Below are some of Liz Morrison’s client case studies, illustrating how the techniques of NLP Sports Psychology can be applied to a range of riding situations. Names and identifying information have been changed to maintain confidentiality.
The numbered examples below illustrate several aspects including
- Self knowledge & Goal Setting (7)
- Jumping with confidence (1,5,6)
- exam nerves and preparation (2)
- Dressage performance (3,4,)
- Building the horse’s confidence (4,6)
- Overcoming negative memories and events (2,4,6)
- Managing inner voices and building visualisation (3,4,5)
- The importance of language and self talk (2,3,7)
- Shifting limiting beliefs (1,3,5,7)
1/ Helen starts jumping again
At the age of ‘over 40′ , Helen had given up jumping. On a one day course she volunteered to discuss her special memory to illustrate how sub-modalities work. It was of a time when she was jumping at a local show. Her memory picture was in colour and was of horse and rider from the side, caught in mid air over the jump. It was a fairly small picture and about 15 feet away. There was no sound or no particular feelings. When I asked her whether or not she was smiling in her picture, Helen had to lean forward and peer – and remember this was when it was just in her mind!
After simply suggesting she imagined bringing it in closer, to about 3 feet away, there was a transformation. Helen could then ‘see’ that she was smiling, and the picture began moving in slow motion, So I suggested she made it larger, right up to life size. Her face lit up as she took it all in. Now she could hear the sounds of the horse, his thundering hooves and breathing, and her friends talking about her and cheering as she jumped the fences.
She was literally bouncing in her chair as she remembered it! With the sub modality changes and as the picture became larger, Helen had automatically swapped from a `dissociated’ memory into an ‘associated’ memory, where she was imagining it as if it was really happening, so that she could see the horse’s ears, the course she was riding and feel each stride and jump.
By bringing it to life again she was able to realise how much she had enjoyed jumping and booked a lesson for later that week. At her age it was something she had never expected to do again – and she was thrilled to have ‘got back the old feeling’!
When Helen described the experience she said .”..I had fallen off and had got it into my mind that I wouldn’t jump any more. You know, as you get older, you get frightened about what could happen if you fall off, so I hadn’t jumped properly for over 6 months. With Liz I could really vividly see myself jumping, I could see my big smile, and hear myself say ‘Yes’ at each fence. A week or so afterwards I went to a local show and jumped two rounds, even getting a clear round rosette, and actually really enjoyed it again. And all I had to do was think of jumping and smiling!…”
As Helen’s story shows, perhaps the most powerful impact of NLP is the awareness of how easy it is to put yourself in control of your thoughts and the responses they generate. Usually we will store good experiences with one set of sub-modalities and bad ones differently. Our best experiences are often large, colour, moving pictures, with pleasing sounds and feelings associated with them. This amount of emphasis should be reserved just for your best memories in order to generate great feelings whenever you want – but some people run accidents and memories of making mistakes in just the same way – so no wonder they then feel nervous about riding.
2/ Jo gets over her exam nerves
Jo had previously failed her Preliminary Riding exam, despite having been told she was well above standard. She was therefore very anxious about retaking the exam, to the extent that, as the day got closer, she felt sick and had to stay near the loo!. As a result she spent her time worrying about what might happen – and that is a sure fire way of attracting a bad experience. In her mind she imagined making a mistake and freezing up so that the whole day would descend into a complete disaster. As one of her instructors I knew how important the exam was to her.
We had a session the evening before, where by she visualised the next day. Having already been up to the exam centre for a lesson, she could imagine the layout, and having been through the exam she knew the format of the day. We started by setting up an ‘anchor’ for staying calm and confident, so that she could have this feeling at any point in the day she needed it.
Rather than just imagining a perfect exam, I then asked Jo to imagine the sorts of things that would she would do, building in the importance of checking stirrup leathers, noting what tack the horse was wearing, looking around at other candidates when riding in open order, listening attentively to the instructions given, and relating to the horse in a sensitive way. All of these details were important.
