Emotional Stress: Responding Instead of Reacting

Candice King and Kismet 50 in the $75,000 Adirondack Grand Prix in Lake Placid, New York. Photo © Adam Hill.

By Cathy Penrod

Emotional stress involves how well our needs and desires are being met by what we’re doing, how excited and enthusiastic we are about doing it, and whether we have the emotional control to be able to choose how to respond, instead of react, to any given situation.

The opportunities to learn to control our emotions occur frequently in our riding. When looking at the various aspects of our life, relationships, schooling, and competing, we will find that in nearly every case, our emotional reactions are due to our interpretations of what is happening around us.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Sometimes, we make interpretations that lead us to be upset with something that’s happened or something that someone has done or said. Something has “pushed our buttons,” and the reaction is met with negativity, instead of choosing a different way to respond. The key thing to remember is that when our energy is focused on our upset, there’s less of it available to use in our performance.

It’s important to recognize that someone, or even our horse, only can push a button that already exists. So if we’re riding and are known on how well we can perfect our distance, rhythm or movement and someone says something derogatory about our riding skills, we’re likely going to laugh it off. But, if we are struggling with our ride, we might take the comment personally and get very upset by the remark. That remark only pushes a button if the button already exists within us. In other words, if we doubt our ability in some area and someone (or a result of our action) reinforces that belief, our button gets pushed. If the “button” is something our horse does, as in spooking in the same corner even though they have been by it at least 100 times and we respond by assuming it will continue to happen, the energy we emit to our horse is that there truly is a monster waiting to attack, and since there is success of a button pushed, the result can be a negative reaction and our frustration builds.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

When the button is pushed, you become “emotionally hijacked” and your performance suffers.

So how do we learn to respond objectively instead of taking things personally and reacting emotionally? First – stop and take a deep breath. Ask some questions – am I acting appropriately? What else may really be going on here? What did I take it to mean (about me)? What is my button?

Then, knowing this, let’s ask ourselves how we would like to handle the situation should it come up again, or what we could do differently the next time.


Cathy Penrod is a certified professional Performance Specialist with 34 years of knowledge of the equestrian world and has more than 19 years of leadership, mentoring and coaching experience. Cathy specializes in helping riders break through internal barriers, conquer nerves, and take their performance to the next level using customized programs such as The Spur Factor Process and COR.E Performance Dynamics.


Find out more about Cathy and EquiCoach at: www.equicoach.net [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 print edition of The Plaid Horse.