Therapeutic process and its role in performance

In my work with riding clients and therapy clients, I’ve found that there is ample carry over between how I approach rehabilitating someone post injury or trauma and how I help athletes make progressive shifts to enhance performance outcomes.

I often find myself sitting in an uncomfortable paradox in that so much about making change (ever highlighted by horses) requires us to toss out any and all agenda yet the industry and high performance standards so often work within perceived rigid, linear minded timelines.

How I approach an athlete who is facing blocks or sticking points in their progression often means helping them unlayer potentially years of patterns, projections and expectations (not to mention relationship dynamics between the athlete and their horse(s)).

Simply put, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Our biomechanics, and therefore our equitation, is heavily tied into our perception, emotion and neurological ways of being that are often unconscious until awareness is heightened.

When it comes to injury or trauma rehabilitation, often door openers to awareness if we’re able to see it that way, the same general rule can be applied. How we heal or how we do not heal is related to our perception and unconscious behavioural patterns formed over our histories.

There are many linear, textbook ways to heal and make changes... but working with humans and horses more often than not humbled those textbook images.

I’ve become accustomed to taking X amount of steps forwards, then sideways, then perceivably back, followed by often more confident steps forwards again. Even using language like ”forwards” or “backwards” implies an agenda, however there’s not many other ways to describe it!

As humans I don’t believe that we are actually designed to have a constant. Fluctuation is quite normal and healthy. This applies to progress points in performance - although we may dream of having a nice easy round every time we go into the ring, the majority of us also thrive in some form of “always improving”.

Much of my work involves working with high performers/achievers who seek in perfection as a rule. Whether that’s in their own body/performance, their horse’s or in everyone around them. I don’t think it’s a negative thing to have high goals or trajectories in mind, at all. It’s when they become rigid expectations we so often run into issues.

This past year a horse entered my life that has become my absolute guru on tossing agendas. It’s a safe place for me to be on the consulting, teaching, training and treating end of relationships. I thrive in professionalism and being a grounding point for my clients. Stepping back into the world of horses and riding for myself has endlessly enhanced my offerings to clients. It has also found all my vulnerabilities and asked me to be triggered, sit with it and toss any and all agenda I may have had consciously or unconsciously.

Does tossing the agenda mean sacrificing the big dreams? I have asked myself this many times, and many times I fear it does. I have sat with that fear and for me I think it stems from a old core wound of mine around always being an outsider. My early years as a rider and competitive athlete often included not feeling like I was in the ”in” crowd. The 4H kid in a crowd of pony clubbers. Coming back into the world with professionally provided a shield of sorts, whereas stepping back into it with a horse of my own is shining a spotlight directly on that belief. I don’t see it the same way now. Mostly because I know I was never the only one that felt that. So.. no, I don’t think tossing agendas means tossing the goals and dreams. It simply means being okay approaching them with grace and presence.

With horses this means working WITH them instead of ON them and realizing where and how we turn them into projections of ourselves and judge them as such.

It also asks for faith. A lot of it.

Many of us in the equestrian world, especially the competitive side of it, find a load of comfort and security in our linear, western world progression points. It’s validation for the illogical amount of resources we pour into this lifestyle and it is proof of worthiness (of self in relation to the outside world and inside world, usually).

We think a broken bone implies 6-8 weeks of healing and we’re good to go. Then we actually go through a fracture (or injury or any sort really) and realize 6-8 weeks is usually more like 1-3+ years of evolution.

As an athletic therapist that has worked across numerous sports. Injuries are expected yet when they happen the athlete in question goes through essentially the stages of grief. Negotiating with me to try and progress back to performance sooner, denying reality and finally moving through the emotionality of what’s changed, while healing physically.

With horses it’s often easy to negotiate as they don’t have as loud or direct way to negotiate back. It’s often not until the barriers to success or performance become bigger and bigger we are forced to see our one sided negotiations (If we see them at all).

All of this is to say: doing the work around awareness, healing and holistically enhancing performance is not the easy way. It will however get your farther, likely in a shorter timeframe realistically. We don’t know what we prevent when we work on awareness. I do know the foundation is stronger and sturdier for it, though. From a good foundation any renovation or rebuild is attainable.

Biomechanics; how we move and somatics; the wisdom our body holds onto (aka body awareness) are two key tools we need to approach our goals with intention. Building (or rebuilding) that foundation means taking it apart and creating space for it first, before putting it together in a progressive way.

What have your stopping points been in the industry or within yourself so far? What aligns with you and what feels abrasive? Have you felt like you can move forwards at your own pace?

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