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When I first started doing my job, in my naivety, I felt that it was my role to help clients to never be anxious and I certainly had a few clients who asked me to help them to achieve that aim. However, I very quickly learned that this simply isn’t possible, or even desirable for a human being, and developed my role by helping clients to tolerate all of their emotions. I believe that part of a healthy mindset is being able to tolerate what are frequently seen as negative emotions, they are part of us and are there to protect us and to help us to develop and grow.



The big four emotions which we experience are Anger, Joy, Fear and Sadness and each of these has a family of emotions attached to them e.g. anger includes irritation and annoyance, fear includes anxiety and worry.
We also have a set of social emotions such as Guilt, Shame, Jealousy and Envy and I’m sure all of us have experienced these at one time or another.
The majority of my clients seek help with the fear set of emotions and a significant minority with the social emotions as well.

Typically, and understandably, clients don’t like feeling anxious and then take steps to avoid exposing themselves to situations in which they experience anxiety. The ‘negative’ emotions can be very painful to experience and the client may have paired this emotion with unpleasant consequences. This leads riders towards a situation where they limit themselves to riding within their comfort zone or perhaps not even riding at all. An anxious person may unconsciously deflect their anxiety and experience anger and frustration instead and this can lead to confusion and self doubt. If the client was able to tolerate the initial anxiety, the primary emotion, then the way forward would become clearer.

As a therapist part of my job is to help my clients to develop the skills needed to deal with the emotion they’re trying to avoid and this may include helping them to expose themselves to that primary emotion and learning that they can deal with it after all. Clients learn that when they do feel anxious that they can let it go and not allow it to escalate. Developing the belief that you can do this is liberating as you realise that you really aren’t at the mercy of anxiety.

Understanding emotions helps the client to stand back from them and it can reduce activity in the limbic system of the brain and subsequently lessen the unpleasant physical symptoms which are so often experienced.

In learning to understand an emotion it’s important to validate the client’s experience and this can be the difference in a professional and a relationship with a friend. A friend might say things along the lines of “You’ll be fine” and “don’t worry’, they are being well-meaning but a professional therapist will validate the feelings and help the client to work through them, gain understanding and an ability to have more control.

The aim of learning to tolerate anxiety is that the client recognises what is happening quickly. As soon as they are aware of the physical symptoms they experience such as physical tension, butterflies, shallow breathing they are able to use their thinking brain to tell themselves that it’s OK it’s only a feeling and not a predictor of disaster. This allows the rush of stress hormones to return to normal levels, the physical sensations to lessen and the rider to gain confidence that they have control over their negative emotions and not be nearly so affected by them. It isn’t always easy but growing in confidence the rider then develops an understanding that the anxiety isn’t needed in most everyday riding situations and their enjoyment grows and their ability to stretch out of their comfort zone soars.

Talking about emotions and learning to tolerate them.


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I used to be really brave and would ride anything, anywhere. Why am I not like that anymore? Why have things changed?

This question is so common and I’m sure many of you may have experienced this for yourselves. Why does it happen and what’s going on?

Throughout our lives we’re constantly developing and changing. None of us are exactly the same today as we were yesterday or as we were as a child. The person we are now has developed through a vast number of different experiences which have brought us to this moment in time.

As a child, or youngster, we often have little awareness of our own vulnerability and for many (though absolutely NOT all) there is no anticipation that something unwanted might happen. Children are more likely to just be in the moment and just to get on with things without excessive anxiety. It can, however, be argued that this childhood innocence is changing in the 21st century with over anxious parenting and increasing pressure to succeed leading to increased anxiety in young people.

A baby will show no sense of anticipation or worry the first time a balloon pops, with a loud bang, close to them. But pretty quickly can show signs of worry or distress if they anticipate that a future balloon might do the same.

With a horse rider who has had a series of negative experiences then the sense of anticipation that there might be a repeat can lead to anxiety and loss of confidence even when they are riding quietly on a relatively unchallenging horse.

Confidence and self-belief aren’t an absolute constant throughout a person’s life. Confidence can ebb and flow and can often be dependent on all sorts of life events which may be unrelated to horse riding. 

