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Ah, show day! The delightful mix of butterflies and caffeine churning within as you rise with the sun. The bustling activity on the grounds as horses are fed, walked, and bathed. The knowledge that at some point in the very near future, you will stand before the masses and be judged

Sure, there are any number of cool cucumbers who can compete without missing a beat, but the majority of us struggle to some degree with show nerves and performance anxiety. In his book PRESSURE PROOF YOUR RIDING, renowned sport psychology expert Coach Daniel Stewart explains that one of the keys to success in this arena is to develop a strong showing mindset.

“The showing mindset is a subconscious skill that helps you avoid over-thinking, overreacting, and overanalyzing during competition,” says Coach Stewart. “The time for all that has passed; the time for self-analysis and criticism is gone; and the time for trust has arrived. Studies have shown that no appreciable learning of a skill—mechanical or technical—takes place on show day. This only happens at home during your lessons. So trying to improve while showing is an ineffective use of your time. As soon as you drive into the venue’s parking lot or exit the warm-up arena, you need to confidently transition from your schooling mindset, to your showing mindset, and just trust that all the self-critiques, analysis, and feedback from your lessons have prepared you well for the demands of the next few minutes.

“Showing with a schooling mindset also creates the impression that the harder you try, the harder it gets. For example, the more a jumper tries to see the distance to her next fence the harder it becomes (the dreaded ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ syndrome), and the harder a dressage rider tries to sit up perfectly straight, the more tense she becomes. When you show, no matter the discipline, it just happens too fast; you don’t have the time to analyze the height of your hands, the placement of your leg, or the position of your hips. You must turn off your conscious thoughts and allow your subconscious to take over. You’re on autopilot, trusting your training, and just letting it happen. In riding, this is often called riding freely, and it is here that you learn to trust, not train.”

Coach Stewart says that in order to ride well and compete at your best your mental approach to showing must be very different than your mental approach to schooling. Here are three of his tips for developing a strong schooling mindset:

Try “Softer”—Trying too hard or schooling when you should be showing can lead to pressure and fear of failure. Replace anxiety and self-criticism with self-belief and confidence.

Focus on a Task—Focus on a positive task, like repeating the motto, “Trust not train,” to stop your schooling mindset from getting in the way of your showing success.

Use a “Show-Starter”—Identify a cue that will create a boundary between your schooling and showing mindsets. For example, tell yourself to “start” your showing mindset when you hear the ding of the bell before your dressage test or when you walk into the start box before going cross-country. The sound of the bell, and the location of the start box, sets the boundary between your mindsets.

 

Pressure ProofGet more tips from Coach Daniel Stewart in PRESSURE PROOF YOUR RIDING, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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TSB caught up with Anne Gribbons, FEI/USEF dressage judge, former Technical Director of the US Dressage Team, and author of the wonderful book of “dressage time travel” COLLECTIVE REMARKS, and we asked for her thoughts on the 2016 Olympic Dressage competition, underway now in Rio de Janeiro. Here are her insights as we begin Day 2. (For Anne’s refreshingly honest and brutally funny perspective on past Olympics and other international competitions, as well as all manner of dressage-related subjects, check out COLLECTIVE REMARKS!)

 

ANNE & STEFAN

Anne Gribbons with Steffen Peters in 2010.

 

After all the misgivings about Brazil not being able to handle the Olympics, it has come out of the starting box with flair. The eventing coverage was fabulous, the cross-country course beautiful and challenging, and the surprises many. Perhaps that is why I will always love combined training the most, because things can change in a heartbeat and each second can present a different landscape. And you can actually be competing, driving home without a ribbon, and still completely elated because the horse jumped so well it made your heart sing. Obviously, this is not the feeling you would have if something  goes awry on the Olympic course, and I am sure both Phillip Dutton and Ingrid Klimke were less than amused after brilliant dressage rides with the odd mishaps they had, which completely changed their standings at the top. 

Now the dressage is on, where the risk is limited and the element of surprise is a rarity. At this level, we expect each equipage to know its lessons well, and few mishaps to occur in the test. What we look for and revel in is the finely tuned communication between horse and rider. We search for  the balance, the self-carriage, the connection between the hand of the rider and the mouth of the horse. Harmony and yet full power when horse  and rider together reach for their ultimate best is what thrills us and keeps us glued to the screen. Watching it at home is a miracle, until it is not. When the streaming  momentarily shuts off, you get rudely pulled back to reality. With impeccable timing, this happens just as your country’s horse enters the ring. 

