The Rider’s Mind Podcast Episode 97: Stop Leaving Your Brain at the Gate

Have you ever had the feeling that you left your head on the fence post when you headed into the arena to show? After your run, you aren’t sure where you were or how you managed to complete your run.  You weren’t thinking and you don’t remember what happened. You might not even remember your run when you watch the video of it.  I have a theory on why you’re checking out.  In this episode, I share how you can learn to stay present and lead your horses through a ride or run instead of leaving your brain at the gate. 

In Stride, we’ve been studying the nervous system and learning how we can regulate it.

When you feel like you left your brain at the gate and you can’t remember your run, I think your nervous system is overactivated. You’re checking out, which is called dissociation. You might also be doing this in other areas in your life.

This is related to the autonomic nervous system, which has two parts: parasympathetic and sympathetic. The parasympathetic system is associated with rest and thinking. The sympathetic nervous system is associated with fight or flight. Dr. Steven Porges has discovered the Polyvagal Theory. His theory is that there is more than fight or flight. There is also a “flee or freeze” aspect and you can get stuck and freeze in response to stress.

What our bodies decipher as stress is different for everyone. 

Competition causes stress in your body, which stimulates your nervous system. You do want your nervous system to be somewhat activated in order to have a competitive edge and find your ideal performance state. Sometimes, you go past that and become overactivated and dissociate. This is when you leave your body and forget what happens. 

This dissociation can happen in the arena, but also in your daily life. You might disconnect from what someone is saying while they are talking to you. You shut down because of sensory overload. It’s a trauma response.  

You develop a pattern of trauma response.

Trauma is not just abuse, accidents and tragedies. There are smaller traumas that might have created your trauma response. Sometimes you learn to deal with stressful situations by checking out.

Learn more about this by reading Dr. Nicole Lepera’s book How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past and Create Yourself

If you’re checking out even when you’re not competing, plus you add the stress of competition, it can be a lot to handle. You’re likely to become overactivated and check out. It can also cause issues for your horse when you’re not present.

Without being able to regulate your nervous system on a daily basis, you’re going to have a hard time regulating yourself in competition.  

You want to learn to regulate your nervous system. Improving your vagal nerve tone will help you find your ideal performance state. You can increase your capacity to handle stress and move between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. 

Being activated in your parasympathetic nervous system affects how you react. This might be why barrel racers get a bad reputation for being a little crazy… we often walk around very keyed up for our event, which affects our perception and can make us snappy and on edge. 

You want to be able to regulate your nervous system and learn more about it so you can get back to your parasympathetic nervous system. 

You can work on improving your ability to regulate your nervous system by thinking about it or by doing things with your body. Some ways to stimulate your vagus nerve to move into rest include singing, humming, practising yoga, meditation or breathwork.

I challenge you to become more aware. Notice your nervous system and how it handles overwhelm and stress outside of competition.    

You want to be able to move in and out of different states.  Practice regulating your nervous system outside of competition. If you don’t practice regulating, you set yourself up for difficulty.


Join the Conversation

Join the discussion in the The Rider’s Mind Community on Facebook. As a member of this community, you’ll also get tips and videos from me. 

Want to connect or ask me a question? Find me on Instagram or Facebook.

I’m now on Clubhouse too!  Find me @michelleadavey

Learn with Me

If you’re looking to make changes to your mindset, be sure to sign up for my free Next-Level Mindset Mini Course.

You can also join Stride, my next-level barrel racing group. This group receives video training and coaching from me and Stride members have access to special guests. We work on becoming mindful barrel racers so we can show up, be present and perform with great partnership.

Mentioned in this Episode
Episode 96: Use the Outside-In Approach for Added Perspective

Dr. Nicole Lepera’s Book
How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past and Create Yourself

Dr. Steven Porges: Polyvagal theory

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