Athlete EQ - a mission 40+ years in the making
I've decided to share my story and how Athlete EQ was founded because it has been a mission 40+ years in the making. That's right, I've been building up to this my whole life, starting with a horse-crazy little girl who turned a childhood obsession into a dream career of riding horses professionally. A dream career that ended far too early for reasons I wouldn't truly understand until much, much later. Athlete EQ was born so what happened to me, won't happen to other riders and equestrians with that same childhood dream; riding and competing at the highest levels.
To be clear, it wasn't lack of ability, it wasn't laziness or lethargy, or even lack of discipline or desire that ended my professional riding career. It was my mindset and the inability to shut off my own limiting voices and focus on my skills and my goals. It wouldn't be until years later through other careers, life experiences and further education that I would begin to master those skills.
See. when I was coming up in the equestrian world, the mental side of the sport was not something people focused on. In fact, I don't remember anyone talking about it. Every trainer, teacher and employer I had taught me something absolutely, but it was always on skill set or physical conditioning. When I was coming up it felt like the philosophy on the mental aspect of being a professional horse person was simply "If you want it bad enough you'll do whatever it takes, pay whatever price it costs".
And the price for me, as it is for many others, was high. Not so much the physical price; the falls, the bruises, the injuries, but the mental and emotional price; the anxiety, the powerlessness, the pang of defeat, the knowledge that I failed my teammate in competition because that rail coming down was my fault. Sure, most days I could get up and vow to do better, learn from my mistakes and practice what I wasn't good at to improve my overall ability. However, I could never slow my heartbeat just before I stepped into the arena. I could never calm my racing mind so I could focus on the details of my course. I could never shake off the scowl, look of disappointment or verbal thrashing I got from someone who expected better of my performance. Instead, I carried it like an extra weight through every ride, every practice and every performance. And on that fateful day that my career ended in injury, guilt and embarrassment, it was the mental and emotional price I could no longer pay. So I quit my dream.
And it was in quitting that dream and moving on to another career in engineering that I learned the first part of what had been missing from my professional riding career - performance under pressure - since nothing says pressure like the loss of a $1million a day in review. Because that's what happens when a nuclear power station is shutdown. And the pressure to bring it back online is immense. And as a nuclear safety engineer, it was my responsibility to make sure that happened only when it was safe, at times, putting me at odds with operations. Often in those times, the hours were long and the pressure was intense and yet there was a need to perform at the highest level because the consequences of a mistake could be severe. And over time, I adjusted to performing at that pressure level. But it was not without consequences to my mental and emotional health.
Again I struggled with anxiety over my decisions and questioned my choices, wondering if I was being too cautious, too risk averse. Mistakes I did make, because no one is perfect had 6-7 figure price tags with them and that kept me up at night, despite rationalising in my head I had done everything I could in those situations. I had learned to perform at the highest levels, but I was still struggling with my ability to cope with the mental cost of my career... At least until I discovered coaching and the psychology of human growth and performance.
I wasn't looking for career change when I discovered the coaching profession but after one weekend immersed in the experience of both coaching and being coached by others I knew I would head in a new direction. It was so different from the ultra-logical, super process-oriented engineering world I had been existing in that at first, I admit, it felt "woo-ey" like it belonged in the same realm as aromatherapy or astrology. Yet, at the same time I felt more seen, more understood, more in control and able to choose and more connected with the other people in the room than I ever had previously in my life. I came out of that weekend a changed person.
That was October 2017 and by March 2018 I had been through an internal revolution and what I can only describe as a transformational evolution. In just five months through experiential learning, working with pro-bono clients and doing work with my own coach, I had evolved into someone more emotionally aware of the world, more empathic, more intuitive. I could feel emotions in a room. I knew when I was tense (or anxious or angry or joyous etc) because I could feel it physically way before my brain realised the reason for the emotion. And I could control that emotion and as a result my body along with it! I could calm my heart rate, I could face anxiety and overcome it, I could articulate anger or frustration without the self-doubt or guilty aftermath I usually experienced. I was finally in control of my emotional and mental state. I had developed an entirely new mindset.
Now don't misunderstand, I wasn't a master at it. I still got anxious, I still got frustrated, I still got overwhelmed in times of immense pressure but there was no longer a cost to pay because I was aware and I knew I could control it, I simply had to focus on it. And over time, I had to focus on it less and less and my ability to let go of emotions that weren't helpful and choose ones that were became more natural, came more easily. And that's when it clicked. The last piece of what had been missing from my riding career had finally fallen into place and I understood why, at that time, I would never have made it as an elite level professional equestrian.
But if I'd had someone like me now in my life, what a difference it would have made.
And that is my purpose for creating Athlete EQ - to bring my learning, my training, my experience and knowledge of human performance to the equestrian world and help riders gain confidence, stress less, find balance and, ultimately, perform better.