How to Stop Feeling the Rub of Judgment.

WMNubeTackSkyOn a good day, a judgment is simply a carefully considered decision or opinion, but on a bad day, it’s a list of shortcomings. Usually half of them are impossible to change. And then in the horse world, a whole bunch of us ask for it. We compete which is actually paying someone to judge us.

Here’s where some riders claim the high moral ground, saying it’s why they don’t show; that riding is something they do only for personal enjoyment or to learn the art of riding (the same reason riders compete, by the way). But isn’t that just another judgment, too, that one kind of riding is better than another?

I’m still dancing around it; judgment isn’t a problem at all if it’s positive. But isn’t there an assumption that judgment is mostly negative by definition? Is there a teenager who doesn’t feel the rub of peer pressure and social expectations, even if they never come to the barn? A woman who doesn’t feel physically judged at every age, even if she’s never in a saddle? And if that isn’t hard enough, we’re well-versed in torturing ourselves with our insecurities. It’s self-judgment that rubs the hardest; those dark thoughts that are always ready to remind us of our failings and knock us down a peg, as if confidence was somehow a rude shortcoming, as well. Self-judgment is like emotional gravity, keeping us in a constant passive choke-hold that seems to tighten if we resist it. If we get the notion we could fly.

When we drag this thought/mess with us to the barn, horses do two things; they reflect our insecurities back to us and at the same time say, “But you know we can fly, right?”

So just do it. Just give yourself permission to not feel the rub of judgement. While you’re at it, don’t be afraid. And don’t worry. Have you ever noticed how useless it is to tell yourself to not do things? It’s all scolding. When we only correct an animal, they get sour really fast.

Less correction, more direction–it works on us, too. Here’s a literal how-to method replace the negative self-talk.

First, the good news is that humans are lousy at multi-tasking. Our human brain can only do one thing at a time and research shows that our IQ actually drops when we take on more. Simple is good.

And second, what’s the best thing to do when a puppy is chewing on your brand new over-priced shoe? Do we get the best result by yelling and beating him with the shoe, or could we give him a better choice, like a nice raw bone, and then reward him for being so smart?

We need to treat ourselves like puppies; instead of getting mad and holding a grudge, gently replace those negative thoughts with something better to chew on, and then reward yourself. Say Good Girl. If you believe in positive training for dogs and horses, use it on yourself, too.

How about consciously deciding to put your horse first? It’s something everyone says they do, but when we drag negative thoughts into the saddle, horses feel it. We’re being selfish, a really bad trait in a leader. So no, really put your horse first. Prioritize him above your worries. And since we can only do one thing at a time, abbreviate it all to one word–just-think-horse.

In training, there’s an idea of creating a bubble for you and your horse, and making that it such a safe place that your horse ignores spooky things outside the rail. It’s being so connected, stride by stride, that your horse is confident in your leadership and lays down his worries. Can you let your horse be your bubble, too? A place that you’re safe from your own self-judgment?

Here’s how. While you are tacking up, think about the positive things the two of you have conquered. Think of the past just long enough to acknowledge how far you’ve come. When the fleeting thoughts of how much your canter transitions suck, or how scared you are since your last fall, come into your mind, forgive yourself like a puppy. Take a breath. Yes, literally, take a conscious inhale, and gently replace those defeated thoughts with something tastier. Discipline yourself to kindness. Lay your palm flat on your horse’s neck and know you are both perfect. Good Girl.

At the mounting block, settle into the saddle and know that this ride is special. Now matters, let the rest fall away. Say thank you, because that’s always the best way to start, and walk off. Stay in your bubble. Ask for something small, and share that success with your horse. Maybe there’s a bag on the fence, or a car coming fast on the road, or a judge watching your transitions… be aware of your surroundings but release judgment about what has happened or might happen. Forget good or bad; instead remember what matters right now. Good Girl. It’s always your horse. Take a breath, say thank you, and then ask for something small. Be Here Now.

