Rider coached to clear mental hurdles
Competitor loses her self-doubt after expert takes up the reins
By Sandra McCulloch, Times Colonist September 25, 2011
Catherine Lines-Antoniuk is a 36-year-old wife and mother to a four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. She teaches school 4 1 ?2 days each week in the Cowichan Valley School District.
In what spare time she can carve out of her day, she rides her horse, Moses, and takes part in eventing - a three-phase competition which demands finesse for dressage, technical precision for show-jumping and lots of courage for clearing cross-country obstacles.
An upcoming competition in Maple Ridge means it's vital Lines-Antoniuk keeps up with her lessons and practice to achieve her best performance. But focusing on riding is difficult with so many pressing distractions.
Last Sunday, Lines-Antoniuk sat weeping in a barn at Avalon Equestrian Centre in North Cowichan during a pre-ride session with Dave Freeze, a Kamloops mental coach who works with athletes in 40 sports.
It was only a few minutes into the session with Freeze that Lines-Antoniuk's fears and insecurities bubbled to the surface.
Falling off her horse and getting hurt could impact her job and family hard. She never used to be a fearful rider.
"I've been riding since I was 12 and I used to be able to stay on all the time," she told Freeze through tears.
"I get in this [mindset] where I think 'Oh, I don't want to fall off.' Then I realize if I did fall off, I'd be fine."
She brightened momentarily, but fresh tears erupted as the self-doubts returned.
She sometimes pulls up her horse and stops before a jump if things don't feel exactly right and she is critical of every error she makes. This quest for per-fection is familiar territory for Freeze, 52, who works with athletes ranging from recreational equestrians to Olympians.
Last year, he helped 1,100 athletes to overcome mental obstacles and achieve their best performances.
Freeze is a former elite athlete himself, with national experience in whitewater kayaking, dragonboat racing and triathlon.
Self-doubt is a common problem among women, he said. Female athletes make up 75 per cent of Freeze's client base.
"Sometimes you get lucky. You show up late, throw the saddle on the horse and you go out there and have a flipping amazing day," said Freeze to Lines-Antoniuk.
"Sometimes you show up early, you do all the preparation, you look after every detail and when you go out there everything feels like crap."
Many things are out of an athlete's control, Freeze said.
His intention is not to help athletes win a gold medal, he said.
"My intention is to make them feel great about themselves. And I feel that, if they do, that's likely to be where their highest levels of performance come from."
Lines-Antoniuk's customary response to less-thanpar performances is to blame herself and focus on the negative.
She has always been competitive. When she was younger, Lines-Antoniuk used to be able to immerse herself in the pleasure of riding and not think about anything else.
"It's not like that anymore - I'm just not focused," she said. "There are so many other things to think about."
Beating yourself up over issues in your life doesn't get you anywhere, said Freeze.
"The tendency towards wanting to be great, I won't complain about," Freeze told Lines-Antoniuk. "But you not being satisfied with what's already great about you, I've got no time for that. You've managed to stack the plate pretty darn full, but my hunch is you don't cut yourself very much slack."
He suggests she try to have fun and focus on things other than her desire to be perfect all the time.
"I work athletes who train full time," he said. "Don't compare yourself to them because it's not your world."
Freeze coached Lines-Antoniuk to banish her inner critic - the one that goads her for taking time away from her family and spending money on her passion - and leave that critical part of her psyche away locked in the tack room.
"When you drive through the driveway [to the riding stable], you have to be ready to leave the rest of the world behind," said Freeze.
Developing a "threshold technique" takes practice, Freeze said.
"You should do it when you leave home and go to school, so on the way you think about what a great teacher you're going to be and not feeling inadequate because you're leaving your children at daycare or with their grandmother. You need to bring yourself fully to the school.
"Then when you leave school, you think about what a great mom and great wife you want to be. Then when you leave home, you think about what a great rider you want to be.
"It's all about compartments, and when you get the wrong information in the wrong compartment, it just doesn't help."
The mind has to form new habits and that isn't easy, he said.
The session over, Freeze and Lines-Anoniuk, mounted on her horse, joined riding coach Jane Stone in a large field scattered with cross-country jumps. Freeze watched for any tension that showed Lines-Antoniuk was letting her inner critic to take over, and immediately stepped in to correct it.
He reminded her to focus instead on key words: calm, relaxed, grounded, centred.
"Less thinking, more feeling - connection," Freeze shouted from the sidelines.
"Calm and relaxed is a better place to get optimum performance from," he said.
"It's not possible for many people to find that place easily because we have years and years of practice of ramping it up, getting tense and getting it done."
At the end of the riding session, the tears were gone and Lines-Antoniuk said she felt "elated. I was there for [the horse]. He was like, 'Let's do it!' "
"He picked up on your positive energy," Freeze said.
Lines-Antoniuk said she was able to remind herself at regular intervals while riding the course to focus on the positive, not the negative.
Working with Freeze allowed her to focus on riding instead of all the other stuff, she said at the end of the session.
"Before I would just go, and feel scattered. He got me to focus and keep that other [critical] girl locked up in the tack room.
"I feel like I'm going to be able to do this every day."
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