What you need to know to build a better connection at the barn, show, and every day with your horse.
Equestrian sports can “evoke a wide range of emotions, from inspiration, pride, exhilaration, and satisfaction, to fear, frustration, anger, and panic, often in a very short time span during training or competition.”1
Your emotions trigger physical sensations, and vice versa. Everyone experiences the physiological symptoms of emotions. Maybe it was the day you brought your first horse home, or took a lesson with the trainer you have idolized for years. Your heart was racing a little and the butterflies were fluttering away. This is the mind-body connection in action.
In the moment, you might think the feedback is distracting, but its purpose is to make your mind more nimble and body more responsive. When you understand this primitive mechanism, you can manage it appropriately. Professional athletes are now incorporating practices to gain self-control over the mind-body connection, understanding that it can be the deciding factor of whether they win or lose, succeed or fail, grow or stagnate.
Have you ever noticed the mind-body connection? Studies on the mind-body connection reveal that “consciously felt emotions are associated with culturally universal, topographically distinct bodily sensations” 2 that have been mapped in the diagram below. Can you identify the emotions that result in a flushed response or cold feet? Can you identify your own emotions in this map? What are the physical sensations that you have experienced? Some examples are muscle tension, relaxation, heart rate variation, perspiration, a change in your breathing and body temperature.
Keep in mind that emotions are biochemical responses to stimulus. Neither good or bad, they prepare our body for action. As equestrians, our emotions can be critical to our performance and development. Ultimately, emotional connection is a pillar in our relationship with our horse. We strive to be the best partners we can be for them but when we let emotional reactions get the best of us, we risk damaging both the partnership and our training. Just as we train our muscles, we can also train our reactions through our mind-body connection.
With this understanding, let’s look at some powerful ways to use the mind-body connection to regain control of our emotions and focus our minds:
Posture influences your mental state -- "Superhero" pose for confidence.
Record your list of successes and celebrate that “winning” feeling! Mindset matters!
Digestive health and food choices influence mental state. Optimize your diet based on how it makes you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Do you get hangry when you haven’t had time to eat?
Do you get edgy when you have too much cake or candy?
Do you experience energy dips and peaks that affect your mood.
Practice breathing exercises to regain composure.
Meditation is training your mind. It’s not about focusing on one thing for a long time but rather calling your attention back when it wanders. Each recall is “hitting the gym” for your mind.
Exercise boosts endorphins - work-out your mood with exercise.