Then we added in the sorts of little errors that could happen, like striking off on the wrong leg or refusing a fence. We visualised how she would cope with them: what she would do to correct it, then how she would stay calm and unflustered and what she would say to the examiner afterwards.
We imagined what it was like to be the examiner, stepping into their shoes and seeing it from their perspective. Jo found this very surprising: they actually wanted to pass the candidates, they were not ogres at all!!
We ran through the visualisation as if we were watching a movie a few times, with Jo noticing where she needed to improve it and then discussing what she would do differently. Then she ‘stepped in the movie’, imagining it actually happening to her step by step.
As I saw her happy relaxed expression and confident stance I knew she would pass. She did more than that, getting a pass plus and she was thrilled!
As Jo explains : ” Rationally, I found it easy to visualize passing, but found it difficult to actually believe it deep down. It was only when we ran through the visualization of the whole exam, slowed down with all the detail that I could believe it. Then I felt calm and confident and that I could sort out anything that went wrong on the day.” She reflected “I realised that I had been fooling myself that everything was alright, yet I needed to face a deep rooted problem of exam nerves and deal with it. And it was a fun way of sorting it out- Liz made me laugh as we worked it out and I really enjoyed the exam.”
As Jo’s story illustrates, the NLP approach to Visualisation is much more than positive thinking, or saying unrealistic affirmations to yourself. It can bring you back to your best performance time after time, leaving you ready to learn how to get even better.
2/ The confidence to ride with ‘the big boys’ – International Dressage
Lyn found that, as she reached more advanced levels of competition ( Prix St Georges and Intermediare ) having worked in well, she would ride up the centre line, halt, salute – and hear this doom-laden voice say “..you shouldn’t be here…” Needless to say she would often start to let herself, and the horse down, with tension and series of little errors. In a short session we identified that the voice was that of an earlier instructor, who didn’t want her pupil to compete above ’her level’ – but several years later the voice had still stuck in the ‘on’ position, even though Lyn was by then well up to the standard.
I asked Lyn to imagine herself in the same situation, and this time make the voice comic as it said the same phrase. Mickey Mouse was the choice – and Lyn suddenly laughed as she experienced the difference. As she imagined riding up the centre line the laughing had made her more relaxed immediately. Again she imagined cantering up the centre line, and this time heard the same words said in a sexy, teasing man’s voice. That had the effect of making her laugh too – and want to show that “..Oh yes, I should be here..” With that simple technique she has let go of the old voice and now feels able to carry on and simply ride to the best of her ability.
4/ Letting go of scary feelings and blocks
Kate was a leading young dressage rider who was starting to feel blocked when she competed. Closer questioning about the sub modalities of this ‘thing’ that was blocking her brought out that it was like a heavy ball of gloom, a dark blue / black ball, the size of a football. Notice the detail of this metaphorical content, which is the start point to work with. She could hardly ride well with that in the bottom of her stomach.
Liz asked about its texture, whether it was firm, soft, spongy or whatever. Given that it was heavy it was not surprising that Kate said it was hard but textured. She then asked Kate to check the ‘positive intent‘ of this heavy ball and surprisingly it came back was that it was all about being very serious and important. With that insight we were able to work to lighten it and soften it so that it could be taken seriously – because it was so important to get softness and lightness in the riding. Notice the play on words to create the right reframe of this situation.
With this insight Kate was able to work on changing the texture from hard to soft, and to lighten it by squeezing out all the dead weight. She imagined it one way then the other – lighter to heavier and back again, several times. Then she thought about what colour it was – it was now a lighter, softer blue, more like a cloud. The final part was to decide where to put this cloud-like ball – the pit of the stomach didn’t need it anymore! Kate chose to imagine it positioned behind her in the small of her back. There it could drive her forward and upward to be light and soft.
Not only was the session fun to work through, but Kate went on to win her first Intermediare 1 a couple of weeks later. She said she had found the session ‘amazingly helpful’ and that everything she had been working towards just all came together on the day.
5/ Overcoming blocks about jumping
Mel loved working with horses and had set herself the objective of taking her British Horse Society exams with a view to becoming a level one International Instructor. The problem was, when she came to jump, or even think about it, even the smallest fence would look like a huge brick wall. And it was definitely not jumpable! On one hand she wanted to jump, but then she would just panic and pull up the horse.
