Practicing Horse Speak: Conversations with Horses in Their Language

Have you ever watched horses graze and wonder what the herd members could be saying to each other? That’s exactly what myself and other attendees learned to interpret during a recent weekend retreat at Heidi Potter’s New England Center for Horsemanship in Vermont.

Image - Canadian horse

(Canadian Horse, Riley, with Lise Krieger & Heidi Potter. Photo: Liz Piacentini)

Heidi is a Centered Riding instructor and author of Open Heart, Open Mind: A Pathway to Rediscovering Horsemanship. I’ve audited Heidi’s clinic on Obstacles Training and read about Riley, her Canadian horse, in her book. Learning how to decode equine body language caught my interest. As a fellow Canadian owner, the opportunity to practice these conversations with a Canadian horse added to the appeal.

Sharon Wilsie, author of Horse Speak: The Equine-Human Translation Guide, co-taught this un-mounted program with Heidi. Sharon has trained and rehabilitated horses, coached intercollegiate teams, and created programs for horse rescues and therapeutic riding centers.

Last year, I was able to attend one of Sharon’s presentations on Horse Speak at Equine Affaire in Massachusetts. Her 1-hour session was filled with information and provided a fascinating introduction to conversations with horses. I could only image how much I’d learn in two days!

Developing Awareness of Our Core, Strength and Balance

Horses can tune in to very subtle changes in body language. Before meeting the herd, we started each day with fitness and body awareness exercises for ourselves.

On Saturday, out came the yoga mats for a workout specifically designed for riders! An area instructor conducted an amazing session that had us all engaging our core, stretching our muscles and opening our shoulders.

On Sunday, a Tai Chi instructor led us through a variety of slow, centering movements that brought awareness to our balance and breath. The heightened focus of our core, balance and movement came in handy when we interacted with the individual horses.

Observing the Herd

Horses have a lot to say! Really. Once the herd of five geldings was brought into the ring, Sharon began interpreting one little movement after another. Ears, eyes, head, breath, feet, body, and tail spoke volumes. We soon realized that what appeared to be horses at liberty munching individual hay flakes, was actually a slow stream of continuous conversation.

Sharon reminded us that horses in a herd are always in conversation. They need to maintain a state of constant awareness in case of a predator.  In fact, we observed how they stood at 45-degree angles to each other – ready for a clean, untangled get away, if they needed to flee.

The horses greeted each other by sniffing noses with three quick breaths. Some showed affection with a sniff on the neck. Others negotiated for personal space with the placement of a foot. Occasionally, one would trigger a ripple effect, making a big movement that caused the whole herd to rearrange positions before settling back down.

Being an alert prey animal in constant conversation seemed exhausting!

Finding Zero

Sharon pointed out the various roles within the herd. For example, the “Sentry” kept an eye out for danger, while the older “Mentor” patiently kept the young instigator in check.  The “Leader” was the one who displayed a combination of the calmest nerves mixed with attuned senses.

A healthy herd thrives on having a peaceful state and a Leader with an inner calm. Sharon referred to this inner calm as “Zero”. This state of being calm, yet aware, is what horses look for from all leaders – including us.

Humm, that was a great personal take-away.

When we have the goal of attaining Zero in our own inner state, the horses can more easily find theirs. The advantage? A calm horse is able to pay attention, be receptive to learning (instead of survival), and become a more willing partner.

“Listening” and “Talking”

As our small group of participants entered the ring, we were reminded that horses have a bubble of personal space around them and like to know where our spatial boundaries are. Heidi and Sharon helped us find each horse’s “bubble” as we slowly moved around the horses with open palms that clarified our boundaries. If we were too close, they’d move away, letting us know we’d just crossed into their space.

Image- Horse Speak Retreat Participants

(Sharon Wilsie & Liz Piacentini clarify spacial boundaries.  Photo: Chelsea Potter Dore)

After learning the 13 communication points or “buttons” on a horse’s body, we had fun practicing conversations with the horses on lead ropes. We worked on conveying: Hello, hold still, come towards me, back up, turn this way and even a simple pattern that conveyed, don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

The weekend wasn’t about teaching something to the horses. They already knew how to speak Horse! It was about learning Horse Speak for ourselves. We learned to adjust our energy levels, clarify our intentions and set boundaries. Most importantly, it helped us find our inner Zero and become the calm and trustworthy person our horses need us to be.

By the end of the retreat, I felt incredibly calm, centered and confident! I packed up my yoga mat and a copy of Sharon’s newest book, Horses in Translation: Essential Lessons in Horse Speak and headed home to practice “listening” and “talking” with my Canadian horse, Lyrical.

Continuing the Conversation

Image: Canadian Horse Expo logoHeidi Potter & Sharon Wilsie will be clinicians at the Canadian Horse Expo coming to the Harwinton Fair Grounds in Connecticut on October 13, 2018. (Rain date 10/14). Learn more about Horse Speak and Stress-free Obstacles Training during this educational event featuring seminars, demos, and vendors. The expo welcomes all equestrians and is dedicated to promoting awareness of the critically endangered Canadian Horse, le Cheval Canadien – the National Horse of Canada.

Enjoy the Journey!

-Liz Piacentini

(Header Photo Credit: Fotosearch.com)

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Reset Your Mindset: Two Tools to Tackle Negative Brain Chatter

By, Liz Piacentini

During an important show, my focus was gradually disappearing. A steady stream of distracting thought was making it harder and harder to concentrate on my horse. Would the two mental fitness tools I learned be enough to get my train of thought back on track?

Meme: Your mind is a garden your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers or you can grow weeds.Maybe it’s happened to you.

You have an argument with a friend before a ride or competition. A co-worker says something that bothers you at work. Or, maybe a wave of your own self-doubt starts to spiral into overdrive. Whatever the trigger, the conversation running between your ears is no longer positive. Before you know it, your negative brain chatter gets stuck on instant replay. Now, you’re losing focus during a lesson or in the warm-up.