A common situation which I encounter is a rider who has been very confident and brave when riding a horse which they’ve known well for many years and are now riding a new horse. Perhaps the old horse has died or maybe the rider feels that want to move up a level and are ready to try a more sensitive horse or one that’s more highly trained. This can sometimes lead to a feeling of not being able to “do it” any more and a doubt in the rider’s mind. With a new horse it’s important to give yourself time to develop the new relationship. Yes, it might be different but all of your past experience hasn’t suddenly vanished and given time there is no reason why you won’t feel comfortable in this new horse-rider partnership.

There are lots of therapy techniques which can help you to re-find your lost confidence (it’s probably not all that far away, but just hidden out of view) plus other techniques which can help you to recover from accidents or unwanted incidents and if you would like to know more about these then please do get in touch.

So, if you feel that you’re a different rider now to the one you used to be then you’re not alone. The chances are that you are actually a far more experienced and competent rider than that fearless child and with a bit of work you can re-find that self belief and enjoyment of the wonderful sport of horse riding 

Donna Whitehed and Jess having fun

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I’m sure you will have seen and read many posts about the importance of “Being Kind to Yourself”. This week is International Day of Kindness and I have posted about kindness on my social media channels.

The Importance of Kindness

I think most of you probably have a good idea what being kind to other people means and I sincerely hope you all have a good understanding of what being kind to horses means but, what does being kind to yourself mean?

It probably means something different to each of us but I think it’s worth spending a little time thinking about it.

Psychologist Albert Ellis, the founder of rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) talks about the importance of “Unconditional Self Acceptance” and this could be a good place to start. Ellis talks about each of us working towards accepting ourselves as unique individuals with unique strengths and unique challenges. He suggests that it can take many, many years to truly accept ourselves as we are but that it’s something to work towards being comfortable with.

As I see it, this means that we avoid comparing ourselves unfavourably to others. Whether that’s comparing ourselves unfavourably to other riders we encounter or whether it’s comparing ourselves to supermodels we see in magazines and feeling dissatisfied with our appearance. In both cases comparison usually leads to disappointment.

Unconditional self acceptance also means that we relieve ourselves of the pressure that we ‘should’ or ‘must’ ride at a certain level or jump a particular height. On the contrary, we push ourselves to do these things because we want to and we wish to develop and learn not because we feel under pressure.

Unconditionally accepting ourselves means that we don’t generalise our mistakes. So instead of telling yourself that you’re a “rubbish rider” because you’ve been eliminated at the first fence you tell yourself that you simply made a mistake and you’re going to work out why the heck you did that and avoid making the same mistake again!

Unconditionally accepting ourselves DOES NOT mean that we let ourselves off the hook for bad behaviour and it doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to give up on learning and working hard to fulfil our goals.

Being kind to yourself might also mean sometimes being quite firm with yourself. For example you might like to be kind to yourself with a treat of a bar of chocolate but it might not be self kindness to have two bars!

Being kind to yourself might mean making sure that you programme your riding into your week to make sure that it happens and avoiding feeling guilty about other commitments and demands on your time. Being kind to yourself doesn’t mean that you are unkind to others but it might mean that you learn to say “no” more often.

Finally, it’s worth noting that along with working towards unconditional self acceptance we can also try to unconditionally accept other people for who they are. It’s not always easy by any means but I think it’s definitely worth trying.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you feel being kind to yourself means.


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I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about the comfort, stretch and panic model over the last couple of weeks. Some of them, seem to me to make the concept more complicated than it needs to be so I thought I would put together my take on this and keep it simple and useable for any rider.

The comfort, stretch and panic model.

So, let’s look at what’s going on in each of the three zones.

COMFORT ZONE

Everyone’s comfort zone will be slightly different varying from riding a familiar horse quietly in an arena, through jumping a track at a certain height to galloping freely in an open space. Whatever your comfort zone is, it’s basically where you feel ‘comfortable’, unchallenged, relaxed and probably pretty confident.

From a neuro-psychological and physiological point of view, when in your comfort zone, your anxiety/fear responses are unaroused and your stress hormones are within normal limits.

When in your comfort zone, learning opportunities are limited. However, it is a very useful place for consolidating learning and practicing and rehearsing existing skills.

There is no rule which says that you must ride outwith your comfort zone but if you choose to remain there then it’s unlikely that you’ll make any significant progress or develop as a rider.

STRETCH ZONE

Your stretch zone is where a lot of good stuff happens and generally it has a gradient from feeling very comfortable to feeling very uncomfortable! So it’s important to be aware of how you’re feeling and to manage your stretching to a level which you can handle.