And I mentioned no surprises? Well, not true the first day when the Dutch star Parzival was retired by his rider who felt he was not quite up to the task. Good horsemanship, but a blow to the Dutch team, while it gave an opening to the Americans. We are talking fractions of a point here, and with no drop score left, the Dutch are more vulnerable. Since Kasey Perry-Glass had a very solid ride once she got past the first five movements when Dublet was busy in the mouth and Kasey was a bit tense, our chances looked even better after her ride. The Germans are powering on, and nobody expects any other team to catch up with them. In spite of one imploding pirouette and another weak one, Dorothee Schneider showed such strength in the rest of her work on Showtime that they gathered over 80%. And the 21-year-old Sönke Rothenberger who went first in the German team on his 10-year-old horse shows all the signs of growing up in a horse family. He admits he gets help from his father, Olympic rider Sven Rothenberger, but insists that his true calling is actually jumping. Well, if dressage is only his sideline, wait until he focuses on it! 

Riding for England, Fiona Bigwood had a very impressive ride on a wonderfully elastic and submissive mare named Orthilia. Imagine coming back from an injury that robs you of sight in one eye and putting on such a spot-on performance where balance and accuracy is of essence. Hats off to this lady who received a well-earned 77-plus% as a forerunner to more great scores expected by the remaining Brits, who are expected to finish in at least silver position. 

And then there is the US with four great quality horses and well prepared riders. Over the last two years all these combinations have gradually become more seasoned. Except for Roosevelt, I know all the team horses very well, and I am well aware of  the capacity of each. We already saw what Dublet was able to do, and believe me, there is so much more in that horse! Verdades is becoming seasoned and stronger and should have no trouble staying as focused on Laura Graves as he usually is in this comparatively quiet atmosphere. I can understand why the Chef D’ Equipe would make that combination the anchor by putting them last, because Legolas can, at times, be a little too fired up and lose concentration. However, Steffen Peters’ masterly riding has overcome that tendency in his shows as lately, and when they are on, he and Legolas can gather many valuable points. 

So, when I am writing this I am, like all of you, keeping my fingers crossed and hopes high for our team. Go USA!

–Anne Gribbons

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

COLLECTIVE REMARKS by Anne Gribbons is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Author Melinda Folse seeks ways to ensure we all find paths to empowerment and joyful living with horses.

Author Melinda Folse seeks ways to ensure we all find paths to empowerment and joyful, fulfilling lives with horses. Photo by Caroline Petty

 

TSB author Melinda Folse has counted on horses as a touchstone since she was a little girl.

“I’ve been hopelessly in love with horses all my life,” she says. “I inherited this mutant gene from my dad, who is similarly afflicted. What time I didn’t spend dreaming about, learning to draw, and reading about horses became, on and off in my early teens, early 20s and mid forties forward, actual ownership, riding, and having horses in my life in one way or another.”

Now Folse—a writer by trade—has several published books to her name, including LESSONS WELL LEARNED, which she cowrote with renowned horseman Clinton Anderson, and her own bestseller THE SMART WOMAN’S GUIDE TO MIDLIFE HORSES. Her newest work brings her penchant for playful banter while digging into the heart of the matter to what for many is a tricky subject: body image. RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN finds us discussing not only the more commonly considered concepts of rider fitness and biomechanics but also that-whole-heckuva-lot that goes on in our heads and in our hearts when we catch sight of ourselves in the arena mirror. How many of us have asked ourselves, as Folse likes to say, “Does this horse make my butt look big?”

What led Folse to this topic?

“Three things, really,” she says. “First, my publisher Trafalgar Square Books said they wanted to do this book and would I be willing to write it. Second, I have personally struggled with my weight for most of my life. (Most of this, in retrospect, was in my head.) Third, and what is usually the most compelling reason for me to write what I write: I was curious.”

Has Folse seen a shift in the culture around body image and riding? Is there a difference between this cultural shift in the horse world and society in general?

