Surrounding Yourself with the Right People

To a first-time spectator, cutting may appear to be an individual sport. At times a seasoned competitor may feel like he or she is all alone in the middle of the pen. I am certain that a lot of performance nerves stem from thoughts like “Everyone is looking at me! I don’t want to loose a cow!” It is true that for two-and-a-half minutes it is up to you and your horse to mark that 74……but it takes a team to get you there. I have found that if I am mindful of my support team and actively support my team mates, I experience less anxiety and more confidence at a show.

Who is allowed into your inner cutting circle? Who do you turn to for guidance and encouragement? These people are extremely important and more than just casual friends. They can be as much of a part of your success as your horse. The good news is that you get to hand pick these people. So what should you look for when building your support team?

In addition to training your horse and keeping them correct, your trainer is your coach and mentor. When choosing a trainer you have to take into consideration not only your needs, but your horse’s needs as well. This article is focused on your needs. It should go without saying that you must be able to trust your trainer to put your horse’s metal and physical well being first. That leads into a deeper discussion that deserves a separate platform.

Your trainer is the most important member of your team. Be picky. Do your research. Ask other cutters for recommendations. Take a lesson with a few different trainers. You are looking for someone who’s teaching style fits you. Then ask yourself a fewquestions. Do you feel like you got the one-on-one time you needed? Did the instructions and feedback make sense to you? Were you able to ask questionsand were they answered? Did you see any improvement? Was there an “Ah-Ha” moment? Did you have fun? Did you leave feeling positive about the overall experience. It is very difficult to learn in a negative situation. Trust me, I know!

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When I was in my mid twenties, I started taking a few cutting lessons with a local trainer. I was wearing rose colored glasses because I wanted to cut so badly. This man would yell and swear at you during your lesson. I guess that was his teaching style. After a few weeks of riding with him, I invited my dad to watch one of my lessons. I will never forget what he told me after that lesson. He said “Megan, don’t you ever pay someone to talk to you like that.” That was my last lesson with that particular trainer. I had such a sour feeling over the experience that I quit riding for a few years. When I decided to start taking lessons again, I made an appointment with NCHA Hall of Fame trainer, Todd Bimat. Before my lesson began I asked Todd if he yelled and swore during his lessons because my dad told me I shouldn’t pay someone to do that.  He laughed and said good-naturedly “Well we sure try not to! We try to havefun.” I can say that I never left Todd’s barn without a smile on my face and having learned something. Consequently, I haven’t quit learning or smiling.

In addition to your trainer, surround yourself with positive, motivated cutting friends. Attitudes are contagious. Cutting is such an emotional sport for a lot of people. It is inevitable that you will have a bad run from time to time. Value the people who encourage you and build you up. Avoid the people that just look for someone or something to lay the blame on. It’s easyto complain about the judge, herd help, or cattle. It is also not productive. Whether you mark a 72 or a 60, value yourself enough to be selective about who you lean on. Are these folks congratulating you on how yourhard work paid off? Did they notice the elements of your run that you have been focusing on at home? Are they willing to look at your scorecard and watch your video with you? Are they just there with you or are they really there for you?

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These special people make up what I call my “barn family”. Cutting is a sport that no one will ever master, much like golf. There are too many variablesthat you have little or no control over. A supportive barn family will be there to celebrate the great runs and get you through the bad runs. They are an integral part of this competition that we all love so much.

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Having a Confident Self Image

Do you believe in yourself? The answer to this question will effect your performance in the show pen more than you could ever imagine. What does your self image look like?IMG_0018

Having a strong, positive self image may not guarantee that you and your horse will lay down a 74 every time you ride to the herd. There are too many outside variables involved in our sport such as cattle, weather, herd help, not to mention being judged by another human being. However, I can absolutely promise you that if you lack confidence in yourself and your horse, you will fail. That may sound harsh, but rest assured it is not the end. You can choose to be confident and reinvent your self image. The idea may feel silly at first, but it all comes down to what kind of competitor do you want to be….mediocre or exceptional.

