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).

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:

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!

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!

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!

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!

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!

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!