When a client is feeling very nervous and generally struggling with their confidence, I generally suggest that a good place to stretch is along the border of your comfort and stretch zones. In this area you’re just stretching a little, nothing too demanding or too stress inducing just challenging yourself by doing something new.

With a client who is less anxious but perhaps, worried about what others might be thinking or experiencing a period of self doubt then they might well be able to tolerate being further out into the stretch zone. Everyone is different.

In the stretch zone you’re likely to be aware of some sensations associated with your normal stress reaction brought on by that cocktail of hormones your body naturally produces when it’s under stress. Remember, that this is absolutely normal and experienced by every human being when under stress. Any anxiety sensations you experience are nothing to be afraid of in themselves they’re just ‘normal’. So keep reminding yourself of that!

Once this new activity becomes comfortable then you know that your comfort zone has expanded and that you’re ready to stretch a little bit more. Over time, you can look back and see how far you have progressed and feel proud of how much larger your new comfort zone is compared to when you started thinking about this process.

PANIC ZONE

This isn’t a nice place to be for anyone and especially not for horse riders. Many of you will have been there at some point, I know that I have and it’s not somewhere I want to be very often, if ever!! (Though, from a purely professional point of view, I’m glad to have experienced my fair share of panic situations as it gives me more of an understanding when my clients tell me how they feel!).

The panic zone is where the communication between horse and rider has gone, or become ineffective. The rider and/or the horse are out of control and the situation is dangerous,

Of the three possible fear reactions in this situation – fight, flight and freeze – the one which a rider tends to experience is the ‘freeze’ reaction where your mind goes numb and your body can’t react.

Given enough time, the thinking part of your brain will catch up with the survival mode and you will probably regain some control or be able to make a plan to extricate yourself from the situation but often there just isn’t time and….well you can imagine what could happen….I’m not going to put ideas into your mind!

I can’t think of any riders I know who would deliberately put themselves into a panic situation but they can arise because of circumstances out of our control. They can also arise because of inexperience or an over active imagination which creates imagined panic inducing scenarios.

If you have found yourself in a panic situation and haven’t been able to leave it behind you yet, then keep a look out for a future post with some ideas and advice on how to do that.
Or feel free to get in touch for more personalised help and advice.


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Fun in the snow

In my opinion we have a choice about how we view the season of Winter.  We can either spend the next few months moaning about it being too dark, too cold, too wet, too muddy or we can embrace this time of year and think of it as an opportunity.  So here are my tips for some Winter Motivation.

1.  Accept that we live in Scotland (or elsewhere in the UK/Europe/Northern hemisphere) where the Winter days are short and, let’s face it, it rains a lot!  There is nothing we can do to change that.  So, as always have a think about what you are saying to yourself eg ‘This is awful’, ‘The weather is ****’!

If you’re constantly telling yourself that something is awful then that is what you believe.

So, change it round into seeing it as an opportunity eg ‘At least there are no flies!’

2.  Have a look at your goals.  How did you get on during the Summer months?  Is there anything that you need to work on?  Once again, look at it as an OPPORTUNITY.

3.  Are there any situations which you are avoiding eg riding on windy days or avoiding those shadowy corners in the arena?

Yet another OPPORTUNITY to do some de-sensitisation work.

4.  No where safe to ride?  Guess what?  Another OPPORTUNITY!

Group together with some friends and hire an indoor arena.  Make plans to ride out with other people. (You’re much more likely to do it if it’s in the diary).

5.  Be nice to yourself.

Dress warmly.

Use plenty of moisturiser and lip balm.

Wear bright colours.

Drink hot chocolate.

Go for a sauna.

Think warming thoughts.

6.  Missing the shows and events?

You’ve got it!  Another OPPORTUNITY!

Investigate Winter leagues and arena events.  Sign up and make a commitment.

Check back on your goals and measure your progress.

7.  Work on your fitness.

Use the OPPORTUNITY to sign up for an exercise class.

Go for brisk walks with the dog.

Do some strength training.

Set yourself up for the Spring.

8.  Pamper your horse.

If the weather is too bad to ride spend time with your horse instead.

Give him a good groom and thorough check over.

Adjust his feeding as necessary.

Give your tack a deep clean.

9.  And if you really can’t ride…..

Don’t feel guilty, your horse won’t mind having time off.

Enjoy the extra time with family or non-horsey friends.

Read a book by the fire.

