For most riders, the barn is their happy place. The saddle, a spot to de-stress and enjoy life. But as with any sport, striving for perfection or working to obtain specific goals can result in anxiety, frustration and even anger. However, unlike other sports, an equestrian’s partner is not an inanimate object but a living, breathing being that can sense emotions and reacts accordingly.
Riders can easily fall into the trap of letting their emotions overcome them in the tack. When negative emotions, even anger, take over the ride both horse and rider suffer. Fortunately, there’s several tactics riders can employ to help manage their negative emotions and make their time in the tack more enjoyable!
When negativity comes creeping in, the first thing to do is breathe. Take a break from the task at hand and spend a moment on self-reflection. Notice how the body reacts to stress, as each person will have different reactions.
Physical reactions to stress are easily perceptible to horses. When a horse feels its rider is stressed, they too will become anxious and worried.
Were you holding your breath? Is your heart racing? Are your shoulder muscles tight or your jaw clenched?
According to the American Institute of Stress, deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and promotes calmness. Inducing relaxation in your body has lots of positive effects including reducing heart rate, relaxing muscles and decreasing blood pressure.
2. Talk it out
Talking about issues as they emerge can make problems seem more easily solvable. If there is a trainer or other trusted equine professional available, brainstorming ideas with them may help in finding solutions to the road blocks that arise.
No one around to talk to? Try talking to your horse or yourself!
Opening a dialogue aloud with yourself can have the same beneficial effects as talking to a trusted professional. Chances are you already know the steps to take to solve the problem you are faced with. Giving yourself a lesson or verbalizing the necessary steps to take can help you systematically tackle any frustration your horse may throw at you.
Discussing your feelings with your four-legged partner can also help you overcome negative emotions. Most riders agree that their horse is a trusted confidant and close personal friend. Try opening up to them about issues to both overcome stress and reinforce the bond you share with your horse.
3. Shake things up
While working towards specific goals, riders can easily find themselves repeating the same exercises with their horses day in and day out. Drilling the same task during each ride can become boring and difficult for horses, as well as frustrating for riders when they feel there is little or no progress.
To combat stress and frustration from the feeling of stagnation, try shaking things up. A simple change in routine such as riding outside of the arena, riding bareback or going on a trail ride can bring the fun and enjoyment back to riding.
4. Listen to music
Listening to music while doing barn chores or even in the saddle can help reduce stress or change one’s mood. According to one study music can be used to promote a sense of well-being. It can also improve the listener’s mood and decrease anxiety.
Stressed from a long work day before heading to the barn? Your favorite song may help turn your mood around. Try something upbeat to boost your enthusiasm, or something slow and soothing to help you relax before you saddle up.
5. Ride with friends
Just like horses are herd animals and seem happier with a few buddies, riders can benefit from the company of other while in the tack. Having other people around can make schooling a horse a more enjoyable experience. From the ability to talk and bounce ideas off each other, to acting as a distraction from negative emotions that may arise, riding with friends can be a useful tool for the stressed out rider.
6. Forget the agenda
The pursuit of improvement, or even perfection, in the equestrian world is a frustrating one to say the least! When rides get difficult and negative emotions begin to set in, it can be difficult to walk away from the task at hand. However, anger, frustration and stress have no place in the saddle, so when these emotions overcome you it can be beneficial to end the ride and try again later.
Forgetting your agenda and doing what’s best for you and your horse’s mental and physical well-being will put you one step forward for the next ride.