By Jess Clawson, Ph.D.
Successful equestrians, regardless of their level of competition, need to be resilient. Rails down, missed lead changes, lame horses—any obstacle that can happen to a rider’s victory will, at some point, come calling. And that’s not taking into account our own fears and insecurities.
Nancy Dye knows we can’t wait for the stars to align; we have to take charge of ourselves. Rather than perseverating on all that may go wrong, she wants riders (and non-riders) to recognize their own power. Under her guidance, we learn to reshape the narrative. Self-pity becomes power. Mistakes become pearls. And global pandemics? Those are exciting opportunities for growth.
“You can be pitiful, or you can be powerful, but you can’t be both.” Dr. Joyce Meyer
Nancy’s growing up years were a mixed bag. She had the great luck of belonging to a family that owned a summer camp for girls in Vermont, complete with a stable. She rode and taught riding lessons all summer, and taking lessons at Old Mill Farm in New York the rest of the year. “Those were the days of Snowman, the $80 champion,” she said. “I was lucky to grow up on those magnificent riding and training facilities.”
But her childhood was also marked by trauma, beginning when she was five years old—an incredibly formative time in child development. “I didn’t know how to cope with that, so I coped with self-destructive, self-sabotaging habits. Addictions, eating disorders, all kinds of stuff. I was a mess,” Nancy explained.
“I could have stayed on the bridle path I was on. But I’m a rebel, and the rebel in me was determined to overcome all of this.”
“Every moment of every day, we are either practicing weakness or strength.” Nancy Dye
Nancy knew if she was going to survive her trauma and its ramifications on her life, she was going to need to throw every resource she could at it.
“I’m very lucky that I had the means financially because I invested a ton of money in myself—treatment centers, therapies, the best health coaches and professional coaches in the world. You name it and I was putting it on a credit card because I wanted to get out of emotional pain and be my personal best,” she said. “But it was such a blessing. My story made me the amazing coach that I am today because I had to go through all of that, learn all of that.”
So Nancy put in the work and the time, including reading about personal improvement and college textbooks on neuroscience.
She was also still riding, having branched out and tried polo, dressage, foxhunting, and more. “My passion was for training and studying,” Nancy went to one of the top equestrian boarding schools and then had her hunter/jumper horses in several South Florida barns before she ended up training at Palm Beach Polo and Country Club’s show barn with Jane Ebelhare. She has fond memories of those early days in Wellington, competing with a teenage Jimmy Torano and watching the WEF site being built.
But competing was never what brought her the most joy. “I wasn’t as successful as I could have been, because I didn’t have the mental skills. I was that rider who would black out in the ring.”
As a young adult living in Manhattan, Nancy rode at a stable that was three wide city blocks to Central Park. “It was the most terrifying experience of my life,” she said. “We’d be trying to ride through honking cars; the horses would be flipping out, their shoes slipping on the concrete.
“It was also the best thing I ever went through. I learned, because my life depended on it, how to calm myself and my horse down,” Nancy recalled. “I made a decision. I could have quit riding, but I decided I would not only learn how to do this, but I was going to become the best at it. Eventually, the guy who owned the stables would put me on the new horses to take them out into the city because I had gotten that good.”
While Nancy was learning how to be a better rider and a stronger person, Tony Robbins was traveling a similar path. He, too, had a background of family dysfunction and a desire to grow from it. Like Nancy, he used whatever resources he could, including listening to tapes and finding mentors. Meanwhile, neuroscientists were learning more about the effects of childhood trauma and resiliency. “We both transformed our lives by taking massive action—searching, studying, learning all we could on how to change human behavior and consistently attain peak performance.”
Nancy did Tony Robbins’s firewalking experience and admired his ability to create shortcuts for people where they had each spent decades learning. Although she had been coaching people for decades with addiction, suicidality, eating disorders, and more, she wanted to narrow her focus to equestrians. She enrolled in his Strategic Interventionist training so she could learn a more powerful coaching method to transform people faster and more effectively.
“We don’t get our goals in life, we get our identities. And we will always remain consistent with who we believe ourselves to be.” Tony Robbins
“As riders, we have what I call chefs de saboteur,” she laughed. “We have to figure out what they are. I get to the root of the problem and work on a foundational shift so that you have it for the rest of your life. It’s like an owners manual for yourself. And you’ll always have more saboteurs pop up, like whack a mole. But if you learn the process, you’ll know better what to do.”
