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Take Nothing Personally

The way things affect you has everything to do with how you choose to look at the situation. Learn to choose curiosity over a self-centered perspective.

Article by Alexis Bennett, with Gilead Friedman - courtasy of NRHA REINER

“Well, that didn’t go how I wanted it to,” you think as you exit the arena. You beat yourself up about your run, then quickly turn on your horse because you’ve worked hard for this moment and need someone or something else to blame. If your horse had worked the way they were supposed to, you think, you wouldn’t be here. Or would you? The truth is, no amount of finger-pointing will change the outcome. Secondly, and more importantly, you and your horse are a team. A team requires a healthy relationship, and that requires trust and communication. As the leader of your team, your horse relies on you to listen when it communicates. When you listen, it’s more difficult to blame your horse because it allows you to get curious, assess what your horse needs and adjust. You shift from worrying about the outcome and how it reflects on you as a rider or on your preparation — a selfcentered perspective — and worry more about your team. This is the second of a fourpart series focused on developing high performance, fulfillment and well-being in the context of competitive reining. Inspired by “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, NRHA Professional Gilead “Gil” Friedman of Mental Athletics shares a framework riders can use to manage the pressures of showing while maximizing their mental and emotional wellness. The second agreement — don’t take anything personally — teaches you to focus on perspective to improve your empathy and communication with your horse, and thus, strengthen your partnership.

A Subjective Perspective

When you hear “don’t take anything personally,” your immediate reaction may be to put up a strong protection and say, “I don’t care.” That’s not exactly true. There’s no such thing as not caring, and it’s normal for you to care. You put a lot of work and effort into your riding. Instead, realize that situations are subjective. Everyone filters an event, experience or conversation through their unique point of view, including your horse. When you react and take something personally, you’re reacting to something subjective as if it’s the objective truth. You expect your horse to perform a certain way, but when they act up or don’t show as well as you hoped, you have two choices. The first is to get upset and think that it’s a reflection of you, your work ethic, your riding or how your horse feels toward you. You can take it personally. The second, more productive method is to react with empathy and understanding. Try to figure out what your horse is trying to communicate to you.

Your Horse Is a Horse

Even though you have a close relationship with horses, you must recognize they’re still horses. It’s not uncommon for riders (and many pet owners) to assign human-like feelings, thoughts and motivations to their animals. However true anthropomorphizing might seem, the reality is horses feel, think and are motivated like horses. Why does this matter? When you reflect on your horse’s actions in the arena, you need to think about them from their point of view rather than your own. You may think your horse is trying to disrespect you because they ran off in the show pen when really they were spooked by something in the stands. As far as we know, horses don’t have the same forethought and complex thinking processes humans do, so they don’t act out to get back at you. They act out of instincts, such as fear and hunger. Their experience reflects their immediate reality. You can’t expect your horse to perform without being aware of what’s happening. The rider’s job is to meet horses where they are. They are not aware of your “plan” when you two go to the show. Your horse isn’t the competitor — you are. Your horse isn’t the leader — you are. Your horse is an athlete. In your role, you’re in charge of the team-building aspect of the relationship. This means you need to be able to see the big picture and think about the needs of your team rather than just yourself. Ask yourself, “What does my horse need to be successful?” That might be extra time in the arena to get used to banners, a longer warmup to take the edge off or extra calories to have enough energy. Be willing to meet your horse’s needs and make them comfortable so they can be successful. If you can’t do that, don’t be surprised when they default to instinct in a situation.

Hardwiring Empathy

In new situations, most people assess the situation before jumping in. Whether it’s a new setting, new people or new circumstances, even the most extroverted social butterfly will read the room as they wade into it. Your horse is the same way, and different horses have different comfort levels. Your job as the rider and leader of your team is to be the social lubricator who shows your horse around, introduces them to people and generally gets them accustomed to the newness. When you keep this in mind, you’ll be more likely to interpret your horse’s reactions and actions as communication rather than personal attacks at your show plan. You’ll be better able to practice the second agreement.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Ultimately, how you choose to perceive a situation is a choice. You can choose to be positive or negative. You can choose to blame, or you can choose curiosity. You can choose to react to the circumstances or choose to reflect. You will find whatever you are looking for because there will always be evidence to support your argument. When you choose to not take anything personally, you choose growth and communication. You choose a relationship with your horse. If you find this difficult — and it can be hard to practice in the heat of the moment — remove yourself from the situation. Take a walk or get some fresh air, then come back and choose your horse, your team. Practice the second agreement to improve your performance to get your desired outcome, and more importantly, to promote peace and well-being in your competitive journey.

Gilead “Gil” Friedman, founder and head coach of Mental Athletics, brings more than 20 years of industry experience to his perspective on horsesport performance psychology. The NRHA Professional, who grew up riding performance horses and worked under several NRHA Professionals in the U.S., recognized mental performance coaching as a vital element of competitive reining preparedness. Mental Athletics delivers tailored, one-on-one coaching and on-demand learning to professionals and non pros worldwide, helping them become more skilled horsemen and resilient competitors.

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