Like any good training method, the idea is simple to understand, but it takes time and consistency to break old habits. Spanking yourself won’t help. Instead let that feeling of connection become addictive. Partnership is always a better chew than doubt and insecurity. Your horse will reward you when you get it right. Shut up the rest; it’s just chatter. Listen to him. Just him.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

25 thoughts on “How to Stop Feeling the Rub of Judgment.

  1. gail

    thank you. if i can achieve this reflection it will make my world and that of my horses soooo much better xxx

  2. Celeste

    Thank you. Your words always reach my heart. I know I need to work on the follow through, but you always gove me such a good place to start. Thanks.

  3. Joan Spence

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    So I’m thinking that if someone as accomplished and experienced as you has similar issues as me then maybe that’s another layer of “I’m not good enough” that I can release? For some reason when I’m stressed I think more negative thoughts. I would never treat a friend that way. Heck I wouldn’t treat anyone that way and yet somehow I am trained to punish myself. Whew but it takes a lot of effort to recognize the layers of self doubt and then extinguish them. And to me it is all within the dream of being in better relationships with everyone and everything but most of all to be a better rider and horseman. Lol, it’s all about riding.

  4. Lisa Brewer

    I love your articles! I would like to take exception to one idea in this one, though:

    “Here’s where some riders claim the high moral ground, saying it’s why they don’t show; that riding is something they do only for personal enjoyment or to learn the art of riding (the same reason riders compete, by the way). But isn’t that just another judgment, too, that one kind of riding is better than another?”

    NO! Choosing not to show is as honorable a choice as choosing to show, and most people do not think of it as being a moral high ground. Sometimes we make this choice for practical reasons. For example, working, taking care of elderly parents, keeping a household going, being on a limited budget, wanting to spend time with one’s spouse and children. These constraints can make showing more stressful than enjoyable. Also, some people (I am one) just feel naturally less competitive as they get older, and so are less inclined to choose competition as their recreation. And for me, the more competitive my work place gets–and believe me corporate America is a tough, competitive environment–the less I want to compete in my personal time.

    So hats off to the riders who work hard, show, and win. I love watching them! And hats off too to the riders who are equally dedicated to advancing their skills and knowledge, but do it outside the show ring. There is room for both.

    1. It’s funny, I fall into the criteria you listed and don’t show at this point… so I will apologize to you. You are right. I seem to meet more than my fair share of the sort I mentioned and I’m thrilled to hear from someone like you. So really, THANK YOU for this comment.

  5. Yvonne Field

    Reading your new book Anna and love it. The highlighter been has been working overtime! Thank you!

  6. Thank you, Anne. So much of what you say is spot-on for me. That negativity and scathing self-judgment has followed me throughout life and into my riding. I’ve had two bad falls in 5 months, both leading to concussions. I don’t that I will ride again, but if so, I’ll remember your ‘riding in a bubble’ image. And to be kind–to my horse AND to myself. Necessary lessons in all of life.Thanks again.

    1. You are so welcome, and sorry about the falls. You might consider doing some horse agility for a while. Search it on my blog… it’s done in hand and it a big communication/confidence builder… it might be a good way to for the two of you to rebuild some trust. Just an idea. Thanks for your comment.

  7. Cindy

    I love this. I felt as though you know me and we’re speaking exactly what I need to hear. I’m going to save this so I can read it every day and every time a negative thought starts to develop. Thank you.

      1. Oh good. I’ll probably post next week. My trainer is pretty amazing as she said things very close to what you said. She is learning about positive visualization in the saddle and how that affects our relationship with our horses. I struggle with fear, though Mark Russell helped me hugely with that last summer.

  8. Just finished your R&F book on the beach in Florida and returned to the ice and snow of NJ…but guess what? I have serious warm fuzzies. And so does my horse who suddenly seems to want to hang out with me a whole lot more. And, our first few rides since I’ve returned have been –well–thoroughly relaxed and forward! Lovely things happen in the Land of “Now”. *silly grin* Thank you, Anna!

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