That’s exactly what happened to me! My goal one season was to ride in the Connecticut Level 1 Dressage Series championship class. I worked hard throughout the summer improving my technical skills during lessons and competing in recognized shows to earn my qualifying scores.

Finally, the big show day arrived. However, a work-related conversation kept popping into my head. As I rode over to the warm-up ring, I realized my mental chatter had become an annoying distraction. It was disrupting my focus, creating frustration, and decreasing my enjoyment of the show. Brainstorming solutions for my client could be done after I competed. Right now, I needed to reset my mindset and get in the zone of concentration.

Luckily, I had two mental fitness tools Coach Daniel Stewart taught me for overcoming stubborn, distracting thoughts:

Halt negative thinking with a Thought Stopper

I was armed with a thought stopper – something that startles your brain and stops the stream of negative thinking. For example, snapping a rubber band around your wrist may work great if you’re a runner, but that isn’t so easy to do when you’re holding reins! Instead, riders can pick a word such as STOP or RESET. Then, say your word (usually to yourself) when you’re aware of the distracting thought.

Before the show, I had selected the word DING. Not just any old ding, but the loud bell you hear during a boxing match. The ding that immediately stops the fight and sends the boxers into their corners where they take a deep breath. After I said DING to myself, I took a deep breath, gave myself a calming mental half-halt, and substituted the distracting conversation in my brain with my motivating motto.

Replace negative thoughts with a Motivating Motto

Some athletes may call a motivating motto a positive affirmation or a meaningful mantra. Whatever you prefer to label it, create a short, positive statement that reminds you what to do or how to feel in order to deliver your best.

Here’s the key – after you say your thought stopper, take a deep calming breath, then replace the negative chatter with your motivating motto. Give your sub-conscious mind a thought that directs your actions towards what you want to accomplish.

I had selected the phrase, “Elegance and Excellence”. For me, “elegance” immediately reminded me to BE elegant – to sit tall, chin up. “Excellence” reminded me to give it my best shot, knowing there is no such thing as a perfect ride. I needed to continue on despite any hiccups, do my best and enjoy the ride.

Image: Starve your Distractions, Feed your Focus

My Canadian horse, Lyrical, and I proceeded with our warm up. “DING” followed by “Elegance and Excellence” soon dominated my thoughts and helped me focus. The further I entered the zone of concentration, the less I said ding and the more I focused on repeating my motivating motto.

I said “Elegance and Excellence” to myself as we started around the outside of the arena and again when the judge rang the bell. During the salute, I repeated it three times to stay focused and make sure our halt was maintained for the required three seconds. As our ride progressed, I silently stated my motivating motto before each challenging movement.

Having the ability to replace negative thoughts boosted my feelings of empowerment and confidence when I needed it most. Did these tools eliminate all the distracting stress I felt at the show? No. But, they sure did help me manage it!


Tackle distracting brain chatter with these four steps:


1) Determine your thought stopper and motivating motto before an important ride. Your motivating motto might even be hidden within your favorite song!  Find a motivational or instructional phrase that’s meaningful to you.  For example, use:

  • “Fluid and Forward” – if show jitters make you tense.
  • “Long and tall does it all” – to improve your position and effectiveness.
  • “Head up, Heart strong” – to keep your eyes up and trust your horse.
  • “Easy and Breezy” – You got this! Enjoy the moment.

2) Practice! Repetition keeps tools ready for action when distracting self-talk creeps in.

3) Identify challenging moments. Do you get a case of the “I cant’s…” every time you enter the warm-up or in-gate? Know when to automatically use your tools.

4) Take Charge! To STOP negative brain chatter:  S – Say your thought stopper, T – Take time to breathe, O – Open your mind, and P – Put in your motivating motto.

Photo: 3rd place ribbon


By the end of the show, I couldn’t believe how often I said DING! Yes, I realize it’s normal that we have tens of thousands of thoughts racing through our minds every day.  But, boy, did I appreciate having tools to tackle the distracting ones. My thought stopper and motivating motto turned show day from worrisome to rewarding. I enjoyed the experience with my wonderful horse and felt proud of our accomplishment. The funniest part – someone actually said to me, “Nice ride! You looked really elegant”.

Enjoy the journey!

Check out this related post: Quit Sabotaging Results! Turn Negative Thoughts into Positives

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Make a Difference: Become a Horse Show Volunteer!

By, Liz Piacentini

This year, I volunteered at several horse shows and events. I witnessed the positive impact volunteering made on organizations, horses, riders and even the volunteers themselves. In fact, volunteering was such a rewarding activity, that I’m making a change in the New Year!

Image: Team Challenge Ribbons

Weatogue Stables Team Challenge awards – displayed at the Connecticut Dressage Association schooling show where Liz volunteered as a test runner & scorer.

After spending my professional life in the event planning industry, I understand the work that happens behind-the-scenes to coordinate a competition, clinic or class. If it wasn’t for the dedicated individuals who currently donate their time and talents to equestrian organizations, there would be no shows or educational programs!

I decided it was time to give back a little more. Besides, the muscles I pulled doing mid-summer yard work needed a chance to heal. Instead of competing, lending a helping hand would be a way to stay involved, provide support, and express gratitude for the events I’ve attended.

Initially, it felt strange to drive onto the show grounds without a truck packed with tack or my Canadian horse, Lyrical. Show organizers kindly answered my questions and quickly helped me get settled into my role. It didn’t take long to realize how volunteering helps equestrians learn and grow from a different perspective.


10 Reasons to Volunteer for Your Favorite Equine Organization –


1) Learn New Skills – A willing attitude is all you need! Start by reaching out to an association or riding club you already belong to. You may develop future career skills while working on a committee, or discover helpful insights from Dressage judges while learning to scribe.

2) Share Your Strengths – Your favorite non-profit may need the skills you’ve already acquired in your job or school. For example: writing articles, marketing, cultivating sponsors, web design, social media, and various administrative efforts lend support before an event and typically can be done from home.

3) Turn a Negative into a Positive – You strain your back or your horse gets an abscess. It happens! When you can’t compete, offer to volunteer. No need to stay home and feel left out when you can fit in, have fun, and make a difference.