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William James was a pioneer in American psychology. During the late 1800’s, James was one of the founding fathers of the Harvard Psychology Department. He said “People tend to become what they think of themselves.” I love this! If you want to be a consistent competitor in the cutting pen, you must think of yourself as a force when you walk to the herd. If you want to be calm, cool, and collected when the pressure is high. Visualize an intense run. See yourself showing your horse with confidence and grace. Believe that you are equipped and capable of reaching your goals. Think of yourself as a champion and remind yourself that you are riding an incredibly talented horse. You may be wondering if that is all you have to do to overcome one’s nerves and win your class? A confident self image does not guarantee that you will never loose a cow or have a bad run. As they say, that’s just cutting. But take this into account, there is a distinct relationship between negative thinking and failure.

Your self image can be fragile. It needs to be nurtured and protected. Your subconscious is responsible for housing your self image. Every thought that you have about yourself or your abilities gets filed in your subconscious. These thoughts are what develop how you instinctually think or feel about yourself. A thought that is charged with emotion, either positive or negative, will make more of a lasting impression on your subconscious. Your responsibility to your self image is to monitor what kind of thoughts make the biggest impact on your subconscious. The way you use your mind, will help determine the amount of success and joy you experience.

Your horse is trained to rate cattle, adjusting his speed and intensity in order to control a cow and optimize his performance. In a sense, we need to learn to rate our thoughts. When you find yourself reflecting on a lesson or a run at a show, look for specific things to be positive about. Perhaps your cuts were really smooth or you kept your knees turned away from your horse. Maybe you controlled your first two cows and worked in the middle of the pen. Celebrate your successes. Savor the way it feels when the different components of working or showing your horse come together. Emotionally emphasize the positive thoughts. In turn, you have to learn to become emotionally detached from bad experiences. Learn from them and then move on. Protect yourself from getting upset over bad runs or mistakes.

Guard your self image from negativity and pessimism. Build your confidence by focusing on your strengths. Be proud of your horse. Trust your trainer. Relive your accomplishments. Visualize your goals becoming reality. Enjoy the ride!

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*Thank you Haylee Lynn and Baila Conmigo for the personal photos.

*Photo of William James, Wikipedia

Just try to stay CALM

Do you get nervous before you show your horse? I think everyone does on some level. I used to swear that I never got nervous. I bragged that ice water ran through my veins. If that was the case, why would I fall apart in the show pen? There were times that I couldn’t recall any of the details of my run. Truthfully, I never felt the “butterflies” in my stomach, increased heart rate, or profusely sweaty arm pits. My nerves presented themselves as over-the-top intensity. I was so uptight that my jaw muscles would hurt after competing for 2.5 minutes! Why is it so hard to just stay calm when we ride to the herd?

If you are reading this right now, you are a competitor. You want to win. You want to be the best or at the very least, perform to the best of your abilities. But as we all know, it is so hard to quiet your emotions as we face the judge, our trainer, our peers, and our own expectations. Cutting is a very passionate sport, believe it or not! First of all, we are performing individually. Our one teammate is a one thousand pound animal that we undoubtedly love and in many cases admire. Then take into account our trainer, who works so hard to help us improve. Every one of us wants to make him or her proud. Lastly, we are completely dedicated to this sport. We breath, eat, and sleep cutting. It’s in our soul. So yes, we may have been known to get a little emotional before, during, and after a run. I will never forget what Mr. Bill Riddle told me. The NCHA Hall of Fame Trainer said “The first casualty to emotion is reason.” That resonated with me and made me focus on learning to control my emotions the show pen. I came up with the following four fundamentals to teach myself to just stay CALM.

Composed – Take a deep breath. Clear your mind. Let your body language communicate that you are prepared, professional, and focused.

Assertive – Ride to the herd with confidence. Tell yourself, “I am sitting on the best horse, have the best help, and am the best rider at the show. I am about to make that judge’s day!

Loose – Instead of feeding your horse tension through your body, stay relaxed. The slower you go, the faster you get there. Reassure your horse and impress the judge with your ability to stay relaxed and fluid.

