Zen and the Art of Mental Maintenance

There is a saying in Britain – you have to fall off 10 times before you can call yourself a rider.? In France it is 100 times!!? Therefore, I am not a rider.? And I never will be.? I point blank refuse to fall off.? I am too scared to do it in case I snap.? Or die.? Or both.? It is not for me.? I will pass, thanks.
I find my body doing all sorts of odd little things in a bid to stay on board, most of which are totally counter-productive, to the point they are just inches away from becoming self-fulfilling prophesies.? Hanging onto that lovely flowing mane with both hands gripped almost as tightly as both eyes are shut may seem like a good idea as your uncontrollable pony gallops full tilt at the fence.? But it really is not.? Nor is gripping so tightly with your legs that you are actually forcing your body up out of the saddle at the same time as encouraging the animal beneath you to try his best to escape your vice-like knees.? If they do stop at the last minute you are going to do an airborne cartwheel.
And breathing.? Why does that suddenly become so complicated?? I can do it in my sleep!? But I didn’t seem to be able to do it for over a year whilst competing after I had had two rather nasty falls within a few days of each other.? Every time I jumped I would become so scared of falling off that I would hold my breath for the entire course prompting my club mates to chant “Breathe, Ellie!? Breathe!!” every time I competed.? Which would make me laugh.? Which in turn would kick-start my diaphragm allowing me to breathe for a few seconds.? I used to finish the course bright red and panting like a dog too silly to get out of the sun on a hot, hot day.
I started experimenting.? I found singing worked best.? When I used to run middle-distance races in my younger days we were told to sing as we ran to encourage regular breathing.? And singing has long been used as a way to calm a tense horse by way of calming the rider down.? So I started to sing silly songs at the top of my voice every time I had a jumping lesson.? Old Macdonald had a faaaaaaaaaaaarm… Eee – i -ee – i- 000000000000 oh! oh! buggerbuggerbugger and on that farm he had a horse ….? My coach suggested counting out loud to the beat of the canter.? I think my singing was melting her brain.? I tried counting and I tried her other suggestion of chanting the alphabet.? Boring.? … with a wheee whee here and a wheee whee there, here a whee, there a wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee, everywhere a whee whee !
Regarde ou tu va!? Ellie!!? Regarde ou tu va!? Non!? Regarde pas l’obstactle!? Recherches les singes dans les arbes!”
For those of you out there who do not ride horses, or speak french, apparently when you jump a horse in France you must look for monkeys in trees.? Cool.? Not come across this method of calming down a neurotic pupil before.? But when you break it down it makes perfect sense.? Due to carrying so much tension due to fear of falling I was fixating on the jump ahead of me then trying to jump it myself from the horse.? Celine explained that I was in charge of the speed and the angle and it was the horse’s responsibility to do the actual jumping.? Which is just as well.? My high-jump days have been over for quite some time now.
Once I was on the right trajectory and in the right gear all that was needed was to look forward to the horizon and look for pretending monkeys in trees that were not there.? I like things like that.? I hardly ever look at the jump now.? As far as I am concerned I have memorised the course and its route and his nibs can do all the hard work.? I am seeing this and liking it:
However, if I want to truly become a good rider I really must become more zen.? I have been struggling with this part of my challenge more than any other part.? I am too competitive, particularly against myself.? I could turn yoga into an Olympic event.? I run about the place trying to achieve, achieve achieve and I have achieved quite a lot of things over the last few months.? But zen is not one of them.? I do have more confidence in my ability now and fear has been replaced by a normal amount of necessary pre-show jitters.
A rather big help was when I could finally afford to buy new riding clothes.? Instead of looking like a total scruff in second-hand clothes that do not fit, my last two shows I have sported a fashionable pink jacket, my jodphurs were tight and white and not grey and baggy, my boots, chaps, gloves and hat matched.? And I put some make-up on too.? Wow.? Never under-estimate the power of a make-over when it comes to boosting confidence.
On the zen front, the best advice I found was to (silently) chant Smile.? Breathe.? Go slowly.? I try to do this every morning in work.? The good thing about doing manual work is that it frees your mind up to think about other things.? The bad thing about doing manual work is that it frees your mind up to worry about other things.? So I use this time to practise Being Mindful.? This entails being fully aware, or more realistically, trying to be fully aware of everything that you are doing.? Being aware of your breathing.? Of your walking.? Of everything you are doing and everything that is around you.
So whilst mopping up amniotic fluids and pools of blood I am smiling beatifically as I slowly breathe about the operating theatres plopping pusfilled pyometres into buckets and popping them up on a shelf to stop my dogs from eating them.
If they have security cameras that I am unaware of they are going to be slightly worried that they have employed a sociopathic cleaner.

2 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Mental Maintenance”

  1. Sadly, the French wild monkey is no more. A very timid little creature it was so perturbed by middle-aged women staring at them from the backs of galloping horses that the last of them disappeared. No-one is sure if they are extinct or just in hiding. We hope the latter is true. So now all up-and-coming showjumpers must look for big-eyed cartoons with squiggly tails (or should that be tales…).

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