4) Check out the Show Grounds – Get comfortable with a new venue without your horse! Being a ring steward or runner allows you to see a show in action. Let your mind’s eye absorb the sights and sounds of the competition ring. After all, visualizing your ride with the details of the actual arena is a great pre-show technique for boosting confidence and future performance.

5) Support Fellow Riders – There’s nothing like seeing the excitement on a friend’s face as they overcome a challenge or complete a great ride. Smiles are not only contagious, they make volunteering so worthwhile.

6) Discover Valuable Lessons – For example, one of my volunteer experiences was at the large Dressage4Kids Youth Dressage Festival in Saugerties, NY. As one of the scorers during Friday’s schooling show, I helped young riders learn how to score their dressage tests. The enthusiasm, riding abilities and team spirit these kids displayed was remarkable!

Now and then, I was reminded that a 4 isn’t the end of the world. These resilient young competitors proved that when we focus on making the rest of the ride the best of the ride, we can still end up with a pretty amazing test.

Meme quote: You don't have to be Perfect to be Amazing

7) Meet New Friends – When you already share common interests in a breed, discipline, or cause, friendships are easier to form.

8) Make a Difference – As an example, my passion for the Canadian horse, led me to join the Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society (CHHAPS). For the past three years, a group of New England members have come together to raise awareness of this endangered breed by organizing an educational booth, demo, lecture and breed display at Equine Affaire in West Springfield, MA.

As one of the coordinating volunteers, I’ve met some pretty amazing and dedicated Canadian horse fans. Little did we realize the impact this four-day expo would gradually produce! Together, we’ve helped new horse owners fall in love with a rare breed, increased memberships, raised funds, and made a difference for le Cheval Canadien.

Image: CHHAPS Volunteers at Equine Affaire

CHHAPS Volunteers: Lise Krieger, Jo Bunny, Liz Piacentini, Margo Killoran and Dave Southwick.

9) Boost Your Satisfaction & Well-being – Still need convincing? Recent studies show that getting involved in cultural activities, being outdoors, and volunteering are key activities for boosting health, reducing depression, and increasing satisfaction.

10) Receive Unexpected Tokens of Appreciation – A heart-felt “thank you” does wonders to let you know your work was appreciated. You might even leave with a swag bag of goodies, complimentary equine magazines, T-shirt, discount coupons from sponsors or other perks. But, you’ll always go home with a valuable experience.


As I reflect on the past year, I realize how much volunteering proved to be a rewarding activity. Giving back helped me recognize it’s time to add volunteering goals to my equestrian journey.

Think about your own goals for the New Year. Between organizations that support your favorite discipline, breed associations, Pony Club, 4-H, therapeutic riding programs, equine rescues and retirement facilities, the horse industry is filled with opportunities to get involved. The success of our equine associations depends on member participation!

Pledge to make a difference in the New Year by volunteering for at least one event. Your favorite organization is bound to have an opportunity where you can uncover rewarding experiences and valuable lessons.

Follow your passion and enjoy the journey!

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Improve Your Ride with Visualization: How to Create an Effective Mental Movie

By, Liz Piacentini

For many riders, sending in a horse show entry can trigger all kinds of worrisome thoughts. What if I forget my dressage test? What if I go off course? What if my horse has a melt down? Yup, that was me. Then I discovered a creative way to remember my dressage tests, improve my focus and boost my confidence. I put my imagination to work and practiced visualization. By mentally rehearsing my rides before show day, I learned how to strengthen my mental toughness and improve performance.

Strengthen Your Mindset and Your Muscles

At first, when bad weather or work-related responsibilities kept me out of the saddle, I visualized. I could always find 10-minutes to unwind after a hectic day and rehearse a great ride. The more I practiced, the more calm, confident, motivated and prepared I became. Visualization shifted my thoughts from dreaming up what-if’s to focusing on whatto-do.

Image Rider looking between horse's ears

Can visualization really improve performance? Yes!

Mental riding rehearsals have an amazing impact on what happens between our ears. Our brain can’t tell the difference between riding a real shoulder-in or one that’s imagined. Research shows that the more we repeat an action (real or imagined), the more we develop our brain’s neural pathways that trigger the action. The result: enhanced motor skill coordination and improved muscle memory – key ingredients for better performance in the saddle.

Getting Started

An easy way to start visualizing is to think of yourself as the director of your own mental movie. Practice! The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.


How to Create an Effective Mental Movie:


  1. Learn Your Lines: Select a Skill or Pattern – Determine the combination of fences you need to practice. Review your dressage test, reining pattern or vaulting routine. Get familiar with the flow of a specific movement or ride.
  1. Set the Stage: Get On-location – Find a comfortable place that’s free from distractions. Experiment with what works best. Sit on a chair in riding position or lie down for a more meditative experience. Either way, start with several deep, calming breaths to help you focus. 
  1. Imagine the Scene: Use Vivid Detail – Bring your mental picture to life by imagining all the sights, sounds and sensations of your ride. What color shirt are you wearing? Is his mane braided or blowing in the breeze? Do you smell fly spray? What is the texture of the reins? Do you hear an announcer or judge’s bell? Include specifics of the grounds. Are there white flower boxes or orange stadium fences? Visit a new venue before the show and notice the surroundings. If you can’t get there in person, check out the photos on their website.
  1. Support Your Co-Star – Consider your horse’s perspective! Scan your mental movie set for scenery your horse may find challenging. Your young horse might need more leg when you ask him to trot down centerline towards a Judge sitting under a beach umbrella. Anticipate challenges AND mentally rehearse successfully resolutions.
  1. Action! Film a Successful Performance – Watch your ride correctly unfold as if you were looking between your horse’s ears. Often called an Internal Riding Rehearsal, use this perspective to experience your ride as if you’re in the saddle. Strive for accuracy! You want to strengthen the right neural pathways and develop correct muscle memory.

Meme: Visualize the ride you want. See it, feel it, believe it.

