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!

Start a Riding Journal to Improve Performance and Well-being

-By, Liz Piacentini

Have you ever experienced a great lesson only to find yourself struggling to remember your trainer’s valuable insights a week later?  If this sounds familiar, keeping a riding journal may provide the ideal solution.  Journaling not only helps you retain technical instruction, it allows you to re-live awesome moments in the saddle, monitor progress and even improve your personal well-being.

Journaling photo

For five dollars or less, you can purchase anything from a hard-covered journal with an inspirational cover to a simple spiral notebook.  The best option is to choose something portable to keep in your tack box, truck or wherever you’ll have easy access.  Yes, you can use your favorite electronic device, but the key is to determine what you’re most likely to use.

After a memorable ride, lesson, or clinic, find a quiet place to jot down your meaningful memories.  Writing an entry within 24-hours of putting your horse away will help you capture the most detail.  Let your thoughts flow without worry of grammar or spelling.

Need help starting a journal?  Practice these brain triggers to get your pen busy writing:

List your trainer’s key instructions or repeated phrases.  In today’s hectic world, our minds are already on overload juggling work or school, family, and barn chores.  Instead of feeling anxious about trying to remember the sequence of aids you just practiced, write them down!  Make a simple list of the phrases that stood out during the lesson. The act of writing helps us process the information and retain the technical skills we’re learning.

Describe one meaningful moment in the saddle – As riders, we work hard to experience those few strides when our trainer shouts, “Yes, that’s it! Awesome!”  Describe what you did and how you felt leading up to that moment when your horse (and you) earned a big pat.  Don’t skimp on the details either.  What was the weather? Were you riding indoors or outside?  The more vividly you can describe the ride, the better you’ll be at re-experiencing the lesson mentally when you re-read your journal.

Write down three things you’re grateful for –  Practice searching for the positives and you’ll be more likely to ride with a positive mind-set. Studies by Harvard researcher, Shawn Achor, have shown that when we have an attitude of gratitude we experience greater optimism and increased happiness.  In fact, when we are happier, we can increase overall performance by 31%!  Now that’s a performance edge worth working on.

Reflect on time spent with your horse – Not every entry has to recount the technical elements of a lesson.  Sometimes we do our best planning, goal setting and decision making while enjoying a hack, grooming our horse, or even mucking a stall!  Use your journal to record your plans or to recall the simple pleasures at the barn that made you smile.

Journals-replace frustration and neg thinking with positive memories

Keeping a journal doesn’t require a lot of time – just consistency.  Regularly recording your thoughts helps turn journaling into a habit.  Be creative and feel free to add a personal touch.   There isn’t a section for judge’s comments in the back of your book to worry about!  Try these ideas for personalizing your journal and make re-reading your notes more beneficial:

  • Add a Photo – You’ve been working hard on developing a good position over fences and a friend happens to capture one of your best jumps on camera. Add the photo to your journal!  It’s a great way to record progress and visualize your ideal form in the saddle each time you read the entry.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
  • Insert an Article – Imagine a lesson where your trainer is explaining how to perform shoulder-in. You’ve got a basic understanding, but still feel uncoordinated when practicing the movement.  Then, you discover a magazine article that breaks down the aids with simplified illustrations.  Bingo!  Add the article to your journal to compliment your lesson notes.  Re-reading your entry and the article may spark an “a-ha” moment.  Three-ring binders work great for this style of journaling.
  • Include a Favorite Quote –Did your motivation get a boost from a quote you stumbled upon? Add it to your journal!  Inspiring words of wisdom help us build positive momentum during times when we feel stuck.

Motivational Journal cover image

Once you start a journal, read it!  Re-reading your notes allows you to recall great advice from trainers, identify behavior patterns, monitor improvements and re-live great experiences.

Have a highlighter handy for any light-bulb moments.  Remember that phrase your trainer repeated during your lesson a few weeks ago?  It may take on a whole new level of meaning after a clinician words the same concept differently.   We’ve all heard things like “heels down” a thousand times.   Maybe it’s the day we hear “toes up” that suddenly adds technical clarity.

Feeling frustrated with your progress?  Reading about a previous great moment in the saddle can do wonders for boosting self-esteem and reminding us we are capable of working through challenges.  Re-living memorable moments gives us the opportunity to strengthen our learning, improve our positivity, and enhance our well-being.

Start a riding journal, and over time, you’ll develop a personal reference manual for tips, techniques, best practices and motivation.

Enjoy the Journey!