Enjoy the warmth of a roaring fire.

Make plans and set goals for 2020

ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY

So, I hope you enjoy the Winter Season and do let me know how you intend to make the most of the opportunities which come your way.


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I love my riding lessons

I’m sure many of you are familiar with being asked a question along the lines of “Surely you can ride by now, why are you still having lessons?” Your answers might vary from having a new horse and wanting to develop your skills in partnership with that horse, wanting to increase or refine your technical riding skills or having someone on the ground who can help you to work out why you might be having difficulties in certain areas of your riding. There are as many different reasons for having lessons as there are riders.

I’m a great believer in lifelong learning which can be defined as “the provision or use of formal and informal learning opportunities throughout people’s lives in order to foster the continuous development and improvement of knowledge and skills needed for both employment and personal development”.

I think, to date, the youngest rider I have worked with was about 8 years old and the oldest was well into her 80’s. Riding really can be a lifelong activity.

So, I really do think that it’s important to continue to have input from a riding trainer, coach or instructor especially if you struggle with self belief and self confidence. I was talking to a group of riders yesterday and we all agreed that it’s also very important to find the correct person to help you, someone who really makes an effort to understand you, your needs and the partnership you have with your horse.

Of course, lifelong learning doesn’t just apply to the ridden aspects of our equestrian lives. We continue to learn about horse behaviour, management, feeding, care of land, horse health and many other things and often build up a huge wealth of knowledge. I think an openness to new learning is vital and am always sceptical when I hear that age old saying “But I’ve always done it this way”!

Equestrian sport can give us personal learnings which have benefits in other life areas too. Learning resilience, the importance of hard work, being able to enjoy success and accept defeat, learning interpersonal skills and how to deal with conflict are just a few life areas which will benefit from our contact with horses.

Sharing knowledge and always learning

From my point of view as a confidence and mindset coach I see how riding and looking after horses can teach us about our strengths and challenges. It helps us to understand why we think, feel and behave in certain ways. It shows us how both positive and negative experiences can impact on our general well being and how learning to handle all of our experiences can make us stronger and, hopefully, more compassionate individuals.

So, keep on learning. Keep on learning about riding, about horses and about yourself. xx


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Seeing is Believing

Through the horse’s ears. You really can feel as though you’re there on horseback.

How your imagination can help you to relax, grow in confidence and learn new skills.

Our imagination is a very powerful tool which we can learn to use to help us in all sorts of life areas.  We can learn to use mental imagery or the ability to create or recreate an experience in the mind.

Most of us do this many times each day either consciously or unconsciously.  Think back to an occasion where you have been daydreaming and remember just how vivid the experience was, possibly to the extent that you felt you were right there in that imagined moment.  Then think of a time where you may have experienced anxiety and remember how your imagination ran away with you creating all sorts of unwanted scenarios which compounded your experience of all those unpleasant anxiety sensations to the extent that you believed that what you had imagined would actually happen.

When we are using our imaginations we experience the greatest effect if we involve all of the senses.  So it is much more than “visualisation”, or seeing things, it is hearing, feeling, smelling and perhaps tasting too.  When we create scenes in our minds the stronger and more vivid we make the whole sensory experience then the more powerful the results.

Here are some simple, horse related,  mental imagery ideas to get you in the mood and show you how you can use all of your senses.  Feel and imagine every detail of the following:

  • The colour of your horse’s coat with the sun shining on it.
  • Putting your hand under a horse’s mane on a cold day.
  • The smell of new leather.
  • The soft sound of a horse’s “nicker” as it greets you in the morning.
  • The smell of fresh hay.
  • The smell of a dirty stable (yuk!)
  • The sensation as you ease yourself into the saddle and take up the reins
  • The image of your horse’s ears as they listen to you.
  • The footfall of your horse as you walk on a hard surface.
  • The feeling as you dismount after an enjoyable ride.

All of the above are likely to be familiar to riders and easy to recall or imagine using all of your senses.

There are three main uses for mental imagery which I would like to talk to you about: relaxation, confidence boosting and skill enhancement and these can be used in any life area, not just horse related activities.

Relaxation

Mental imagery is a wonderful tool to use for simple relaxation perhaps to calm down, to focus, to aid sleep or help you to rest, to escape or have some time out.

Many of us have a favourite place, or perhaps a safe place, which we can develop to aid relaxation.  This might be a place in nature, a favourite holiday location, a beautiful beach or perhaps soaking in a warm bath.  You will have your own place.

