down to it, you have to stop thinking, and just do it already. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re running Advanced or you’re running Beginner Novice, there will always be a certain amount of….uncertainty. The end of this weekend didn’t signify the end of my busy brain, and although it was a successful one, it certainly left me with things to improve upon for both horses. I satisfy myself for a few days with the knowledge that both of them tried super hard to behave, and I had a brilliant cross country at each level. I was just as pleased with my Training mare as I was to return to Advanced, and I have to give myself a pat on the back for preparing both horses from the ground up. I think that part of the worry and over-analyzing comes from being a true blue Eventer, as we are never fully satisfied with where we are, and are on a never ending quest for improvement for both ourselves and our horses. And thusly, I both hold disdain for this tendency of mine, but I also acknowledge it’s position as an enduring force that pushes me forward towards bigger and better things, and towards betterment on all levels.


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