Get Fit and Focused for the Riding Season:

UPDATED May 17: Due to COVID-19 and recommended health precautions, the workshop dates have been postponed. Once the Connecticut reopening guidelines permit groups larger than 5 people to gather at restaurants, we will reschedule the dates with Lost Acres Vineyard. Follow Between Our Ears on Facebook and watch for event postings containing full details. Please contact Liz at with any questions.

Make it a half-day retreat! Schedule per program:

  • 12:30-1:45 PM ~ Yoga for Riders with Rachel Little, (optional). Additional fee of $15 payable at the door. Bring a yoga mat.
  • 2-5:00 PM ~ Unmounted workshop with guest speaker, Liz Piacentini of Between Our Ears. $35 in advance. Includes seminar and refreshments/cheeses.
  • 5-6:00 PM ~ Continue the conversation in the tasting room! Fabulous wines available for purchase.

Riders gain different mental fitness tools at each event to help them boost confidence, sharpen focus and ride at their best. Open to all disciplines.

See you at Lost Acres Vineyard later this season. New program dates TBD!

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Summer Goal Challenge: 3 Months, 3 Actions and 3 Good Things

Meme Quote: Consistent small steps lead to amazing results

You’ve probably heard that if we improve our riding by 1% each day, we’ll be 100% better in 100 days. OK, great! But how consistently do we ride our horses with the self-discipline to actually be 1% better every ride?

Boost your success with a plan for progress. Instead of “seeing how the summer goes,” take the summer challenge! Follow this simple plan to make steady progress toward your summer goal. It’s a great way to cultivate effective habits and a more positive mindset whether you’re an avid competitor or budding equestrian.

Step 1:  Identify Your Summer Goal

What would you like to accomplish by the end of August? What would you feel proud to learn or improve?

Whatever your goal is, be specific. For example, “to ride with forward rhythm and accurate distances over a 2’ stadium course” is better than, “I’m going to work on my jumping”. Make it challenging, yet achievable in three months. After all, growth means stretching your comfort zone, so you should feel challenged!

Now, write it down. Use a notebook, start a riding journal, or post it on a Summer Goal Challenge board in your barn that gets other riders involved. By writing your goal statement, you:

  1. Strengthen your commitment – You send a message to your sub-conscious mind that this is important to you. 
  2. Build support – Coaches, family and friends can support you more effectively when they know what you’re working on.

Need help determining your goal? Ask yourself these five questions, then discuss your thoughts with your trainer.

Photo of rider writing goal on challenge board

Step 2:  Take Action! For 3 Months, Complete 3 Actions a Week and Find 3 Good Things in Every Day

3 Months

Commit to the challenge for June, July and August.

3 Actions – What we DO

Complete at least 3 actions each week that move you closer to your goal. Actions can be mounted or unmounted. They don’t even need to involve your horse! For example, activities such as watching a training video, or visualizing yourself riding at your best, can easily be done at home.

Completed actions become stepping stones on your path to progress. Strive for a variety of activities from the four foundation categories below to strengthen both horse and rider. Don’t forget to add steps that develop your mental fitness! Mental fitness skills help you tackle show-jitters, sharpen focus, and boost confidence when you need it most.

  • Technical Skills – what you’re working on with your trainer, (i.e. your position in the saddle and your ability to perform the skills needed for your chosen discipline).
  • Rider Fitness & Wellness – physical fitness, nutrition, and health – even your brain health. Function at your fullest! Recharge with stress busters such as getting a restful sleep, meditation, breathing exercises, and enjoying a good laugh.
  • Horse’s Fitness & Health – conditioning exercises, appropriate warm-up and cool down, veterinary care, hoof and dental care, saddle fit, feed and nutrition, turnout…
  • Mental Fitness – sport psychology tools, (i.e. visualization, music motivation, positive self-talk, creating a pre-ride routine or a motivating motto…). Follow the links to learn how to cultivate these educational tools.

Remember, it’s at least 3 actions a week. The higher you set your goalpost, the more actions you’ll need to complete. Sample actions may include:

  • Rider A:
  1. Take a lesson.
  2. Recap the details of the lesson in my riding journal. Review my notes before I school my horse on my own.
  3. Watch a YouTube video showing a top rider performing these skills.
  • Rider B:
  1. Do 25 sit-ups each day for a stronger core.
  2. Read a book or article about something I’m learning.
  3. Cut out a magazine photo of a rider in excellent jumping position. Study the photo before I ride. Visualize myself in that ideal position when schooling over fences.
  • Rider C:
  1. Memorize my dressage test.
  2. Have my saddle checked by a reputable fitter.
  3. Add hill work to my riding routine to strengthen my horse’s hind-end.

3 Good Things – What we THINK

Start or end each day by naming 3 good things about your day. Train your brain to look for the good stuff, even if some days you have to look a little harder. Find the good in a challenging situation, recall a moment that made you laugh, or name someone or something you’re grateful for. Good things can happen at the barn, during a lesson or while at home.

  • Sample Day 1:
  1. Smiled when my horse nickered as I approach his paddock.
  2. Finished my jumping session with a clean round after having several rails down.
  3. Enjoyed my favorite healthy meal for dinner with family.
  •  Sample Day 2:
  1. Strong wind kept the bugs off the horses during today’s trail ride.
  2. Proud of my horse for bravely crossing a stream without hesitation.
  3. Spent time with my barn friends while cleaning tack after our ride.

Focusing on the good things helps you develop a positive mindset. You’ll broaden your ability to look on the bright side, appreciate the good, and feel happier. This comes in handy, because when we’re happy, our brain releases endorphins – the feel-good hormones related to boosting optimism, positivity and self-belief. So, the next time you experience a difficult class or ride, you’ll have a better chance of remembering your strengths and finding a solution.

