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.

Dec 08, 2022 Education

Show Jumping Building Seminar Kicks off USEA Annual Meeting & Convention With a Wealth of Information

Show jumping: there is so much more to it than just setting out a set number of jumps in a ring. Professional course designers Marc Donovan and Chris Barnard broke down the fine details that come with show jumping course design during the Show Jumping Building Seminar which kicked off the 2022 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention on Wednesday, December 7th in Savannah, Georgia. With an in-classroom session discussing rules, regulations, theory, and more, followed by a practical hands-on course building session held at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Ronald C. Waranch Equestrian Center where participants were able to put all of the morning’s education to work, this year’s Show Jumping Course Building Seminar was full of useful information for both eventing lovers and course design hopefuls alike.

Dec 07, 2022 Convention

Meet Your USEA Board of Governors

During the 2022 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention, there will be two meetings of the USEA Board of Governors (BOG), one on Thursday, December 8th from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and one on Sunday, December 11th from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. The USEA is run by a BOG of around twenty individuals. These individuals discuss and vote on important matters related to the organization and its members. BOG members come from all over our ten USEA areas and come from various backgrounds from grooms, to professional riders, to amateurs, to course designers, and much more. Each BOG member serves a three-year term.

Dec 07, 2022 Convention

Fast Facts: 2022 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention

USEA members from near and far are getting ready to converge on the historic city of Savannah, Georgia this week for the 2022 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention! With four full days jam-packed with educational seminars, committee meetings and social gatherings, the convention is sure to excite all members of the eventing community that will be in attendance. The USEA Annual Meeting & Convention will be hosted at the Hyatt Regency Savannah Hotel this year, and we have all of the information you need to know to make the most of your experience!

Dec 06, 2022

The Business Toolkit for Eventers

As USEA members prepare for the USEA Annual Meeting & Convention, the USEA is pleased to share “The Business Toolkit For Eventers” from our educational partner STRIDER. This webinar is part of their popular Professional Development Series for Equestrians, which features experts from across the horse industry speaking on business topics relevant to equestrian sport.

Official Corporate Sponsors of the USEA

Official Joint Therapy Treatment of the USEA

Official Feed of the USEA

Official Saddle of the USEA

Official Real Estate Partner of the USEA

Official Equine Insurance of the USEA

Official Forage of the USEA

Official Supplement Feeding System of the USEA

Official Outerwear of the USEA

Official Competition & Training Apparel of the USEA