Daniel Stewart’s Equestrian Athlete Camp Part 3: Broken Mirrors and Bamboo Trees

Photo courtesy of Jess Clawson

BY JESS CLAWSON

For more sports psychology insight and training advice, check out parts one and two of this series.

A long time ago when I couldn’t afford a horse and needed to get my thrills in somewhere, I played roller derby. I totally loved it, even though I wasn’t very good. It was definitely the fittest I’ve ever been in my life, and I haven’t pushed myself physically as hard since. But it’s in there somewhere, that ability to go beyond limits, even though I’m older now.

On the Thursday of the clinic, the first day we had workouts, we had to run stadium stairs for 20 minutes. The reality of my shattered ankle (a permanent souvenir of my derby days) meant that I had to be on the walk-only track or risk disaster, and I did 31 flights of stairs in 20 minutes. After, I crumpled in a heap along with everyone else.

The next day, we had another series of workouts before hitting the stairs again. I was a lot more exhausted and sore and just depleted, but something had changed. Suddenly, it mattered to me that I beat my number from the day before. I actually cared how many stairs I ran, not just for myself, but to help the whole group of us meet our goal.

I ran 41 sets of stairs.

This is where all of the mental skills coaching had come into play. I realized how much my limiting beliefs were just beliefs and nothing more–they weren’t real. Overall, the 17 of us ran 120 flights of stairs more than we had the day before.

Yeah, it was really hard work, but success became its own reward. It didn’t matter how many burpees I did to anyone but me, and I found that internal locus of control. It was in me all along, as they say. And this was the piece Daniel was looking for.

Photo courtesy of Jess Clawson

Mirroring

Mirroring is a psychotherapy concept that refers to a therapist reflecting back what a client is putting out into the world so they can better understand what they’re getting back. When Daniel talks about it, he’s talking about a less conscious version of this, that we begin to mirror the attitudes, beliefs, and actions of the people around us.

He asked us to be conscientious of who we are mirroring. We might admire a rider who wins a lot, but are they a good person who treats their horses and the people around them with respect? Or are they bullies? Are we accepting abusive behavior because we think it will make us better riders?

Sometimes the mirrors we’re looking into are broken. It can be hard to recognize that, especially if we have a lot of love or admiration for that person. But you don’t want to become a broken mirror yourself. I believe–and Daniel does too–that we can create a better future by choosing better influences and being better influences ourselves.

Photo courtesy of Jess Clawson

Five Second Favors

One way to be a good mirror for others is to keep your eyes open for opportunities to do five second or five minute favors for someone. Do you see a person struggling to get their horse to stand for mounting at the show? Walk over with a peppermint and ask if you can hold their horse for them. If you walk by the wash stall and it’s messy, tidy it up real quick. We almost always have five extra seconds or five extra minutes to lend a hand, and it sets a good example for those around us in addition to being useful. The point isn’t to then broadcast your good works, it’s just to be a genuinely nice human.

Bamboo Trees

We all worked so hard at this camp and are ready to see some payoff for our efforts. Daniel left us with a story about bamboo trees, which can take four years to sprout from seed but then grow 90 feet in a year because those four years were developing an incredible root system to support that growth. Shooting up 90 feet without a good foundation means a fall, right?

I’ve taken this piece of wisdom to heart this week, as Mo and I have stepped down a bit in our jumping while we sort out some rideability issues. It’s the root system. We’ll be shooting back up again soon.

Overall, please do yourself and your riding a favor and attend one of these camps. I asked the participants if they wanted to add anything to this series of articles, and 17 year old Victoria Lunde, a working student from Connecticut, had this to say:

“The camp was life changing. I learned what it felt like to push myself to my full potential and how to approach every situation with confidence, positivity, and perseverance. I’m lucky enough to be under the wing of the camp’s assistant coach Vanessa Roman of Roman Equestrian and we continue to put Daniel’s teachings into practice daily. Thanks to Daniel, Vanessa, and my teammates, I will be able to carry everything I learned at camp into the rest of my life.”

Scholarship opportunities are available for those who need financial assistance to get there. It really is worth the travel, the work, the exhaustion. I’m a better person, athlete, and rider than I was before I went and I want this for everyone and for our sport.


To learn more about Daniel Stewart, visit Pressure Proof Academy. You can enter his mounted clinics and camps (as well as other equestrian clinics, horse shows, and more) at Event Clinics.

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About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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