So a simple technique to practice is to find somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed for a short while (phone off!) and make yourself comfortable.  Then take some deep relaxing breaths in a ratio of 1:2 ie the out breath should be twice the length of the in breath and you are breathing in calmness and out tension.  Personally, I like the ratio of breathing in to the count of 3 and out to the count of 6 but it’s best to find your own count.

Once you are physically relaxed then you can mentally relax using the imagery.  So make your scene as real as possible using all of your senses so that it almost feels as though you are really there experiencing that special place.  Nobody else is allowed to join you there unless you specifically choose to invite them.  Practice this frequently until you have a tool which you can use effectively to help you to relax when you need to.



Confidence Boosting

This is probably the mental imagery technique which I use most often with clients and it can make an enormous difference to the experience of riding horses (or mules or donkeys!).

When we are feeling anxious about riding, or any aspect of our lives, then it is likely that we are practicing negative mental rehearsal where our imagination is conjuring up a negative situation which just adds to our anxiety and can prevent us from enjoying our riding.  I’m sure you can all remember a situation where your imagination has run away with you and created a mental disaster movie!!!  

Given that our brains are super clever at believing what we tell them then we need to find a way to change that story into something much more helpful and to train our brains to focus on what we actually want to happen rather on what we do not want to happen.

Mental activity strengthens the neural pathways in your brain associated with those things you focus on with your thoughts and feelings.  So, if you learn to focus on helpful thoughts and feelings then you will strengthen the helpful pathways and vice versa.

Two simple confidence boosting techniques which you can practice are:

  • Firstly to make yourself comfy as above and allow your mind to bring into focus a super positive past experience.  Perhaps a wonderful ride from the past where everything just felt right, you were having fun, feeling focussed in the moment and felt at one with the horse you were riding.  ( if you haven’t been fortunate enough to have had such an experience on horseback yet then think of another life area where you had your ‘perfect day”).   
  • Allow the sensations associated with your memory to grow strong and vivid, feeling that you are truly immersed in that memory.
  • Then imagine gathering all of those sensations together and store them inside of you and keep them there.
  • The next step is to think of a challenging future situation (start the exercise with something just a little bit challenging until you are familiar with the ideas) but tackle this future challenge with all of the positivity and strength associated with your wonderful memory and notice how that challenge has already become a little bit easier to deal with.
  • Practice this regularly, the more you practice any new skill the easier it becomes.

The second useful technique is to help you to get rid of an unwanted image:

  • If you find that you have intrusive, unhelpful thoughts and images then simply telling them to go away won’t help.  Instead, you need a way of replacing them with something more helpful.
  • So, practice with something relatively easy and unchallenging.  
  • For example, imagine an image (and all of its’ associated sensory information) of a dirty stable.
  • Then SWIPE IT AWAY as you would swipe past a photo on a smart phone or tablet. You might like to link this action with a word or phrase such as “STOP”.
  • Next replace that unwanted imagery with all that is associated with a clean and sweet smelling stable.
  • Build this method up until you can replace unwanted riding imagery with wanted outcomes and feelings.
  • Practice, practice, practice!

Skill Enhancement 

When you are in training or learning a new skill then mentally rehearsing the technique is hugely valuable.  This is something which is practised throughout the sporting world and there is much evidence which shows that the brain cannot tell the difference between something real and imagined so that what you practice mentally is setting up the same neural pathways as if you were practicing in reality.  So that when you come to actually performing the skill it’s almost as though you have already done it.

In mentally rehearsing skills we can practice from an associated point of view i.e. seeing and feeling things through our own eyes and senses as though we were actually there.  This can be very real and powerful.

Alternatively, some people find it easier to mentally rehearse from a dissociated point of view i.e. feeling that we are watching ourselves performing an activity on a screen.  This can be a useful method to use if you are wishing to imagine what a judge might be seeing  or to imagine what picture you are presenting to any onlookers.

So next time you are having any riding coaching or lessons make sure that you take note of all of the aspects of what you are learning, how the horse feels, what you are seeing, the actual movements you are making and then you can continue to mentally practice this new skill after your lesson is finished and note how much easier you find it next time.

All of the above ideas and methods need to be practiced regularly until they become second nature so give them a go without delay!

This article, written by myself, was first published in Horsemanship Magazine.