  1. Use Slow Mo to Practice Difficult Movements – Was there a scene when you felt totally uncoordinated? Maybe you’re struggling with leg yields. Give your brain a refresher on the correct sequence of aids. Watch lesson videos or read pages from your riding journal that detail your trainer’s insights. Recreate the positive experience and feelings you had during a lesson in your mind.
  1. Add a Special Effect: Emotion – What do you need to FEEL in order to ride at your best? Raise your chin and open your shoulders to spark feelings of confidence. Take a deep breath and loosen your jaw to release tension. Imagine yourself sitting tall in the saddle with a calm and confident posture. 
  1. Change Camera Angles: Get Creative! – Watch yourself from an outsider’s perspective: through the eyes of a spectator, looking down from above, or through the eyes of the Judge. An External Riding Rehearsal draws your attention to the accuracy of your position or the movements of the horse. For example, would a spectator see your lower leg securely at the girth as your soar over a blue oxer, or has it slipped back? Would the Judge see a straight horse trotting down centerline, or one that’s drifting left?

Switch it up! Great movie directors change camera angles to enhance a scene and so can you. Let’s say you’re jumping a 3’ course. Start by looking between your horse’s ears as you rhythmically approach the first vertical. Then, switch to an external perspective as you jump the fence. Watch yourself maintain an ideal jumping position. Now, go back to your internal perspective as you align your horse with the center of the next fence and apply a half halt.

  1. Cut! Take 2: Re-shoot the Bloopers – Did your mind wander off course? Oops! Give yourself a mental half-halt and pick up where you left off. Loose a stirrup? Feel your boot slipping back into the stirrup while you calmly stay on course.

What if you imagined a spook that made your heart race? Time for a mental do-over with a positive ending. Riding rehearsals allow you to practice resolving challenges in the safety of your mind’s eye. If a spook happens during your actual ride, you’ll be more likely to maintain composure and apply an effective response. 

  1. Show Day! Replay your Highlight Reel – Mentally see yourself having a flawless ride. Keep your focus on the task at hand by continuing to visualize what to do and how to feel in order to ride at your best. 

Meme: The Secret of Achievement


Timeline Tips:

  • Start visualizing 3 weeks before a competition: 10-minutes of effective visualization 4-times a week is better than 1-hour the day before. It takes effective repetition to strengthen the neural pathways that lead to better coordination and muscle memory.
  • One Week Before: Watch daily re-runs of you and your horse performing at your full potential. Your brain should be so familiar with your mental movie that it’s imprinted in your mind as the new norm.
  • Two Days Before: Change your thinking from “me” to “we”. Describe the details of your movie to your horse. While grooming, use your finger to trace your test or course on his shoulder. “We turn left and maintain a forward rhythm through the corner…”
  • On Show Day: Focus on one test or course at a time. Reassure yourselves – we’ve got this!

Put your imagination to work. Create a mental movie before your next big ride to boost your confidence, focus and performance. Mentally plan your ride, then go ride your plan!

Enjoy the journey!

OPENING PHOTO: COPYRIGHT LYNNE ANN PHOTOGRAPHY

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10 Tunes for Equestrians: Music to Empower Your Ride

by, Liz Piacentini

Whether you need to motivate your mojo, crank-up your confidence or calm your concerns, music has an amazing ability to ignite action and inspire emotion. Just think of the last time your favorite tune came on the radio. You probably started moving to the beat as you turned up the volume. By creating a playlist of positive tunes, equestrians can use the motivational power of music to adjust their mindset before a show and during an important ride.

Image, truck radio playing motivating tunes

Riders may already be familiar with how the steady beat of music helps us feel rhythm.  For example, having a song in your head can help you maintain a consistent tempo at the trot. By creating a playlist of particular songs, you can build a resource of tunes that inspire the energy and emotions you need to ride at your best.

Research indicates that by listening to music we enjoy, we can increase optimism, lower anxiety, and boost creativity. Therefore, listening to music provides a fun way to obtain a more positive outlook! Need help getting started? Here are some of my personal favorites with meaningful lyrics for your rider playlist:


10 Songs to Empower and Inspire Your Ride:


EMPOWERING TUNES – Tell yourself, “I’ve got this!” with these energizing belief boosters:

  1. The Greatest, Sia – Get this tune stuck in your head before a cross country run or endurance ride:   …I see another mountain to climb. But I, I, I got stamina… Don’t give up, I won’t give up. Don’t give up. No, no, no. 
  1. Fight Song, Rachel Platten – The song for anyone who needs a dose of perseverance and determination:  This is my fight song. Take back my life song. Prove I’m alright song. My powers turned on. Starting right now I’ll be strong. 
  1. Firework, Katie Perry – Ignite your come-back plan and crank-up your self-belief: ‘Cause baby you’re a firework! Come on show ‘em what you’re worth…Come on let your colors burst.
  1. Best Day of My Life, American Authors – Go chase that dream:  I had a dream so big and loud. I jumped so high I touched the clouds…I’m never gonna look back. Whoa, never gonna give it up…This is going to be the best day of my life…
  1. On Top of the World, Imagine Dragons – Celebrate progress with some toe tapping motivation:  I’m on top of the world, ‘ey. Waiting on this for a while now. Paying my dues to the dirt. I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ey. I’ve been holding it in for a while, ‘ey… Been dreaming of this since a child. I’m on top of the world.

Meme quote- Let Music be your inspiration behind the dance

INSPIRING TUNES:  Re-set your mindset with tunes that remind you what to feel or what to do:

  1. Happy, Pharrell Williams – Start your day with a smile! We’re better at everything we do when we’re happy:  Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. (Because I’m happy) Clap along if you know what happiness is to you… 
  1. Three Little Birds, Bob Marley – Chase away the “what if’s” with three little birds:  Singing don’t worry about a thing. ‘Cause every little thing ’gonna be alright. 
  1. Living in the Moment, Jason Mraz – A great reminder to let ourselves off the hook, let the past go past and have more fun:  I’m letting go of the thoughts that do not make me strong… Living my life, easy and breezy, with peace in my mind… 
  1. Keep Your Head Up, Ben Howard – When you need to stay focused on completing the task at hand, with the horse you love, just remember:  Keep your head up, keep your heart strong… Keep your mind set in your ways, keep your heart strong.
  1. Jump, Van Halen – Need I say more?  You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real… Might as well jump! Jump! Go ahead, jump! Jump! 