Mindful – Be fully present, aware of each moment of your run, and conscious of what you and your horse are doing….without being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around you.

Try to incorporate these keys to calmness into your next run. I believe they are essential to controlling our emotions, having a presence of mind, and emitting confidence in the show pen.

To be calm is the highest achievement of the self.

Zen Proverb

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Photo Credit – Devlyn Drake

 

Mental Muscle Memory

Do you consider showing cutting horses a sport, in the same category as football, baseball, and golf? According to Wikipedia, “Cutting is a sport born of necessity and dates back to a time when ranchers in the American West hired cowboys to work and sort through herds of cattle out on the open range, separating those in need of branding or doctoring.” Today the NCHA holds over 2,000 shows every year with total prize money exceeding $36 million. Therefore if cutting is a sport, consequently the rider is an athlete. With these two fundamentals established, we can begin to explore how mental training for athletes can give us a competitive advantage in the show pen.

Cutting, like most sports, is based on the science of preparation and execution. We send our horses to a trainer to prepare them for a show. We spend hours taking lessons with a trainer to prepare ourselves for a show. As Non Pro, Amateur, and Youth riders, we learn to make smooth cuts, drive up, use our feet, sit on our pockets, and crave the stop….and above all DON’T LEAN! When we arrive at the show, we are physically prepared to execute a winning run…..but are we mentally prepared?

Let me ask you this, what percentage of cutting is mental? To answer this question, try this exercise adapted from Gary Mack and David Cassteven’s book Mind Gym. Close your eyes and image yourself and your horse marking a 76 at an NCHA show. Imagine riding to the herd. Who are your herd holders? Who is turning back for you? Imagine making your first cut. What does the cow look like? Do you get it cut in the center of the pen? Does that cow take you to the walls, showing off your horse’s incredible stop, before you break it down in the middle? Imagine going back into the herd for your second cut. Will this be your deep cut? Did you cut a baldy or a mott? Did you trap it in the middle of the pen and allow your horse to get a little fancy? Now for your third cut. Do you chip one off and trot up to it? Throw your hand down and work that cow until the buzzer. Imagine how you feel when the score is announced, 76! Can you feel your heart swell up as you pat your horse and thank your help?

Let that scene slowly fade out. Now imagine marking a 60 (everyone has done it). Think of the show you were at when you lost a cow, didn’t get cut, hot quit, switched, held on too long, blew a stirrup. Think of how fast and out of control your run felt. Did it feel like no matter how great your lessons had gone, everything just fell apart in the show pen? Let that memory fade out and come back to the present. Now, let’s assume that your horse was in the same condition during both runs. What percentage of the difference between the two runs was related to your physical skills or abilities? What percentage was mental. Now consider this, is improving your mental skills equally as important as improving your physical skills?annie

According to Your Thoughts Can Release Abilities beyond Normal Limits, written by Ozgun Atasoy and published by Scientific American, “There is accumulating evidence that suggests that our thoughts are often capable of extending our cognitive and physical limits.” The writer follows the research studies of psychologists Ulrich Weger and Stephen Loughnan, who determined that “People have significant psychological resources to improve their well-being and performance, but these resources often go unused and could be better harnessed.”

It is widely accepted by sports psychologists, coaches, and athletes that mental training will enhance performance, increase your competitive advantage, and add to satisfaction. Learning to use mental imagery, goal setting, self-talk/confidence, relaxation, and focus requires time and effort. The desired result is to develop a kind of mental muscle memory. As cutter, we work hard to develop our physical muscle memory to help us ride with the appropriate timing and feel. I challenge you to start developing your mental muscle memory to help you conquer anxiety, let go of negative thoughts, be in the moment, become more competitive, and unconditionally enjoy this incredible sport.

Mindful Cutting will help you develop your mental muscle memory. Every Wednesday we will learn to apply a different element of mental training for the cutting pen, featuring input from top NCHA trainers. Improving your confidence, focus, motivation, awareness, and composure under pressure through mental training, will allow you to excel by choice, not by chance.

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*Photo Credit: Michelle DeWitt – Along 4 the Ride Photography