Mar 04, 2021

Pressure Proof with Daniel Stewart: The Anxiety Cycle is not a Bike!

USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

Our sport is going to present you with many amazing opportunities, and some equally amazing challenges. While you’re sure to enjoy the opportunities, it sometimes takes a little more effort to enjoy the challenges. Contrary to the common misconception (from non-equestrians) that our sport is easy, it’s actually one of the hardest and most demanding sports of all! After all, you’ll never see a skier trying to calm herself down after her skies spooked at the snow, and there’s no such thing as a chestnut-mare tennis racket that refuses to load into the car! Our sport certainly does provide us with a lifetime of wonderful and fulfilling opportunities, but the relationship with our four-legged partners ensures we’ll also receive a lifetime of crazy and often-times frustrating challenges.

Your ability to push beyond these challenges depends on having the mental strength and self-believe to avoid something called the anxiety cycle, which works something like this: When you experience a stressful challenge and avoid it (like cantering or backing your trailer for the first time) your brain releases a surge of relief that makes you feel better, which increases the likelihood of your brain telling you to avoid those things again in the future. After all, your brain’s number-one job is to keep you safe, so relief is one of its favorite emotions!

But here comes the sad part. Every time you avoid a stressful challenge and survive, your brain releases a series of reward chemicals that’ll begin to create an unwanted cycle consisting of three actions: (1) you recognize a challenge, (2) you avoid the challenge, and (3) you feel relief (reward) because you avoided it. Before long, your brain will actually encourage you to avoid the hard stuff by creating a series of neural pathways that’ll wire these three actions together - and in time - fire them together, meaning they’ll happen automatically and become a habit. Yikes!

When behaviors like these are wired and fired together, learning (neuroplasticity) has occurred, but not the kind of learning you’d hoped for! Unless you break the anxiety cycle, this unintentional habit of avoiding challenges (basically anything outside your comfort zone) will continue to strengthen and eventually build into the unwanted and undeserved habit of always avoiding situations that might seem a bit difficult or overwhelming. Unfortunately, these are the very challenges that lead to learning and growth!

In essence, the anxiety cycle works like this: every time you avoid something challenging and survive your brain says, “Yay, let’s always do that!” Eventually, it becomes a habit because your brain wires the challenge and the avoidance together. They’ve now become one. You can’t seem to have one without the other. You can seem to see a challenge without trying to avoid it.

So it goes without saying that the anxiety cycle needs to be stopped, and the good news is that you can do so by simply swapping avoidance with action. Every time you identify a challenge, take it! Before long your brain will swap the anxiety cycle with a new action cycle: (1) you recognize a challenge, (2) you accept the challenge and take action, and (3) you feel relief (reward) because you overcame it! These actions will now become wired together (challenge - action - reward) and before long, they’ll begin to fire together as they become your new habit.

I hope you enjoyed the month’s Pressure Proof Tip and that I’ll see you in one of my 44 summer clinics around the country this June, July, and August! Feel free to email me at [email protected] if you’d like more information on how your group can host or join one of my summer clinics.

Apr 22, 2021 Competitions

The Daily: LRK3DE Dressage Day 1

This year’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian has already begun in dramatic fashion, with a snowstorm blanketing the Kentucky Horse Park the night before the first horse inspection. Now, the snow has melted, the spring flowers are out, and we are set with 63 combinations ready to canter into the Rolex Arena for the CCI5*-L, and 46 combinations in the CCI4*-S, after all horses passed the first inspection.

Apr 21, 2021 Competitions

All Horses Pass the First Horse Inspection at the 2021 LRK3DE

With snow taking the place of spectators, the first day of the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event Presented by MARS Equestrian looked much different than any other year. A total of 63 horses were presented today (Wednesday, April 21) to the ground jury of Christina Klingspor (SWE), Robert Stevenson (USA), Peter Gray (CAN), and the veterinary delegate Karen Nyrop, DVM (USA).

Apr 21, 2021 Competitions

Fence-By-Fence: The #LRK3DE Cross-Country Preview

On Saturday morning 65 horses will leave the start box at the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS to tackle Derek di Grazia's cross-country course. With 28 fences and 50 jumping efforts at 570 mpm, the horses and riders will need to be fit as they take on the highest level of the sport and the first CCI5*-L in the U.S. since 2019.

Apr 21, 2021 Competitions

Fast Facts: 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event

While the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian will look very different this year with spectators not allowed under the USEF COVID-19 Action Plan, fans will still be able to tune into every minute of action via the live stream and wall-to-wall coverage on the USEA’s website and social media. The 2021 LRK3DE gets underway this afternoon at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.

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