Image , What's on your Playlist?

Whether you need to kindle energy or find relaxation, have fun creating the right mix of music to inspire peak performance. Then, before a competition or clinic, boost your self-belief and optimism by listening to your favorite tunes during the week before the event and while driving to the venue.

You might even discover that particular lyrics are meaningful to you. A short, powerful phrase within a song can become your motivating motto of encouragement. For example, “Easy and Breezy” may remind you to stay calm and enjoy the moment. “Head up, Heart strong” can be an affirmation that reminds you to keep your eyes up and continue on after a sudden spook. Repeating a motivating motto to yourself during your ride can help you focus on what to do or feel when you need it most.


Follow these tips to get the most out of the music you select:

  • Put your playlist on shuffle. Your brain won’t get used to hearing a repetitive pattern. Keep your music fresh with the element of surprise.
  • Give your playlist a rest when you’re not showing. Don’t let your favorite tunes lose their impact. Save your energy activators for the days before a big ride.
  • Remember you’re a TEAM. Create the right amount of energy for you and your horse. Be careful not to get yourself so pumped-up that you send tension to your horse. Find the balance between motivation and relaxation.
  • Change it up. New horse? New season? New goals? As we grow, our motivational needs change. Instead of trying to stay calm, perhaps now we need music to pump us up!

Listening to positive, motivating music is a great way to enhance the energy you need before a show and channel your concentration during a ride. Give it a try! Put a song in your heart, listen to your horse, and feel the rhythm of the ride.

Enjoy the Journey!

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Discovering Better Balance When Faced with the Unexpected

By, Liz Piacentini

Photo of Lyrical on trailA relaxing trail ride. That was the agenda my friend and I had planned for a particularly warm day in June. We tacked-up our horses and headed off towards the trail. The shaded woodlands would soon offer relief from the blazing sun. To get there, we rode along the side of a paved road for a short distance.

First, we heard the loud diesel engine. Then, we saw the garbage truck, rattling its way up the hill. Our horses swiveled their ears inside their fly bonnets as the noisy truck approached.

It was time to replace the “what ifs” suddenly fluttering into our minds with calming thoughts and actions.

Imagining We Were Spruce Trees

I had just finished reading Sally Swift’s Centered Riding book. As we approached an opening to a field bordered by evergreens, I remembered her spruce tree analogy.

“LaDene, let’s imagine we’re spruce trees!” I suggested. After a deep, calming breath, I began describing Sally Swift’s creative method to help riders feel securely balanced in the saddle with a following seat.

“Engage your core,” I called out over the growing rumble of the truck. “Your center represents the stable part of the spruce tree where it rises from the ground. Think of your legs hanging below this point as tree roots. Wiggle your toes. Feel your ‘roots’ reaching for solid ground.”

Image - stone wall along road

“Take a deep breath and be aware of your seat bones,” I continued. “Now, imagine your torso growing tall like a tree from your center towards the sun. Your tree trunk is strong, yet flexible. Relax your jaw. Open your shoulders. Let your arms softly hang like branches able to gently sway with the breeze. Allow your seat bones to follow the movement of the horse as he walks along.”

My friend, LaDene, was a good sport and played along as I did my best to recall Sally’s description. Our trusty steeds, Lyrical and Irish, willingly stepped inside an opening in a stone wall that lead us away from the road and into a field. The garbage truck barreled past at a good clip. All four of us watched with a sigh of relief.

Riding In the Present Moment

Photo of LaDene riding Irish

LaDene and Irish enjoying the trail.

We resumed our walk to the trail head. For some reason, we continued to imagine we were spruce trees. As we finally entered the cool, quiet woods, we found ourselves reaching down with our “roots” and growing tall with our “trunks”.

The gradual hills and occasional logs across the path tested our “tree” stability. We were so busy being spruce trees that we soon forgot about the garbage truck and focused on the simple pleasures along the trail. We truly enjoyed a sense of better balance and being present in the moment.

Our initial thoughts of “Oh, no!” had turned into “Oh, boy, look at that!”  We meandered around large patches of Mountain Laurel in full bloom. Ferns glistened in the sunshine that filtered in between the trees. Chipmunks scampered along the stone walls, while birds softly sang us their songs.  The air even carried a gentle breeze and earthy smells of the woods.

Our horses happily marched through their surroundings, periodically munching leaves that clearly needed pruning. Even the pesky bugs remained somewhat behaved as they danced around our ears.

Unexpected Lessons Learned

Did we enjoy our trail ride? We sure did! More so than we had anticipated. By imagining we were spruce trees, we replaced helpless thoughts of worry with a constructive course of action. We focused on the task at hand in order to stay calm when faced with the unexpected. Having a more secure position with better balance boosted our confidence and our effectiveness. Instead of gripping with fear, we stayed fluid and sent less tension to our horses.

Of course, remembering to breathe always helps! There’s nothing like a deep, centering breath to slow your heart rate and help calm your horse.

Give it a try! The next time you’re starting a trail ride, warming up your horse, or riding from the warm-up to the show ring, imagine you’re a spruce tree. We certainly discovered it worked wonders for improving our balance, confidence, focus and overall enjoyment.

Special thanks to the late Sally Swift for this helpful tool.

Enjoy the journey!

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Make Good Mistakes: Uncover the Lessons in Every Ride

By, Liz Piacentini

Image Quote, Sometimes we win, sometimes we learnSometimes we win and sometimes we learn. That saying rang true for me on one particular show day.

It was a chilly Spring morning that welcomed Lyrical and I to our first dressage show of the season. We finished our first test with big smiles, good-boy pats and respectable scores. Soon enough, the judge’s bell rang again and we trotted down centerline for our second ride. Little did I realize, I was about to experience a “sometimes we learn” moment.