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Let’s talk about it…….

Riding and being around horses is good for your mental health isn’t it?

Well, yes it is until you start worrying about riding more than you enjoy it and I know that there are a lot of you out there for whom this is the case.

What we want is for the time we spend around horses and riding them to be relaxing, fun-filled, exciting, great exercise, a source of friends and sharing experiences, a sense of achievement and success, “me time” away from work and family pressures….and so much more.

For various reasons, last week I was feeling especially stressed but after a good ride in the sunshine, on a beautiful horse, in the company of lovely people my stress levels fell to a much more manageable level and I felt re-energised, calmer and more able to tackle the issues which were causing that stress.

However, sometimes due to a huge variety of reasons riding and working with horses can become the very source of stress which has the opposite effect to all of the above.

This could come from fear and anxiety, from the pressure of competition, from issues on the yard or from concern about the welfare or health of your horse. Or perhaps it might be due to pressures in other areas of your life such as work or relationships which prevent the time you spend with horses from being as relaxing as you would like.

My approach to helping riders is to treat each person as an individual, “whole” person. You’re not just a rider with a confidence issue. My training in hypnotherapy and psychotherapy combined with many years of working with people with all sorts of issues and from all sorts of backgrounds gives me the experience and skills to be able to help you with mental health challenges so that, together we can work towards you being able to achieve all those health benefits which riding and horses can bring.

Just get in touch – YOU ARE NOT ALONE <3

(Thanks to Lisa Hannah for the photo which was an entry in the 2019 confident riding photo comp <3 )


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I guess we can look at this time of year in a couple of ways, perhaps seeing it as the end of Summer or, if you still think of life in term times and academic years it can be looked at as the start of a new phase.

So here we are at the end of Summer 2019 and I’m wondering how you’ve all been getting on. I definitely hope that you’ve had lots of fun whatever you’ve been up to.

Either way as one season finishes and another begins this is a good time for some reflection.

One of the simplest, and most useful, methods to reflect and learn is to use a three step approach to analyse how things have been going for you. This analysis can be done after any ride where you’ve challenged yourself or have been challenged by events out-with your control. I don’t think it’s necessary to analyse every single ride, we don’t want to risk losing the opportunity to ride simply for fun, but it’s useful to have a think after a schooling session, a lesson, a competition, camp or training day.

I’ve heard this three step analysis referred to as a “Sh*t sandwich” and the reason will become clear!! You can choose to give it that name or another on if you wish!

STEP ONE

What went well? What did you do that gave you pleasure? Which achievements are you proud of? Did you succeed with something new? Did you ride faster or harder and did you jump bigger? Did you feel more in tune with your horse?
You will have your own definitions of success here and the aim of this step is to celebrate those successes and allow yourself to feel pleasure and pride.
It’s so easy to belittle successes and I really do feel that it’s important to allow ourselves to enjoy each and every success, great and small.

 

STEP TWO

This is the step where you have a think about those things which didn’t go well and work out why that may have happened.
So, have a think about any mistakes which have been made and work out why they happened in order to learn from them.
What else happened which, if you were given the opportunity to repeat that experience, you would like to do differently?
Looking at those things which didn’t go so well, why did they happen? Were they things over which you had some control or were they due to uncontrollable events? Had you set goals for yourself which were achievable?

I do talk a lot about being positive and learning but, don’t get me wrong, I totally get that sometimes you can feel upset, angry, “down” or just simply “rubbish” and I have those feeling too. However, the important thing is to acknowledge those emotions, understand them and then let them go, avoiding the risk of over generalising them and believing that because something has happened which you’re unhappy about it means that everything is rubbish!

STEP THREE

Step three is simple – just repeat STEP ONE!!
This means that you’re finishing the exercise on a positive note and, whilst making sure you take the learnings from step two on board you’re actually allowing yourself to enjoy the pleasure of your successes.

If you carry out this simple three step analysis then it will help your overall confidence as you see how it is possible to celebrate the good stuff and learn from the “sandwich filling”!

Happy Autumn to you all as the sun gets lower in the sky.

 

(Thanks to Lynne Blore and Rosalyn Cowie for the lovely photos which were entries in the 2019  competition)

 


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So you’ve decided to enter your very first show. How are you feeling?

