Mental Preparation: Libby & Spider

Mentally preparing for a show can be just as — or more! — difficult than physically preparing. Today, Libby Henderson discusses what she is doing to help make sure she’s as ready as possible for the Makeover.

Following the announcement that the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America, will be postponed to 2021, competitors have been working to decide what comes next for them and their mounts. Today, blogger Libby Henderson discusses the work she is doing to prepare for the Makeover mentally.

I expected to be farther along at this point. I really did. Looking ahead, I thought, “oh, I’ll just get him ridden four times a week and it will all come together.” Then, life happens. Thunderstorms, busy days at work, Florida is HOT — another week goes by, and the most I’ve done is checked his shoes, made sure there is no major bleeding and applied fly spray. Lots of fly spray. If this was a “normal” show, where I was looking at a long trip and a week of vacation from work, I’d listen to the voices in my head (and to be honest, from a couple of trusted advisors) and I’d decide to withdraw, stay home, and say “maybe next year.”

Spider spending time in his paddock with his ball. Photo by Libby Henderson.

Spider’s Opinion of working in the heat. Photo by Libby Henderson.

But, this is the MAKEOVER. And, as the group of Makeover trainers on Facebook constantly remind each other, the Makeover is just the beginning for these horses. We need to stay in our own lane and do what we can do. If Spider’s (JC Gossamer) injury made continuing irresponsible, I would be terribly sad, but I would accept staying home. Many trainers bring a horse (or maybe more than one) every year to each Makeover. Spider is my one chance to do this, so barring any further disaster, we are going.

Evaluating the state of Spider’s tail. Dying away the sun-bleached look helped, but not enough. Photo by Libby Henderson.

Spider does strength work in hand in his equibands. Photo by Libby Henderson.

As we have examined his physical state to get on the trailer for Kentucky, I’ve needed to look at my mental state to make sure I’m in the right place to stay safe and to get the most out of the experience. I have always been my own worst enemy. As a kid I heard over and over, “You could accomplish so much if you just worked up to your potential.” For years, I’ve been afraid of really trying my hardest for something because if you try with everything you’ve got and still fail, well, you have no excuses and you have to face that you failed. Or in my case, that the “potential” wasn’t all that great after all. But, if you hold back or you run late or get distracted or don’t practice like you should and you fail, that failure can always be justified as “Well, I just didn’t put the work in like I needed to do to be successful.”

About 10 years ago, I began to grow tired of never feeling like I could pull things together. After helping a friend’s daughter who had been diagnosed with ADHD and seeing myself in her diagnosis, I got tested, diagnosed and medicated. That made a huge difference, and some of my self-sabotage stopped. I still find myself with riding goals I haven’t achieved, or even made much progress on, and it is still my failure to be consistent that is responsible. I’ve written about my lack of progress as part of my blog here on Horse Nation, but I still haven’t found the solution!

Spider goes on a field trip and meets his new girlfriend, Grace (JC Princess of Monaco). Photo by Libby Henderson.

On a day with a heat advisory, sharing the wash rack seems like a good idea! Photo by Libby Henderson.

As the Makeover gets closer, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking on why, when it should be easy to just “do the work,” it hasn’t been. I was listening to a podcast while feeding one morning and the guest said the most important question we can ask is “what is the lie that we tell ourselves?” The lie we believe about ourselves that limits us, and holds us back.

Maybe it was the gorgeous view as the sun came up over the farm, or maybe it was hearing this in the early hour that still seems so full of promise, but this question stopped me in my tracks. Figuring out and naming this lie is important, because once you name it and confront it, you can more easily change it. Later that day I saw that Jazz Napravnik, who is a talented trainer of OTTBs, a Makeover entrant and a life coach, was doing a seminar introducing her Makeover Mindset Masterclass later that week. I signed up instantly. During the introductory seminar, I felt so strongly that this was exactly the help I needed, I signed up for the 10 week class before that online session was over.

Spider and I working at home. His enthusiasm is evident. Photo by Kristina Littlejohn.

Riding at Kristina’s on a field trip. Photo by Kristina Littlejohn.

We are three classes in so far, and guess what we are working on? The lies and terrible things you say to yourself and how to change them. Just exactly what I needed. One of my favorite things Jazz has asked so far, when talking about the awful things we say to ourselves, is “Would you say that to your friend, or your student, or a family member? No? Then why do you say it to yourself?!”

Talk about a light bulb moment. When things are good, when I’ve had enough rest, when work is caught up and when the laundry is done, I can look at my past experience with horses, and even with OTTBs in general and know in my heart that I can do this. I am capable, I am knowledgeable and I can get fitter.

In the dark times, when I haven’t had enough rest, when work has made me angry or stressed me out, when my husband has snapped at me one time too many and it is hot, or raining or there is more to do than there is day to do it in, “I’m not enough. I’ll never be good enough. I’m not capable of this. I’m an idiot who can’t ride her way out of a paper bag, and someone will probably call animal control because I’m too fat to ride this horse,” all comes back. Now I’m learning to see it happening and learning tools to deal with it and how change those statements into positive ones. We never question whether we need a coach to help us with our riding, so now I’m learning just how important it is to have a coach for our mental prep.

We are still moving forward to get Spider to Kentucky. I can see that even if we get there and don’t ride into the Rolex arena, or we do ride into the Rolex arena and have a meltdown, it will still be a fabulous overall experience, even if it isn’t a perfect show. If I continue to try, and still fail to be perfect, we will still be a better and stronger team than we would be if gave up now.

Spider’s dam, Take D’Tour (Tour D’Or x Cherry Flare – Mr. Washington). Photo by Libby Henderson.

Take D’Tour coming to the fence to see if I have a carrot for her. Photo by Libby Henderson.

Spider’s little sister, Take ‘Dat (Bal a Bali (BRZ) x Take D’Tour-Tour D’Or) says HI! Photo by Libby Henderson.

We have done several field trips over the last month and have been cleared by Spider’s vets at the University of Florida to slowly keep working. In a follow up to last month’s blog, on that trip down to the University, I was able to meet Spider’s mom and his little sister! His dam, Take D’Tour, has been retired to Ocala, and her owner was so kind to let me stop by and meet her and see her four-month-old filly (who looks just like Spider!!). This coming weekend, we are going on an adventure to take some lessons and glean lots of Makeover wisdom from fellow HN blogger, Aubrey Graham.

We keep putting one foot in front of another and keep moving forward. The process of getting to the Makeover is truly the beginning of the journey for me and for Spider, and for us a Team.

Libby Henderson is an attorney, and the owner/creator of Higher Standards Leather Care. She and her husband, Dennis, live and on her great-great-grandparents farm in a tiny town in North Florida, with her five horses and three terriers. She has been a lover of all things horse since she was old enough to read all the Marguerite Henry books, but came to eventing only as an adult.  She’s taken a bit of a break from showing, but currently describes herself as a Rubenesque, middle aged, aspiring sub-beginner novice rider. She recently added a new OTTB to the family, who, after a year off at what her husband calls their  “home for aged equines with issues,” has received an all-clear to return to work and will be heading to the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover. When not riding, (or feeling guilty about not riding), she is a passionate volunteer for Red Hills Horse Trials in Tallahassee, dabbles in local politics as a member of the local Town Council, and reads far too many books.