By Tonya Johnston, MA
From having peppermints in your pocket at crucial moments, to your job as iPad videographer, to helping organize healthy eating habits—your days as a horse show parent are packed. Perhaps you aren’t the one in the spotlight, but don’t underestimate how much influence your energy, behavior and attitude affect your young athlete as you move through your day. There is so much potential for you to model confidence and composure, as well as be a positive force on the team. As you know, this can be a challenging job at times (or always). Therefore, it’s a good idea to arm yourself with a variety of strategies to help you take advantage of your opportunities.
Have a Plan in Place
Although last minute things will always come up, having a plan for how you can help before everyone is in the (literal and figurative) heat of the moment is invaluable. Ask some questions of your athlete prior to the show to establish and define your role. “How can I help you before each class?” “Tomorrow is going to be really hot, how do you want me to help make sure you eat and drink throughout the day?” “How can I support you when you come out of the ring?” Starting with questions before the show can open a dialogue that conveys respect and honors that you will both have good ideas about managing the routine. This open communication and team approach will also lead to a mutual understanding of the plan—helping you all feel comfortable during the important moments of the day.
Trust the System
A show day is the time to demonstrate trust in both your trainer and your child. At this point your athlete’s mental and physical skills are what they are, all of the training and warm-up methods are in place, the horse or pony is set and ready, and your job is to simply support what everyone has brought to the party.
This concept is best actualized by reminding yourself that you believe in all of the players on your team, and that you trust the experiences of the day to be valuable in the growth of your rider. To demonstrate this trust to your rider you can say things like, “Trust yourself, all of your hard work and practice goes with you into the ring!” or “You are prepared to ride your plan, I trust your focus and determination.” You can provide encouragement to your child’s trainer such as, “I know all of your hard work gives ______ a wonderful opportunity to shine, thank you.”
Monitor your Energy Level
Everyone can get nervous, worried or stressed by the uncertainties of a horse show—parents included! It’s perfectly understandable to feel a storm of emotion from time to time; the most important factor is how you deal with it. Making an effort to maintain your composure is essential to demonstrate to your child that it can be done, and gives them examples of how to handle the ups and downs of competition gracefully. Utilize breathing techniques, centering and self-talk as needed to maintain positive, proactive attitude. Is it easy? No. It takes awareness, effort, maintenance, and attention, but it is very, very important.
Follow Your Own Healthy Routine
Whether it’s early morning yoga or stretching in the hotel room, a long walk or run at the horse show, or working on a project of your own that can travel with you (reading, writing, work, knitting, etc)—creating time for your own healthy routine is valuable on many levels. Being flexible about your methods and schedule, while taking care of yourself will not only boost your resilience it will show your child the importance of self-care. You will also find that you have greater patience and lower stress levels when you create some balance in your day (no matter how small) to address your own needs.
Keep a Long-Range Perspective
Keeping a long-range perspective about your child’s growth as an athlete benefits you both immensely. Remember that the real top prize in any class is improved skills, a deeper level of awareness, fun and getting to experience the exquisite teamwork inherent in riding a horse. Winning is great too, but it is icing on the cake, not the whole dessert.
Appreciate and discuss how each show-ring experience advances them toward their goals due to the lessons learned (be sure to ask about what those were) and the opportunity to be in the show ring. No one class or ride is the be-all end-all because one class, good or bad, will never define them as a rider. Sharing what you are proud of in their behavior and effort, both in and out of the ring, is another excellent way to provide a stable, calm foundation for your rider to lean on.
Tonya Johnston, MA is an equestrian mental skills coach, author and A-circuit competitor with a master’s degree in sport psychology. Her book, “Inside Your Ride: Mental Skills for Being Happy and Successful with Your Horse” is available on Amazon.com. Tonya can be reached through her website TonyaJohnston.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonyajohnstoncoach.
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 print edition of The Plaid Horse.