I started off feeling pretty good. We finished our trot work and walk stretch with good basics and reasonable accuracy. Next came our canter work. We completed a nice 20-meter circle, continued down the diagonal, and promptly trotted at X. Whew! The hardest part was over.

Then it happened. Our right lead canter transition felt a bit sticky, so I gave Lyrical a quick tap with the whip. Off he went like a shot! I was so startled – my eyes must have grown to three times their normal size. My steady-eddy, obedient horse was now zipping down the long side like a freight train. The flying changes he added weren’t even part of the required movements.

Somehow, I turned him onto the outline of a squashed circle at E. I think we were three quarters of the way around when I managed to bring him to a trot. Yes, we were supposed to still be cantering, but I desperately felt the need to regain my composure and breathe again.

By the time we energetically trotted past the Judge at C, I had completed several deep, centering breaths. It was time to let go of what happened and focus on the next element of the test – the trot stretchy circle. The good news was that all this forward energy helped us develop an exceptional stretchy circle! As I gathered up the reins, I was even smiling inside over how springy and fluid it felt.

We managed to recover and ended squarely on a positive note at X.  I gave my final salute with a big sigh of relief.

Image of show ribbons


What was my big lesson learned?  Every ride provides plenty of subtle learning moments, but this test taught me one big lesson:

School with the same tack and equipment you’ll use at the show –  At home, I carried a well-loved dressage whip that was always hanging by the mounting block. It was one of several older whips available for boarders. For the show, however, I decided to bring my new whip with the fancy handle.

It turns out that I was the one who had startled him! While the bling may have looked fancy, the new whip was much stiffer. The longer length meant it reached a different part his flank. In reality, the same “tap” with the new whip delivered a more dramatic result – to say the least.

I could have easily discovered this, if I had schooled with the new whip in advance. From now on, I’ll be sure to test out anything new before a show!

What were my positive moments?  Despite my mistake, I left the show with an unexpected observation of what did work. Yes, our forward trot stretchy circle provided an excellent opportunity to experience a great technical moment – (and earn an 8)! But, it was my mental preparation that surprised me the most.

The Value of Visualization – During the weeks before the show, I visualized my rides each evening. I mentally rehearsed the movements and became really comfortable with the flow of the tests. I knew them so well that even when we suddenly went stampeding down the long side, I found myself circling at the correct letter – or at least somewhat close to it.

Often when we experience the unexpected, we become forgetful. We risk drawing a blank during our dressage test or jumping round. This ride taught me the value of visualization, a skill that proved to be much more than an effective way to remember my tests. What amazed me was how well I remembered them – even when the unexpected happened. I may have been caught off guard, but I stayed on track.


Meme Made a Mistake? Make it a good mistake. Learn from it

Coach Daniel Stewart has a wonderful term for being able to learn from our mistakes. He calls it having “mistakability”. We all make mistakes. Yet, it’s often how we respond to them that determines our resiliency and long-term progress.

Good mistakes are the ones we own and learn from.  They’re the ones we reflect upon and determine what specific actions we can do to prevent them from happening in the future. They help us become stronger and more adaptable under pressure.

Bad mistakes are the ones we fail to learn from.  We make excuses. We blame the weather, the footing, the Judge’s mood, or whatever else seems convenient.  We may even get “franky”, (frustrated and cranky), after making a mistake instead of focusing on a solution.


When I look back on that Spring show, I don’t even remember my first test, despite the fact that we placed well. My second test, however, won’t be forgotten any time soon. I learned a valuable lesson from my mistake, and I remembered to look for the good in every ride.

As a new season begins, I remind myself there is no perfect ride. Mistakes happen, but they can be our best teachers. Out of mistakes we can learn how to make our next ride a little bit better than the last. So, off we go. It’s time to uncover more valuable lessons from this season’s challenges and good mistakes.

Enjoy the journey!

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Turn Riding Dreams into Plans with a Goals Calendar

By, Liz Piacentini

Spring is my favorite time to fine-tune the riding goal I set back in January. I’ve already determined where I’d like my horse and I to be by October. The steps I need to get there, however, could really use some work. Creating a goals calendar works best for me. It helps me turn what I should work on into a specific plan of action for improvement.

Opening photo of calendar

Whether on-line or on paper, a goals calendar helps me break down my objective for the year into bite size chunks. I use one calendar to summarize the clinics and shows for my discipline. The instant timeline makes it easy to build a plan and prioritize my monthly and weekly learning opportunities.

I start by gathering the latest newsletters and publications from my favorite riding clubs and organizations. Then, I follow these simple steps:


How to Create a Goals Calendar to Plan and Prioritize your Progress:


Outline Your Options

  • Write upcoming events for your discipline on a calendar – Select events you are realistically comfortable traveling to. If two are offered on the same day, list both! Include seminars and clinics, not just competitions.
  • Add basic details – Include the farm name or location. What’s the clinic theme? Are shows schooling or recognized? Details help you select the best options.
  • Enter closing dates – Don’t miss out! Mark the dates shows and popular events need your entry.
  • Include work, school or family obligations – Block off your summer family vacation, annual business conference, or important school trip. But, keep your options open. List horse events available during these dates in case plans change.
  • Include other equine activities – Add volunteer work or courses.
  • Save room for FUN stuff – Write down that beach ride or trail day you’re planning with friends.
  • Add new events throughout the season – Continue to look for new opportunities as barns and organizations add to their event schedules.

Identify Your Stepping Stones

Your goals calendar now contains your personal collection of opportunities for learning, riding and testing your skills. Review the options available for each month. Which ones provide the best ways to develop your skills in a progressive manner? Which ones offer ideal experiences for your horse?  How many can you realistically attend?

Quote, a goal should scare you a little, & excite you a lot.Highlight two or more events you can commit to each month. These become your short-term goals – stepping stones of learning for you and your horse. For example, let’s say your first goal is to ride in a stadium jumping clinic coming to a new farm. You’ll get to sharpen technical skills while exposing your horse to a new venue. Your second goal is to return to the same farm and compete in a jumper show later that month. Set yourself up for building success.

