I was chatting with a friend and fellow rider the other day about how technical riding is an interesting hobby and an odd form of therapy. We were both having stressful weeks at work and were discussing how much of a bright spot our dressage lessons were in our week. I commented how strange it is that an hour of intense, focused, detailed, physical study was so completely relaxing and therapeutic. Sometimes my head is aching from stress at work but maybe switching gears to being more physically technical instead of just mentally technical makes all the difference.
Some days I drift in and out of being truly present in my lessons. I wholly trust my trainer and I feel like there are times when I am just a conduit letting her instruction and intuition just flow through me to the horse. This will build some muscle memory for me in the long run so I am not going to beat myself up too much for not being the initiator 100% of the time. This is the part that is relaxing. The opposite side of the coin is the mental learning aspect. The part when I am fully present, and owning the decisions I make. These moments have the potential of being frustrating as I don’t always make the right decisions but the accountability forces the growth. Of course sometimes the frustration comes not from the decision itself but rather in a “missed translation” from mind to body which is why I think both of these stages are essential and beneficial in the right balance.
I’m sure some of the relaxation has to do with the reduction in pressure. At work there are people counting on me to do my job and do it well. It is a healthy source of pressure most of the time and sometimes actually helps me perform at my best. What’s different about riding is that no one is counting on me to become a better rider (okay, except maybe the horse!) The “pressure” to perform and improve is 100% self-initiated. I suppose you could say in this way that it is all carrot and no stick, which is mostly true! I don’t rely on my riding skills for my livelihood and since no one pays me to perform I also don’t have the inherent feeling of obligation. But there is also a little bit of personal pride which comes with improving for the sake of improving- yet another motivator.
I’m so lucky to have a healthy outlet for stress and a hobby that sure keeps me on my toes!