Jen Mellace: Day 12

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Today Dr. Jenny Susser talks about being mentally fit and how to use mental imagery to improve your performance. This can be equally (if not more) difficult than being physically fit. When I was a kid I rode tons of sale horses. I would jump fences that today would make my stomach turn. I was fearless.

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But alas, as I grew older my nerves started to jangle. I think it came with the realization that I had a full-time job, bills to pay, a husband waiting at home and then (the topper) my children. Unfortunately having jangly nerves doesn't instill confidence in horses and I was quickly reminded of this while taking my young horse off the farm for the first time.

We were going on a slow-paced trail ride with about 15 other people when my typically quiet gelding lost it?and so did I. I froze up and completely forgot how to ride. Fortunately I had folks there to talk me through it and the trail ride went on as planned?with me firmly in the saddle from start to finish. But the damage was done. My nerves were frazzled after that ride, and it carried over into subsequent rides at home. My horse knew I was scared and so he became scared, too. It took the better part of a year and lots of mental imagery and breathing exercises for me to relax and realize that he had no intention of hurting me. I began envisioning us cantering along the gallop around the fields at home (something I had done before that trail ride off the farm), and I thought about how good those rides felt. I realized that if I rode him like that again, and laughed at him whenever he got silly, he would relax, too.

Today we continue our work in the ring, but also trail ride at home and off the farm. I've even had him out foxhunting twice (so far) this season! While he still can get a little excited, my talking to him and keeping a relaxed way about me makes him settle and enjoy himself. It's one of the hardest things to do?create confidence and trust between a skittish rider and horse. But once you do, that bond is so strong and makes your rides that much sweeter.

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