Your trainer can help you identify the experiences best suited for you and your horse. Remember, you don’t have to show to have goals! Between ground work clinics, organized trail rides, equestrian sport psychology seminars, and symposiums to audit, there are plenty of non-competitive ways to keep your learning on track.

Add Supportive Actions

Look at the opportunities you highlighted. Think about how you can maximize the time between these stepping stones with effective supportive actions. Ask yourself what you need to do to prepare for each short-term goal. What are the possible road blocks you may face? Then, think of how you can overcome these challenges. Discuss your thoughts with your trainer. Determine the best proactive approach and ideal days for lessons.

Get creative! You may have to think outside the arena to tackle your road blocks. Do you need to work on trailer loading? Are you a stiff rider who could benefit from stretching exercises or yoga? If weekly lessons are beyond your budget, try watching training videos to supplement your learning. How about health and wellness for your horse? Maybe it’s a good time for a visit from the equine dentist. Using a calendar helps manage your time and reduce scrambling at the last minute.

Be Prepared for Change

We’ve all been there. Just when you feel completely on track, your horse gets an abscess before show day. Or, maybe you’re the one with a setback that prevents you from joining friends on a special trail ride. Whatever the unfortunate circumstance, now and then we may have to make the best of a disappointing situation.

Facing setbacks is one reason why I list multiple events for the same day on my calendar. My Plan B’s are already visible. If I can’t ride in a show, maybe I can volunteer or audit a clinic. Setbacks don’t always mean our goals come to a dramatic sliding stop. They may just need postponing. Seeing other options helps redirect our actions into resilient comebacks.

Quote, Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and a plan.Other times we may need to change our short-term goals. You and your young horse may not be ready for that big show at the end of the summer. What are the other available choices on your calendar? Changing doesn’t mean failing. You simply have the good sense to do what’s right for you and your horse and chose a different path for progress. In the long run, a local schooling show instead of a large recognized show may be what’s needed for a stronger foundation.

Get Started!

Have fun organizing your riding plans on a goals calendar. But remember, a plan only describes your intentions. So, get busy! Start doing the things that strengthen and motivate you to become a better rider. Venture outside your comfort zone and embrace opportunities with your supporters. After all, while it is rewarding to achieve a long-term goal, our real growth lies in the experiences, challenges, and change we experience along the way.

Enjoy the journey!

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How Riders Can Boost Their Positive Mindset with Gratitude

By, Liz Piacentini

Gratitude Blog Header

I recently read that one of the most effective and easy ways to cultivate positivity is by practicing GRATITUDE.   Simply write down what you are grateful for each day.  You can keep a riding journal or start a gratitude jar.  Either way, by practicing this simple skill, you’ll train your brain to first seek the positives as opposed to the negatives.

Sounded easy enough.  I decorated a jar and decided to give it a try.

Benefits of Gratitude for Riders

Having an attitude of gratitude shifts our perspective to a more positive outlook and helps us stay focused on the present.  For riders, this is exactly where we want our mindset to be!  When we ride with a positive present-state mindset, we are concentrating on the jump in front of us.  We’re not thinking of the rail we just dropped or the future ribbon we hope to win.   We’re focused on what we need to do in the moment instead of on the worrisome “what if’s”.

According to scientific expert, Dr. Robert Emmons, when we are grateful, we become better at deflecting negative thoughts.  We are even more successful at achieving our goals.  Basically, because gratitude is a motivating emotion, it leads us to eagerly take action.

Essentially, when we practice gratitude, we experience increased happiness.  When we are happier, our brains release hormones associated with self-belief and optimism.  The greater our self-belief and optimism, the better we are at building confidence and being resilient under pressure.

An Equestrian Gratitude Jar:  Same Concept, Different Twist

Gratitude jar with noteYou’ve probably heard of a gratitude jar.  Typical instructions suggest writing down 1-3 things you are grateful for, no matter how small, every day.  The key is to have daily appreciation for different feelings, people or experiences.  At the end of the year, read your notes and you’ll be amazed at the amount of positive experiences.

I decided waiting until New Year’s Eve to tip over my jar and read my moments of gratitude was too long to wait.  I honestly need a spark of motivation more than once a year! I quickly discovered how keeping a gratitude jar could be tweaked for equestrians.


How to Cultivate a More Positive Mindset with a Gratitude Jar:


  • Choose a small jar – small enough to store in your tack trunk where it’s easily accessible.  The jar itself is a visual reminder to look for things you’re grateful for.
  • Write down 1-3 thoughts of gratitude – after each ride, or visit with your horse.  Reflect on feelings and observations. Consider your supporters, accomplishments and lessons learned.
  • Date each note – to help monitor progress or mark achievements.
  • Re-read your notes MONTHLY – for frequent boosts of motivation.  Enjoy the opportunity to smile at the silly things and celebrate growth.  You may even notice useful feedback for your training program.
  • Display meaningful memories – At the end of each month, tape your favorite notes to the inside of your tack trunk or post them on a bulletin board.  Perhaps you felt totally re-charged after an amazing trail ride, or extremely thankful for your trainer’s insights as you completed a short-term goal.

Gratitude bulletin board image

Mentally reliving favorite moments provides more time for you to savor positive experiences.  According to psychologist, Dr. Rick Hanson, this is when the real change takes place in the brain.  The more we take time to absorb our good memories, the more our brain releases good neurochemicals.  The neurons that fire together, wire together!  Over time, our brain forms more pathways to positivity.

  • Build Team Support – Do you coach a team?  Start a team gratitude jar!  Place one larger jar, scrap paper and colored pens in a central location.  Inspire positive attitudes and stronger connections by having riders write down what they are grateful for after each practice and competition.  You may even discover riders sharing appreciation for each other.

A team jar is a creative way to remind riders that even mistakes are something to be grateful for.  Yup.  Inside every mistake is a hidden opportunity to learn and grow.


Keeping a gratitude jar is a simple way to reflect on the good times spent with your horse.  It’s easy to recall a proud moment you worked hard for at a horse show or the compliment received from a clinician.

