We all began riding for the same reasons: the love of the horse and the love of the sport. Back then we spent as much time laughing as we did lunging and as much time smiling as we did circling. It wasn’t about the color of the ribbon, placement on a leaderboard, or worrying about beating or being beaten. Back then we spent more time feeling fun than frustrated and thought more about joy than judges.
It’s only natural that you experienced these carefree emotions in the beginning because back then you didn’t know what you didn’t know! The pressure was low and enjoyment was high. But as you advanced as a rider you may have been tempted into the competition arena at which time your emotions might have taken a bit of a turn . . . because it was then that you realized that other riders were better than you, winning felt a whole lot better than losing, and judges didn’t like your horse! It was then that things like show-jitters and nervousness might have begun to change your thoughts from carefree to comparing (to others), and from fun to fears of falling or failing.
While it’s only natural that your thoughts became more serious as your riding career progressed, does it really need to be that way? While yes it’s extremely important to take things like horse care, stable management, training tools, and safety seriously, does it have to come at the expense of enjoyment? Just because you develop a strong winning spirit, does it mean there’s no room left for laughter? In fact no, you can have them all as long as you remind yourself to take enjoyment and enthusiasm just as seriously as you take the rest of your riding- and that’s where this month’s tip comes in.
A while back I overheard my son talking with his girlfriend and when their conversation became a bit heated she looked at him and said peaches. I didn’t know why she said peaches, but I did notice that when she did he stopped talking, took a deep breath, and began speaking more calmly. When I asked why she said peaches, she told me that they’d mutually agreed that whenever things got a bit too serious they’d use the word peaches as a trigger to dial things back. Interestingly, not long after that, I overheard my daughter say bubbles to her boyfriend mid-conversation. When I asked why, she said they liked the idea of defusing stress and seriousness with peaches, only they liked the word bubbles better.
In general psychology, trigger words like peaches and bubbles are called safe words; words that bring into awareness and bring to an end the unnecessary stress or seriousness of a situation. Once the word has been spoken, both participants agree to step back the seriousness and respond more calmly. But you can put an interesting spin on safe words by simply using them by yourself. In other words, you can use a previously defined safe word every time you begin to feel yourself becoming a bit too stressed or serious. Here are a few fun examples of safe words used by other riders to stop the stress:
Pumpkin: This word reminds a rider how much fun she had in a recent Halloween costume class dressed as a rainbow on a unicorn.
Potty Squat: This word reminds a rider how her trainer thinks the two-point looks like potty-squatting.
Martini: This rider reminds herself that no matter what happens today . . . it’ll all feel better soon.
California: This rider says California because according to her, as soon as you hit California the good times begin.
Toilet: This rider has no idea why her father yells toilet when she enters the start box, but it makes her laugh every time!
As you can see, a common thread among safe words is humor; because there’s nothing better at defusing the seriousness of a stressful situation better than a little comedy. So while yes, it’s important to take things like horse management and safety seriously, it’s just as important to take your enthusiasm and enjoyment equally as serious . . . and to do that may be all you need is a few peaches or bubbles. This month remind yourself how enjoyable riding can be by coming up with your very own safe word.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s tip. Next November I’m teaching my first post-COVID instructor certification course in Naples, Fla. If you’ve ever thought of becoming an equestrian mental coach or clinician email me at [email protected] and I’ll send you more information.
Have you ever wondered why your horse isn’t performing at their best? Get ready to learn about the many facets that can contribute to lameness and poor performance in sport horses from equine orthopedics expert, Dr. Sue Dyson! The United States Eventing Association (USEA) is pleased to announce that Dr. Dyson will be the keynote speaker at the 2022 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention in Savannah, GA this December 7-11.
Rosie Smith’s rose gold accented helmet matched her perfectly tidy bun of red hair as she took the third spot in the USEA Training Rider Championship at the 2022 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nurena Feeds. Every little detail came together while aboard her trusted partner of nine years: the 20-year-old Connemara Irish Draught named Seamus (by Corrcullen, RID). But Smith’s first jump, back when she was only 15 years old, wasn’t with an English saddle.
Lisa Pragg is a busy woman, but between her normal day job and competing her own 19-year-old Thoroughbred Impeccable she still prioritizes time to volunteer - both at horse trials and as a volunteer firefighter. Pragg understands the importance that volunteers play in the eventing community and makes sure to give whatever time she can back as a fair gesture.
Attention USEA members! Registration for the 2022 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention is now open! The convention will be held in person on December 7-11, 2022 at the Hyatt Regency Savannah Hotel in Savannah, Georgia.