Let the Summer Goal Challenge Begin!

Have fun practicing daily positivity and embracing a variety of learning opportunities – at the barn and at home. Explore books, videos, clinics and classes. Build your technical skills and sport psychology tool box, while taking care of yourself and your horse. When you reach your goal – Celebrate! Chances are, even if you face a setback, you’ll discover helpful and healthful habits to practice long after the Summer ends.

Enjoy the Journey!

-Liz Piacentini

Liz riding Lyrical on his 18th birthday, June 3, 2019.

Liz Piacentini enjoys the journey of learning with her Canadian Horse, Lyrical. She is a certified seminar presenter of Coach Daniel Stewart’s Pressure Proof Your Ride equestrian sport psychology program. This summer, her goal is to earn continuing education credits and volunteer hours needed to become a PATH International ESMHL, (Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning).

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Goal Setting for Riders: 5 Questions to Jump Start Your Progress

The arrival of a New Year typically gets riders thinking about their goals. If you’re like me, you have an idea of what you’d like to accomplish by the end of the season. However, determining the effective short-term goals that get you there – well, that could use some work. By asking myself a series of probing questions, I’ve discovered a helpful way to uncover the specific actions I need to complete in order to reach my long-term goal.

Meme: Dreams are where you want to end up. Goals are how you get there.

First, it’s important to establish a long-term goal for the season. This goal clarifies what you want to accomplish and provides a sense of purpose. Having a goal transforms the “I’ll see how it goes” mentality into a course of action. As a result, we’re more likely to use our schooling time effectively, move towards our desired result, and obtain a rewarding sense of accomplishment.

If you haven’t set a goal for the year, go ahead and dream! Brainstorm some realistic dreams and use the information to create a specific long-term goal. Then, answer the following questions (my favorites) to fine-tune your goal and identify the specific actions you’ll need to turn dreams into reality.  

 Five questions to jump-start your goal setting process:

#1 – What is it about riding that you truly love? Ask your heart. Really think about what makes you smile. Identify what YOU enjoy working on with your horse. 

Having a long-term goal that’s personally meaningful increases your chance of success. Focus on what you really enjoy, not what coaches, parents or peers expect you to do. Setting your goal from a place of internal motivation connects you to your passion and gives you a deeper sense of purpose. When challenges arise, you’ll be more committed to finding solutions and moving forward.

#2 – What simple action can you take to kick-off your journey?

Bring procrastination to a halt by completing an immediate action goal – one simple thing you can do in minutes or hours to start moving forward. It doesn’t even have to involve your horse! But it should spark your interest and motivate you to continue.  

Perhaps your goal for the year is to ride in four competitions that are part of an area series of shows. Your immediate action goal could be to join the hosting association, review their year-end awards qualifications, and add the show dates to your calendar. Easy! (Okay, that’s three simple things.)

Meme Quote: You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be Great.

#3 – What’s holding you back from reaching your goal?  

Be proactive! List any obstacles that could limit your success. Then, brainstorm solutions. This will help you create a course of action to manage or overcome challenges before they zap your motivation or derail your progress.  

This may include technical skills to learn in order to move up a level or tack to acquire in order to compete in a new discipline. Maybe you’re concerned about finding sufficient funds for a lesson program. Can you help with barn chores in exchange for lessons? Do you have tack you’re not using that could be sold?

#4 – Where are you stuck in a comfort zone? 

Sometimes we get so cozy in our comfort zone that it limits our ability to advance. Think about what makes you uncomfortable, but deep down you know you have to overcome it in order to achieve your long-term goal.

Perhaps you’ve gotten really comfortable schooling independently at home. You’d like to start showing, but feel uncomfortable riding in front of a crowd. Establish gradual opportunities to build confidence. Your first short-term goal could be taking two lessons in front of a group of friends, followed by riding in one semi-private session at a small clinic. Checking off short-term or process goals from your list creates a feeling of “YES! I did it!” – which further boosts self-confidence and the motivation to continue.

#5 – What can you do OUT of the saddle that would enhance your effectiveness IN the saddle?   

For example, a pleasure rider would really like to take her horse on an organized trail ride, but he’s terrible about trailer loading! Add short-term goals focused on ground work to improve the horse’s trailer loading skills.

I love this question, because many out-of-the-saddle goals provide us with activities to work on during Winter months, rainy days – or even from home! Unmounted actions also strengthen our mental fitness when behavioral and emotional short-term goals are part of the process.    

  • BEHAVIORAL – (short-term goals that build better behaviors)
    • taking a Yoga or Pilates class for better rider fitness
    • watching specific training videos or reading recommended books to advance your understanding of a training concept

(Click the above links to learn how to apply these suggestions)

Once you’ve uncovered what you need to work on, you’ll have an easier time writing specific short-term goals – your stepping stones – that will move you towards your desired result. To maximize your success, create technical, behavioral AND emotional goals. Add realistic deadlines to each short-term goal to create your intended timeline. This forms your personalized action plan that can be organized in a goals calendar or riding journal. A calendar or journal is a great place to mark important dates, record feedback, make adjustments (yes, manure happens), and monitor your progress.

Meme quote: The real value of setting goals is not the recognition or awards; it's the stronger rider we become by finding the commitment and courage to achieve them.

Dreaming about a goal is the easy part. Turning that vision into reality requires planning and commitment. So, go for it! Dream big, follow your heart, and get started by identifying the particular short-term goals you’ll need to move forward with confidence.

Enjoy the journey!

  -Liz Piacentini

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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:

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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!


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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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