Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Get your GRRR face on!

While Katchi is in his 2nd week of vacation - I've been enjoying the extra time to re-evaluate and motivate! My private lessons with P Dutty over the past weeks have afforded us extra time to not only work on making me right in the saddle, but right in the head too. When I started taking regular lessons with PD this summer, I enjoyed quite a few good chuckles at myself as I looked around the ring. I would sing (in my head, I hope) "One of these things is not like the others" - ME! Who here doesn't have an Olympic medal (or if I felt more generous... a pinque coat!) - OH OH, ME AGAIN! But the great thing about riding in these small "elite" group lessons is we all have the same level horse and PD expects all of us (uhem, me) to give my prelim horse just as fair a chance to succeed as all those Olympic medalists give their prelim horses. Now, it takes him a bit more work with me (which usually starts something like... "Cherie, stop, stop, stop. Come here."), but he never lowers his performance expectations.

Okay, there might be more than one difference between me and those Olympians, but one big difference is confidence. They reek of confidence. And I'm the other kid in the lesson. It really struck me when PD said to me - after I flubbed a line and then came back around to do it just about perfectly - "the only difference between that good ride and last time's mess, was your confidence." Huh. Same technical skills, same take-off spot - totally different ride. In one I surrendered. In the other I fought with effective aggression. Determination. Commitment. Relentless. Willpower. Purpose. Grit. Go Big or Go Home. That's what Olympians are made of.

Okay, fair enough, the Olympics aren't on my short-term goal list. They're not even on my long-term goal list. But each and every one of us wants to succeed - whether success is the tadpole jumper class or Rolex Kentucky! And we all have the same freakin' mental battles to fight in high pressure situations - and don't tell me that tadpole class isn't high pressure! Have you seen people's faces going into the ring? That's no fun and games.

I watched the 2011 Rolex highlights DVD again last weekend - and there's Jimmy saying it over and over again. The difference between the riders that survive that course and those who don't is their determined focus. They all have the skill to be 4* riders. But its the ones with relentless focus on the ball (or next fence), despite all sorts of craziness (stumbles, over jumps, splashing water, lost reins...) those are the ones who get it done. The rest are stunned and surprised when it falls apart in an instant (don't I know that feeling). Gee, I just heard a repeat of my last talk with PD about upping my game to the next level. I have the skill, feeling, and awareness - and bursts of confidence when I ride damn good. But bursts are only bursts. Consistency is key.

I have to get my "GRRR" face on. When I rode with Mike Huber as a young rider, we used to make good fun of his GRRR face - teeth barred and evil eyes - over every fence... from the biggest World Championship fences to a 12" cross rail, Mike brought his GRRR face to every fence. This is what I need. A GRRR face so intense it scares show jumps into submission and makes trakehners shake in their boots (strike that - shake in their ditch!).

Mike Huber's GRRR face - over a novice fence at the 2010 AECs
(photo from the 9/11/10 USEA Blog, photos by Emily Daily and Leslie Threlkeld).

Interestingly, just recently my office work has taken a venture into looking at some cutting-edge human performance research - including sports psychology. Why do some of the best athletes "choke" under pressure? Why do others nail the most important game in their lives? What can we do to make sure we perform our best when it really counts? Performance is only partially about the trained skill. It's also a whole lot about what's going on (or not going on) in your head. And I have way too much in my head.

I'm sure I'll be writing much more about this in the coming months - I am ridiculously analytical and I'm only just beginning to sort through the research and my thoughts. But, I'll leave you with something to ponder from research out of the University of Hong Kong (Dr. Richard Masters and colleagues).

Think about your riding (you might even replace "movement" with "riding"), and rate the following questions with "strongly agree" or "strongly disagree":

  1. I rarely forget the times when my movements have failed me, however slight the failure.

  2. I'm always trying to figure out why my actions failed.

  3. I reflect about my movement a lot.

  4. I am always trying to think about my movements when I carry them out.

  5. I'm self-conscious about the way I look when I am moving.

  6. I sometimes have the feeling that I'm watching myself move.

  7. I'm aware of the way my mind and body works when I am carrying out a movement.

  8. I'm concerned about my style of moving.

  9. If I see my reflection in a shop window, I will examine my movements [okay, this is a bit unfair to those lucky enough to be riding this winter in an indoor with mirrors!]

  10. I am concerned about what people think about me when I am moving.

If (like me) you strongly agree with most of these questions - you are more likely to be the athlete who will "choke under pressure" rather than be the "go-to player" in high-stakes games. Research shows that, in sports (an athlete with well-trained or developed skills - not beginners), excessive performance self-monitoring is one cause of severely disrupted movements (performance failure). Ah, I hear Jimmy saying, "Cherie, stop critiquing your ride in the middle of it!" Stop considering and start committing. Why is it the harder I try to monitor every little thing to perfection - the worse I get? Psychologists are calling it "Paralysis by Analysis". And I'll call the antedote - "Get your GRRR face on!"


  1. Fabulous post--I look forward to the others. I totally do this and I'm trying to stop.

    Which is hard.

    As you know.

  2. This strikes home for me both on the riding side and on the weightlifting side. After getting kicked in the knee while riding and developing bilateral muscle weakness throughout my body, I'm hyper-aware of my one-sidedness both in my weightlifting/Crossfit life and my riding life. I'm constantly hearing "shut up and lift/ride!" Intriguing post, I'd love to hear more about the subject!

  3. Add me to the Fascinated list! I can't say I strongly agree with all the statements, so maybe there's hope for me yet -- I'd love to know more about how to help alleviate that.

  4. Great post. Boy did it strike a little too close to home! :) I also suffer from "Paralysis by Analysis"

  5. Gee, I kind of thought Mike looked like that all the time!

  6. And wasn't Jimmy Wofford who said somthing to the effect that the thinking riders are the ones with the most struggles.

    I am in this club... still searching for the GRRRR again (after a bad injury and other falls this year.)