Aug 03, 2023

Pressure Proof with Daniel Stewart: The Anxiety Cycle is Not a Spinning Class!

USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

This month we’re going to talk about a subject you’re likely familiar with and a few others that might just surprise you a bit. We’re going to talk about the growth mindset: the belief that talent can grow with time and experience; that skills are just starting-points that can be enhanced with the right amount of effort and practice. Riders with a growth-mindset know their potential isn’t fixed, thrive on challenges, and love to stretch outside their comfort zone. But you probably already knew that…

What you might not know is that not long ago it was thought the human brain finished growing early in life, but modern imaging technology has proven that our brains are actually quite capable of growing well into adulthood! Regardless of whether it’s learning to ride a horse or speak a new language, your brain is capable of growing just like you are. This is called neuroplasticity and has provided scientific proof that the growth-mindset is real.

Your brain has billions of neurons, each with thousands of connections to other neurons. They meet at synapses and communicate via neurotransmitters which ultimately create your skills and behaviors. Every time you have a new experience your brain creates new connections between them, and when you have that same experience again, your brain strengthens those connections. In time, these connections become wired together, much like a forest path that gets more defined over time. Eventually these wired-connection allow skills and behaviors to become automatic (muscle memory) because when one fires, so does the other. In other words, wired together and fired together.

So, what does neuroplasticity have to do with the growth mindset? Well, overcoming emotional challenges like doubt, defeats, or disappointments is a skill, and like any skill, you can improve it by simply practicing and learning to wire the correct neurons together…but in order for that to happen, you much first overcome something called the anxiety cycle.

The anxiety cycle works like this: When you avoid something scary your brain releases a surge of relief that makes you feel better, which increases the likelihood of your brain telling you to avoid other scary things in the future. Every time you avoid something scary and survive, your brain links together more neurons that strengthen that habit, even if the scary thing isn’t dangerous (like backing up a trailer). Before long, the anxiety-cycle creates neural connections that make you avoid situations that might seem scary. Every time you avoid one and survive, your brain says, “Yay, let’s always do that!” Eventually it becomes a habit because your brain wires scary and avoidance together.

The trick to overcoming the anxiety cycle is to simply do those things that feel a bit scary (just back-up the trailer already!). If you do them and don’t die (spoiler alert: you won’t) your brain says, “What a relief,” and will begin breaking the neural connections between scary and avoidance and begin building new connections between scary and safe. In the end, neuroplasticity is what helps you to break the anxiety cycle, and breaking the anxiety cycle is what helps you develop the growth mindset!

I hope you enjoyed this month’s Pressure Proof tip and are looking forward to more in the future. If you enjoy mental coaching please let me know. I’m offering a self-paced equestrian sport psychology online course starting in October and think you’d love it! Email me at [email protected] and I’ll send you more info!

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It's one of the biggest weeks in eventing, and while thousands of eventing enthusiasts have flocked to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, for the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event, thousands more will be tuning in from across the globe will be watching from home. Are you one of those who will be watching from afar? We've got the all the info you need to watch the livestream

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Klugman's Returning to Kentucky on a Special Mare

Ema Klugman completed a fairy tale story in 2021 at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event when she made her five-star debut with the Thoroughbred/Saddlebred Bendigo, who she came up the levels with from Pony Club to Advanced. As Ben was heading into the later years of his career with Klugman, she purchased Bronte Beach, a Zangersheide mare (Verdi TN x Dalphine), in 2017 as a 5-year-old to follow in his footsteps.

Apr 19, 2024 Membership

Top Tips for Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event First-Timers from USEA Members

The 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event is truly an eventing lover’s paradise with four full days of competition, vendors galore, opportunities to meet some of the sport’s greatest riders face-to-face, and so much more. For a seasoned Kentucky veteran, hopping over to the Kentucky Horse Park for the fun feels easy enough, but attending Kentucky might feel a bit overwhelming for first-timers. We chatted with USEA members from all over the country to get their favorite Kentucky tips to share with you. Check them out here!

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There are some familiar names and new faces on the five-star roster for this year's Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event. Which horses have had recent top placings? Which riders have seen success at the Kentucky Horse Park in previous years? Which horse is called "Grandpa" by his rider and which one was purchased for $1?

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