Dear Dr. Bonomi,
I am frustrated with my riding and my horse. In your articles, you often talk about being connected to your why and working toward your destination, but how do you do that when your horse has been injured and had a long rehab? My horse is back to work, but it’s unclear how far he will be able to go up the levels given his injury. He doesn’t feel the same as he did before. To add to the frustration, I am an older amateur rider and don’t have all the time in the world to ride and compete.
B.G., Sacramento, CA
I appreciate your question, and I think it’s one that touches a lot of riders. We equestrians compete in a team sport, and when half of our team gets injured, it’s devastating, especially when he or she is the only partner we have or we are near the end of our careers.
I don’t have a quick answer for you, but I will offer you some suggestions.
First of all, frustration is an agitated, uncomfortable, and unhealthy mental state to occupy for too long. While I certainly appreciate your situation, I encourage you to find a way to accept what you cannot control. Since you are older and have lived a lot of life in and out of the saddle, I am sure you have had to deal with other external situations that are beyond your influence. To live a good life, we have to actively cultivate resilience, which is the ability to bounce back, and to respond positively to the challenges we encounter.
Tip: Referring to a version of the Serenity Prayer can be comforting for many people.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Right Here, Right Now
Second, since you are back training with your horse, focus on that, not on the past. Let go of your former expectations and of what he used to feel like. Dive into where your horse is right now. Look for progress in the present time rather than comparing with the past. It is unfair to your horse to shoulder your disappointment in him. I am sure he feels your frustration and disappointment, and he can’t do anything to repair it. It’s your job to meet him where he is, and praise him for his current time efforts. What if our partner were continually disappointed in us for not being as young, flexible, or strong as we were a few years ago?
In terms of setting a destination, I encourage you to hold on to your aspirations, but also have reachable checkpoints along the way. We need to have daily, weekly, and monthly successes along the path to our destinations. Similar to my second point above, horses are pleasers—they need to feel that they are doing a good job and fulfilling our expectations, so let’s keep our expectations in line with what they are capable of each day.
Gratitude is Good
Lastly, I sense that you are struggling with being older. You are putting a lot of pressure on yourself and your horse. I encourage you to reflect on this pressure. I suspect you are disappointed in yourself as well, or at least fighting the fact that you are not as young as you’d like to be. Perhaps your career hasn’t been what you expected or hoped? Maybe you are packing regrets into the saddle?
If any of this is true, it’s keeping you from being fully present. You are missing out on the pleasure of working with your horse again, and helping him be the very best version of himself now. Mostly you are missing out on the joys of riding and being a horse woman. Connect in with your gratitude for what you do have and what you can do, and you will feel fuller, lighter, and happier.
Wishing you all the best,
Darby Bonomi, PhD is a Sport and Performance Psychologist based in San Francisco. She works with equestrians in all disciplines, as well as other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the competition. She can be reached at .http://www.darbybonomi.com