Nancy grew up surrounded by the sports world. Her father and grandfathers were all athletic coaches. Her first husband’s family were among the top golf course designers in the world. And her current husband, Jack Miles, was an Olympic gymnast. She understands what it takes to grow as an athlete.
“My husband used to do a routine in the gym and then run around begging everyone for feedback—he was excited to hear what he did wrong. He didn’t want them to praise him,” she said. “He would learn from his mistakes. And that’s what we need to do as riders. I call mistakes ‘pearls’ because they’re so valuable. I tell my clients that on our next call I want them to give me three pearls from their week.”
But it takes a measure of inner strength to hear critical feedback, and Nancy eases her clients into this pattern using humor. She also knows it works. “Look at the Navy SEALs,” she explained. “They don’t make excuses—excuses equal disempowerment. And they have briefings to embrace their mistakes and become more awesome.”
Nancy’s work with her clients begins with identity: “If you believe you’re a loser, you’re a loser. If you believe you’re a winner, you’re a winner.” A great deal goes into our identity construction, all of which Nancy analyzes with her clients to determine how they’re contributing to the sabotage, including one’s story, beliefs, values, rules, self-talk, all of which drive thoughts and behavior. Constructing a new identity means realigning all of those elements.
“This is something I had to do for myself. I decided to become someone who could overcome any adversity. I was going to rock that new identity,” she said. “And so with that, I had to have a new story. I was not victimized as a child, but given a blessing because I got to learn and grow to be able to help other people.”
Nancy understands that everything people do is to fulfill a need, either positively or negatively. She bases her analysis on Tony Robbins’s understanding of the six human needs: certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth, and contribution. “We have to get you to identify and meet those needs in a way that serves you better,” she explained.
“You have choices. You don’t have to believe your beliefs. Why would you hold onto the belief that you’re a fearful rider? How is that serving you? If you’re stuck believing you’re fearful, that’s serving some basic need in you. So we have to identify what that need is and fill it with the belief that you’re a confident rider.”
These limiting beliefs can be tricky to identify on one’s own, but Nancy is quick to remind clients that they don’t have to actually believe these new, more positive beliefs—they just have to act as if they’re an equestrian rockstar and work towards truly believing it.
She doesn’t want clients to get too stuck on how they’re feeling without also taking action. It’s important, she explains, to live in the solution as part of shifting to a more empowered identity.
Her work applies to difficult situations outside the arena, too—including the current global health crisis around COVID-19. “I love when things happen because I eat adversity for breakfast,” Nancy laughed.
She wants to encourage everyone to see this as an opportunity. “The answer to anything that bothers us is to embrace it. In this case, ask yourself, ‘how can I make this great?’ How can this be the best, most meaningful time in your life? Will you mend relationships, write a book?”
Nancy recommends that we collectively change our language. Words like “virus” and “pandemic” create strong emotions in most people. “I’m calling this a pattern interrupt with an exciting opportunity. We are all finding out, me included, where our weaknesses are—that we can’t really handle staying in, that we think we’re entitled to go have a drink and make everyone else sick. So this is an opportunity to turn our weaknesses into strengths.”
Next, she says, we need to change our focus. “There’s a lot we’re not in control of, and that makes us feel like victims, disempowered and angry. Get rid of all that and change your focus. How will you make the most of this time? What are the good things happening for you and others right now?”
The skills cultivated during the pandemic will help us in the show ring. “We can’t be disempowered in all other areas of our lives and then be a rockstar in the ring,” she explained. “This is a great opportunity to shift your mindset.”
Remember, too, that some people gain a sense of power from being right. It’s important to consider what you want to be right about—that everything is going to fall apart, or that you and others will come through this stronger?
Nancy’s life’s mission is to help others, especially equestrians, learn how to take charge of their lives for the better. Most clients work with her through her Unflappable program, which focuses on emotional strength, resiliency, and leadership skills, entirely over the phone. “I have clients all over the world and in every division of riding,” she said. “After we talk, I put together clear notes, insights, and action steps, so you will have an owner’s manual for yourself and you will know how to handle the chefs de saboteur in your own life.”
Her newest book, Equestrian Rockstar, is available for download now. It gives detailed insights into her program with lots of examples and how she applies her techniques to a variety of riders and their challenges. The book lets readers see how the program works, and they will likely recognize some riding issues of their own.
There is no part of Nancy’s life that she has not learned from and converted into a way to help others. She is living proof of the efficacy of her own methods and a role model for anyone who wants fast and powerful results from taking over their own life.
To learn more about Nancy, book a session, or download her book, visit elitelifestyletransformations.com.
Originally from the April 2020 Issue.