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.
Tomorrow, the first of five regional clinics for the USEA Emerging Athletes U21 (EA21) Program kicks off in the central region of the country in Benton, Louisiana, at Holly Hill Farm. Throughout the summer, the remaining clinics on the East and West Coast will follow. At each clinic, 12 hand-selected riders will participate in a two-day clinic led by USEA Eventing Coaches Program (ECP) coaches. The purpose of the EA21 program is to create a pipeline for potential team riders by identifying and developing young talent, improving horsemanship and riding skills, and training and improving skills and consistency. The intention is to provide young athletes with access to an added level of horsemanship and riding skills to further their training and skill development with greater consistency.
After the first day of competition, Canadian Olympian Colleen Loach and her horse FE Golden Eye lead an international field in the CCI4*-L division of the MARS Bromont CCI.
Stone Gate Farm Horse Trials, located in Hanoverton, Ohio, announced they would cancel their fall horse trials, which were scheduled for Sept. 23-24.
Morgan Rowsell had just wrapped up organizing a successful Essex H.T. in Far Hills, New Jersey, on June 4, but as he turned his attention to his next show two weeks later, he was faced with challenges presented by the effects that wildfires from Canada are now having on equestrian sports in the Northeast. “The very next day, the smoke came in,” he said. “It looks like a warm, humid, hazy day, but it’s not humid, it’s not warm, it’s actually quite cool. There’s no air. There’s very little breeze. There’s a northeast wind coming out of Canada that is bringing all the Novia Scotia and Quebec smoke to us, and it smells like smoke.”