It’s important to give yourself the very best chance to have fun and enjoy your day and there are some simple steps which you can put in place which will help you to minimise any feelings of tension and nervousness. In this piece I am delighted that Sean Whiting who is Director of the country and equestrian specialists Houghton Country is sharing his top horse show preparation tips for beginners.
Sean’s tips are all things which are within your control and which you can absolutely do to ensure that you and your horse are prepared and ready for action.

Sean says:

While you’re bound to be excited about taking part in your very first horse show, it can also be very nerve-wracking. But, regardless of whether you’re going to be show jumping or showing off your newfound dressage skills, you’ll give yourself the best chance of enjoying the experience by properly preparing for it.

So, I’m going to share my top horse show preparation tips that will ensure your first competition is as stress-free as possible. My advice should help you to bag some extra points from the judges, too!

Always read the rules very carefully

Even the most seasoned of horse riders know the importance of reading each horse show’s rules very carefully, because they can differ a lot from event to event. So, as soon as you become aware that you’ll be taking part in a particular competition, it’s vital that you get a copy of the rules, pay close attention to them, and start your preparations with these rules in mind.

The rules of your chosen competition will dictate everything, from what you need to wear and how your horse should look, to what you might need to do in order to be eligible to compete at a certain level. It’s also particularly important that you check what tack you can use well ahead of time — especially when it comes to your horse’s bit. This information gives you the opportunity to find and change to an alternative if the bit you currently use isn’t acceptable. Plus, it will allow you to put in extra schooling at home to get your horse used to this change without the nerves and excitement of competition.

If were to ignore the guidelines of your event, you could turn up to your first show and find that you’re unable to compete for one reason or another, or you might miss out on vital points because you aren’t quite presented in the way that you should be — this is especially true in the showing world. So, always check the relevant guidelines before starting your preparations and, if possible, speak to other people competing in similar classes or the show organisers if anything is unclear. 

Attend a similar show as a spectator first

If you’ve never attended a horse show as a spectator, I would highly recommend doing so before you compete for the first time. Everything from the noise to the overall atmosphere can be quite intimidating if you aren’t used to it. And, on show day, you’ll also have the added pressure of actually taking part. If you can volunteer to be a groom for the day for one of your friends, this will give you a feel for how everything works ahead of your debut and should help to take a lot of stress out of the experience. 

Horse shows can also be a lot of fun for those watching so, while you might be going for research purposes, you’ll have a great time too. 

Step up your grooming regime

You should already be grooming your horse every day to keep their coat in the best condition possible but, when you know that there’s a competition the horizon, you’ll want to step up your regime — especially in classes where turnout is an important factor. For example, you may decide your horse needs a bath to get the best possible shine from their coat, or to remove stains or excess grease. All of the horses at competitions look preened and poised so, if yours doesn’t look its best, you’ll stand out for all the wrong reasons.

You also need to check whether there’s a specific way in which your horse’s mane and tail need to be presented, especially in show classes. This is often dictated by the breed of your horse and the type of class you have entered. You aren’t typically expected to be plaited up for show jumping classes, however you may choose to go all out regardless, because it’s a great way of giving your horse a professional and polished look. 

Make sure you have the right equestrian clothing

It’s not just your horse you need to think about: you’re going to be the other half of the team. So, you need to put just as much work into ensuring you look the part.

The rules around what you can and can’t wear will differ between classes and events so, again, you need to read and follow the relevant rules closely. But, once you have an idea of what your competition look needs to consist of, I would recommend investing in the highest quality pieces that fit with your budget. With equestrian clothing, you often do get what you pay for. So, to ensure you look and feel your best, it’s a good idea to opt for pieces from a reputable brand. Plus, quality horse riding attire can last for years, so you’ll be able to wear yours to plenty of other competitions. 

Give your horse plenty of time to warm up

I’m sure you’ve very used to helping your horse warm up before training at home, but I would recommend giving them plenty of extra time before your first few competitions. The noise and atmosphere of a competition is likely to be completely new to them, which can be very distracting, so it might take them a bit longer to get into the right frame of mind. Plus, the more you practise before you head out in front of the judges, the more prepared you’re likely to feel. So, give both you and your horse plenty of time to warm up and get in the right mindset to compete.

Taking part in your first equestrian competition is likely to be very exciting, but also quite stressful. However, by taking my tips on board to ensure you’re well-prepared, you should be able to give yourself some peace of mind.  

In our next blog we will look at my top tips for getting your mindset ready for your first show now that you have the practical things in place.