Some of the recognizable signs are................a glazed over stare, a very focused determined face, wild hair, sweating, bad temper and no longer able to listen to any suggestions.
The more complicated a maneuver, the more the rider must learn and understand for the maneuver to go well. The rider usually attempts to absorb too many components at one time and this puts his mind into overload, he gets frustrated and a melt down happens.
Here is an example:
Sam was having a hassle getting his mare, Summer, to canter. Once he did get her to canter, it was difficult for her to maintain it because of all the things she was dealing with. As I watched, I could see where Sam was trying too hard and was too rigid. Sam's arms and wrists were very stiff, causing him to bump Summer's mouth every time she took a canter step. The bit bumping was signaling her to quit instead of encouraging her to canter on. Sam was so focused and determined on getting the canter that he lost track of where he was going and almost ran into the end of the arena several times. Also focusing on Summer's head and shoulders was telling his mare he had not desire to go anywhere. Sam was over using his legs, kicking Summer's sides to get more forward impulsion, but since it was so out of time, it was very distracting to her. Actually it was discouraging her from going forward. Because Sam was quite tense, his rear was coming out of the saddle on each rise of the canter and then smacking the saddle's seat on the down beat before the next rise of the canter. This certainly was not feeling good to Summer's back and was another reason she was reluctant to canter.
As Sam became more confident and relaxed, I had him close his eyes for a few seconds at a time in the hopes he would start focusing on what he was feeling. When a rider's eyes are open they have a tendency to focus on all the external distractions. By closing the eyes, it blocks out a lot of the distractions that can contribute to a mental melt down. Eyes closed forces the rider to focus on the "feel" of what's happening. He can get into the rhythm easier when he can "feel" the canter rhythm instead of trying to concentrate on the mechanics. Sam's trying too hard to control everything instead of going with the flow, had actually blocked progress. When he closed his eyes (while still holding the saddle horn) he seemed to let go of controlling and began to just go with the movement he was feeling. Summer's canter was getting softer and she was holding it longer because she wasn't dealing with so much interference from her rider. It was amazing to me that Summer didn't go into overload and have a mental melt down with all she was dealing with from her rider. It showed what an awesome horse she was.
I am not saying it's easy to relax when trying to complete a difficult maneuver. But if you think about it, every good rider who does a difficult maneuver is relaxed, breathing and calm.
Every rider you see frustrated and heading for a mental melt down is holding his breath, stiffening up and trying too hard to make it happen.
We live in a world that tells us we have to accomplish things NOW or it may be too late. "LIFE" is trying to teach us to pause, relax, breathe and have confidence we will get there. Remember, mental melt downs are bad for your relationship with your horse besides being bad for your health !
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