She came along to one of our one day courses, and volunteered to work with Liz to demonstrate how NLP helps change such unwanted behaviours. We started with Mel describing the imaginary fence, and went into some detail about how high it was and the colour of the bricks. This was about developing the visual imagination. We made it higher and wider and then put it back to its original size – This gently loosens up the ‘stuck’ thinking – and the imagination is a wonderfully quick at making such changes!
Liz then asked Mel to look more closely and she realise that in fact the bricks were so perfect in their repeating pattern that they had to be wallpaper. With the earlier stretching of the jump to being bigger and wider, she had brought the image to conscious attention and therefore in her control. So what would she do with the wall now? We considered whether she should just burn it down, jump through it like the police horse demonstrations or trample it down or whatever. She decided that she would dowse it with water until it became a soggy mass.
With the jump dissolved, she was able to think about jumping in a really positive manner and happily booked a lesson for the next day. Everyone in the room could see that she meant it, she was so happy; her old fear really had gone in the space of 10 minutes! She rang Liz the next day to say how well the lesson had gone, how the old brick wall had never even appeared and how much she had enjoyed being able to jump again. A few weeks later she passed her Stage 2 and several months later rang to say that she had just passed her Stage 3 – she was well on track for her goal again.
6/ The rider’s responsibility to build the horse’s confidence
Jenny used to love jumping, but a series of incidents had left both her and her mare nervous at the thought of jumping. The horse would sweat and start napping, if they went near the jumps in their schooling field. Of course this made Jenny tense and nervous too and the cycle just escalated. It was important to break the cycle with a change of states – and once the rider has changed her emotional state, say from fear to confidence, the horse can quite quickly follow.
In our first session together I asked Jenny to remember a time when she had really enjoyed jumping – a magic moment. She described it to me and by asking questions about it we intensified the memory. Then we ‘anchored’ it so that whenever she pressed her thumb onto her forefinger the memory and the feeling would come back. Liz could tell it had by the way her posture changed and her face lit up! By firing it during the lesson she was able to keep the good memory as she came to the jump. The horse, of course, picked up Jenny’s new found confidence and relaxation, so she also calmed down and relaxed significantly and we were able to work over trot and canter poles.
As we moved to small jumps, Jenny admitted that she was seeing a horrible image of crashing among poles, which was interfering with the good anchor we had set up. 5 minutes later the ‘collapse anchor’ technique to shift it left Jenny incredulous! ‘I can’t believe it, it’s just gone’ she said! Try as she would, she couldn’t get it back either! They finished that session with some low jumps approached in trot and canter, a huge smile on both their faces!
7/ Knowing yourself
Karen, aged 38, now runs her own livery yard and explains how using these NLP based techniques has helped her: “.. Previously I used to work teaching IT, which I loathed. To add insult to injury, I ended up paying someone else to ride my horses, which is why I was working in the first place! So I took the decision to stop working to concentrate on the horses and teach at local riding schools part time. However, it wasn’t adding up financially. It was so frustrating and I was losing my confidence that I could make a go of it…”
One of the biggest impacts was to get her teaching business going. From the goal setting exercises, Karen became determined that this was what she wanted to do: “…Before I only had I-2 lessons to teach a week, now I am kept busy with teaching and running my yard, and I am able to afford to keep my horses, have training, and improve the yard to really build the business….”
“..Looking back I was not focused on getting pupils and giving lessons, I kept looking at different options to make ends meet. I was able to pin down what I really wanted, so now I stick to one path and do it properly. I have advertised and feel more confident because I believe I can help my pupils, before I didn’t really have that confidence. I’ve stuck to it and talked to everyone I know about it and am very positive. The day helped me to identify the main thing holding my riding back – that of finding enough time to actually ride – and I came away determined to find a way around it. In the past couple of weeks I have changed my working hours to start and finish earlier, and re-arranged my budget to put Candy on part-livery so my limited time with her is spent riding rather than mucking out.