“It’s no secret that obesity rates are skyrocketing,” she says, “and that trend is echoed in the horse world, as it is just about everywhere else. Two important distinctions for equestrians of all disciplines are that because we have another living being depending upon us to be smart, conscientious, and kind, there is an additional layer of responsibility that comes with true excess weight when we ride. The second thing is a bit wigglier and subjective. It’s hard to break through the layers of what we think and get to what really is. For riders, extremes of behavior range from giving up horses altogether to a dangerous dance with eating disorders to stay ‘show ring skinny.’”

"I wanted answers, to my questions and yours, when it comes to the complicated topic of 'body image.'"

“I wanted answers, to my questions and yours, when it comes to the complicated topic of ‘body image.'” Photo by Caroline Petty

Is this a topic we speak of openly in the horse communities, or is it considered taboo?

“I think there’s plenty of both,” admits Folse. “People can be very unkind to plus-sized riders — sometimes to their faces, and more often when cloaked in the anonymity of blogs and forums and social media. I’ve read some true meanness from those who accuse overweight riders of animal cruelty — and some pushback with solidarity that is truly heartwarming from communities around the world documenting how smart strong fit riders of all sizes actually feel lighter and take better care of their horses than most ‘average-sized’ riders put together.”

Are women in the show ring more worried about how they look than how they ride? How significant is the pressure to conform to a certain “norm” when competing?

“Fat-shaming in the show ring, just like everywhere else, is reaching epidemic proportions,” Folse says. “And it is doing damage, both to young girls just starting out and older riders excited to be showing again or for the first time. Negative feedback comes from other competitors, spectators on the sidelines, and sometimes even from judges. A great recent Horse Illustrated article, ‘Body Shaming in the Show Ring,’ by  Patrice D. Bucciarelli encourages riders to continue showing in spite of negative feedback. I agree. The more we all just return to being fit, confident riders, the better off we’ll all be, including and especially our horses!”

So how does a rider know what is a healthy weight?

“The best answer is . . . it depends,” Folse explains. “It depends on your body type. Your bone density. Your fitness level. Your goals and dreams. When it comes to riding horses, the best answer my experts gave consistently across the board is that it’s not your weight but how you use it that matters most. That’s where we get into the fitness, balance, energy, and mindfulness components of riding well, along with the horse you’re riding and what kind of riding you’re trying to do. Navigating between real and imagined limitations — and finding the right solution tailored to your own needs and circumstances rather than some chart — is just part of what RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN is all about.”

How can someone make an honest assessment of where they are and what they need to do? What kind of “thinking” needs to change in order to start down a healthier path?

“I know this sounds counterintuitive,” Folse says, “but you do have to love your body right now, first, in order to move toward the one you want. Self-acceptance and self-compassion doesn’t mean letting yourself off the hook for making lifestyle changes that will ultimately pay off in the saddle. Horsekeeping in and of itself demands strength, stamina, and skill beyond the norm, and it’s time we appreciate our bodies for what they already do — even as we try to nudge them toward whatever goals we want to set, based on what we want to do next with our horses or in our life.”

So what’s the bottom line in RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN? Is it saying it’s okay to be heavy if you ride well? Or that overweight riders need to lose weight so they can ride better?

“I think the most important message — and the one I hope comes across to readers loud and clear — is that it’s not about weight at all,” says Folse. “It’s about being healthy, strong and fit — and riding with balance, energy, and mindfulness. It’s about making good thoughtful decisions about the horse you ride, the fit of your tack, and what you are choosing to do, at what level. It’s about being realistic and setting appropriate goals. It’s about moving forward with joy and confidence and feeling good about your body and what it can do — and finding the courage to break free of whatever has been holding you back from riding, working with, and enjoying your horses.

“The mindfulness piece of it is huge. We need to stop beating ourselves up for real or imagined weight issues, take an honest look at our individual circumstance, and find ways to be healthy fit and proactive — regardless of shape or size. Our focus needs to change to figuring out how to rediscover the joy we’re meant to have with our horses and in our lives.”

 

EQUUS-EXCERPT-TWITTER

You can read an exclusive excerpt from RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN in the March 2016 issue of EQUUS Magazine. The book is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to to download the FREE Body Image Self-Test from RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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