More importantly, keeping a gratitude jar heightens our awareness of the little moments we appreciate by inspiring us to look for them in the first place.  Perhaps it’s being thankful your horse didn’t roll in the mud when you were short on time, or having an indoor arena to ride in on a rainy day.

Did the gratitude jar work?

Yes!  I actually had a more positive outlook after a few weeks.  I found myself looking on the bright side of numerous situations – even being stuck in a traffic jam.

So, get creative! Have fun practicing gratitude to train your brain to first look for the positives.  After all, happiness, self-believe, optimism and resilience are worth cultivating to help you ride at your best.

Treasure the simple pleasures and enjoy the journey!

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Quit Sabotaging Results! Turn Negative Thoughts into Positives

By, Liz Piacentini
Opening image of horse & riderHave you ever really paid attention to the mental dialogue chattering between your ears?  We all have thousands of thoughts racing through our brains every hour.  But, when these thoughts become overwhelmingly negative, our emotions can impact our motions when we ride.

Constant negativity fuels worry, reduces confidence and ultimately lowers performance. As equestrians, it’s essential to develop an awareness of our verbal and non-verbal dialogue and make every effort to keep it positive.  If not, we risk sabotaging our results – and the results of others!

My awakening to the power of positive thinking began several years ago, when I was studying for the Certified Meeting Professional exam.  After I became a CMP, I dedicated nine years to teaching a review course for fellow professionals preparing for the exam.  I witnessed how critical it was for study group participants to maintain a positive mindset.  Repeated negative comments had a way of becoming contagious, infecting everyone in the group with worry and self-doubt.

Cultivate positive thoughts, Grow better results. I kicked off each semester with a course overview for the experienced professionals. They all had qualified to sit for the exam, yet most felt overwhelmed by the volume of information and pressure to do well on exam day.

Comments like, “I can’t learn all this material,” “if only I was better at studying,” or “I’ll never pass this exam,” typically surfaced.  I knew that if the negative discussion wasn’t nipped in the bud, they could find themselves spiraling towards a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Hum, this reminded me of language I’d periodically hear from riders preparing for a dressage test!  I recalled my recent experience listening to Olympic coach, Jane Savoie.  Jane explained how top riders pay close attention to their self-talk and speech to avoid sabotaging their results.  They practice re-phrasing their inner dialogue to eliminate the negative elements.  This allows their sub-conscious mind to direct their thoughts, attitude and actions towards their goal instead of away from it.  Here are some examples:


Effective riders turn negative thoughts into positive pro-active statements:

  • I can’t, becomes: I can! 
  • I should take more lessons, becomes: I must.
  • I hate riding last in my class, becomes: I love riding last.
  • I’ll try to ride more often, becomes more committed with: I will ride more often.
  • If I could learn shoulder-in, becomes a determined action with: When I learn shoulder-in.
  • Don’t knock down a rail, becomes a reminder of what to do with: Ride with forward rhythm over each fence.

The first year I taught the course, I shared the value of this line of thinking with the class.  Participants soon sharpened their awareness and became each other’s speech police.  They worked together to re-phase statements doomed for gloom into positive affirmations.  Students who learned how to turn negatives into positives became more motivated, dedicated and successful.  The emphasis on positive thinking actually helped increase the overall confidence level and success of the whole group!

Yes, there were still moments when someone would get discouraged and yell, “Why can’t I get these definitions right?  Because I must be stupid!”  Of course, they weren’t stupid.  “Why” questions have a tendency to lead to lousy answers.  It was time to apply another one of Jane’s tips:


Ask a better question.  Jane had shared how WHY questions cause our brains to search for an answer that confirms why the problem exists.  By using WHAT or HOW, instead of WHY, we gain a solution-driven answer.  For example:

Challenge:  “WHY am I so nervous riding at shows?  Because I’m such a wimp who always falls apart!” 

Opportunity:  “WHAT strategies can I practice to increase my confidence and focus?”  “HOW can I better prepare to ride at my best?”


I shared the technique with the class.  Sure enough, the study group started replacing WHY with HOW or WHAT to uncover solutions.  The initial question now became, “HOW can I remember the definition?”, or “WHAT memory trigger can I apply for this word?”  After a bit of brainstorming, someone would come up with a catchy rhyme or silly reminder to get us laughing and plant the word’s definition in everyone’s head.

Like strengthening a muscle, re-programming our thinking is a gradual process that begins with awareness.  Once you become more aware of what you’re thinking, you might be amazed at the amount of negative self-talk you hear!  The truth is, we are hard-wired to experience more negative thoughts than positive thoughts.  It’s an evolutionary mechanism dating back to our cave man days to help us escape potential threats.

Does this mean everyone in the class developed the ability to dismiss all their negative thoughts and worries about exam day?  Of course, not.  But when negative self-doubt became a distraction, they recognized the opportunity to reset their thoughts and choose a solution-driven alternative.  Oh, exam day jitters would still be there.  However, instead of staying focused on the anxiety, they could redirect their attention towards what they needed to do to succeed.

I may have been the teacher, but the experience taught me a valuable lesson.  Our thoughts either motivate us toward success or away from it.  As riders, we can choose thoughts that build us up, increase our confidence, and sharpen our focus.  Or, we can choose thoughts that break us down, generate self-doubt, and create distraction.

Take a dose of the letter C image

Need some help getting started?  Follow Coach Daniel Stewart’s advice – take a dose of the Letter C.  Why C?  Because the greatest number of positive feelings begin with C.  Select the emotions that identify you at your best.  Then, imagine yourself Confident and Calm and act that way!  Raise your chin and take a calming deep breath.

Whether you ride in a lesson program, on a competitive team, or with fellow boarders on the trail, practice turning negative thoughts into positives.   You’ll cultivate a more supportive atmosphere that boosts each other’s confidence and inspires better performance.  Apply these tips the next time you get a case of the negative notions and unlock an opportunity to ride at your best.

Enjoy the journey!

Opening photo: Copyright Lynne Ann Photography

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