Category Archives: positive thinking

No stirrups November? No problem!

At first they thought I was joking…an entire month of lessons without stirrups? But why?

When I first started implementing “No stirrups November” a few years ago, I think most of my students lasted around 2 weeks before convincing me into letting them have their stirrups back. It’s not as if we didn’t practice without stirrups over the course of the year, but we never made it the full month. But this year, we ARE going to make it to 30 days!

I know it sounds scary (and trust me, I know how much it can hurt!) but riding without stirrups is a challenge, it takes us out of our comfort zone and it makes us better riders.

Most coaches would agree that riding without stirrups is necessary for all riders:

“Those looking to bring their riding to a higher level will benefit greatly by riding without stirrups. Riding without stirrups will help to make a rider more balanced, stronger and secure in the saddle. The most important reason to make it a consistent part of a rider’s weekly riding routine is that it will help improve your seat. By improvising your seat, you will improve your feel, and by improving your feel in the saddle, you will ultimately become a better rider. Once a rider has put in the time and effort to develop a world class seat, it’s equally important for the rider to maintain their seat by riding without stirrups on a consistent basis.” (USHJA certified trainer Scott Lico)

We are now into our 2nd week of “No stirrups November” at Foxwood. I have started all of my students off slowly, with each rider going without stirrups for a little bit longer at each lesson. For our beginner riding students, who are still working on developing their balance, no stirrup work may simply involve taking their feet out of the stirrups at a walk and then putting them back. A small exercise but with big benefits – not only improving their balance but their confidence.

Our novice riders are confidently riding at the sitting trot without stirrups and are building muscle strength to try posting trot without stirrups, while our intermediate and advanced students are working on bending exercises as well as cantering without stirrups.

So, what really ARE all of the benefits of riding without stirrups?

1. Strengthening the leg
Everyone knows that riding without stirrups is a common exercise used to strengthen a rider’s leg, so a month without them is a great way to focus on just that. The rider’s leg becomes stronger and more useful in the long run.

2. Improving leg position
This goes along with strengthening. Posting off of the stirrups is a common mistake that many riders make and they don’t realize that they are doing it. When there is no stirrup iron to balance off of, the rider must use their muscles to hold their leg in place in order to stay on their horse. This helps eliminate any instability of the rider’s leg and it improves correctness.

3. Preparing the rider
Any rider that shows may know that sometimes in an equitation class, they may be asked to drop their stirrups. It also prepares the rider for any situation, whether at a show or at home, that involves them losing a stirrup and then subsequently, their balance.

4. Building balance and improving a rider’s seat
It is easy to stay in the saddle when stirrups are there for support, but when there is nothing to rely on, it forces the rider to use their seat to remain balanced. A rider’s seat is an essential aid that becomes especially useful when riding “green” horses or more difficult horses.

5. Developing confidence
Not every rider is keen to ride without stirrups as there is always the fear on falling off. Working at their own pace, improving with each lesson without stirrups, gives each rider a sense of accomplishment.

We are going to be stronger by the end of November and who knows?
Maybe my students will suggest we continue it into December…and add some jumping WITHOUT stirrups;)

Until next time,
Robyn

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Still smiling after a “no stirrups november” lesson

Horse Coach Corner #FromWhereIStand – Lessons learned from my Students

The good days show smiling faces, the bad days have tears…but as a coach (no matter what sport), you learn to take the good with the bad and learn from them.

As we celebrate National Coach Week this week, I am grateful to all of my students, present and past for the impact they have all had on MY life. The role of the coach is to guide and mentor others; however, little is said about the role that the student has on the coach.

I started off coaching at my farm in 1999 with some of my neighbour’s children. I had my older horse at the time, who was a great school master and I knew that she was the perfect horse to teach young children how to ride as she was very calm and gentle. I had to develop beginner lesson plans; focusing on the basics starting with grooming and leading, to tacking up and getting on a horse for the first time – things you take for granted as a more experienced rider. It reminded me of how much there is to learn when horseback riding, how much time goes into our sport and how learning, is a process to advancing.

As my lesson barn began to grow, so did my desire to start taking my students to horse shows off property. 2013 was the first official year of the “Foxwood Farm Show Team” with only 3 riders. It then grew to 13 show riders in 2015 and now, in 2017, we have 20 competing show riders! Coaching offsite, in a competitive environment, has different challenges than coaching at home: there is the stress of how the ponies/horse will behave, which is beyond anyone’s control; there is dealing with the nerves of the rider and teaching them to focus on their riding, improving with each round and not just on winning a ribbon; there are the expectations of the families, who have invested time and money, to see their riders do well; and of course, my own expectations of wanting my students to have a positive show experience. Over the last 4 years, I have had to make changes to my coaching style to better prepare my students for the show ring and I have learned how to be a better coach by changing my ways.

The students I have taught, have made me the coach that I am.

Earlier this week, I was tagged in a tweet from one of my students, who was recognizing National Coaches Week. She wrote the following:

“This week is National Coach week, and I just wanted to say thank you so much to not only my coach but also my friend and role model! This summer was my first official show season and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome, as even though I only attended two shows, I brought home champion and a lot of first and seconds, this is all because of the amazing support and motivation I have from my wonderful coach. She is there to coach and support us at every show even when it’s 30+ degrees out! Her words of motivation keep up going throughout the day. I started at Foxwood Farm 2 years ago without any experience jumping and now I’m here, all thanks to you, Robyn! I was welcomed with open arms an now I can’t stay away from the barn (except when I’m away at school). Thank you for an awesome year, Robyn!”

I have been coach, mentor and friend to many students and I thank all of them for the positive role each of them has played in my coaching career.

Of all the coaching quotes I have come across, this one pretty much sums up how I feel:

“I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say, because of you, I didn’t give up.”

I want them to learn from me, just as much as I learn from them.

I love teaching people how to ride; children, adults, anyone who wants to learn. And if I can encourage people to improve upon their riding skills, while developing an unconditional love for horses, then I have truly done my job as coach while learning along the way.

Until next
time,
Robyn

Part of the Foxwood Farm ShowTeam for 2017

Coaching “my kids”


Coaching ringside at the Essa Agriplex

“Bullet Proof – A Rider’s Guide to Killer Confidence in the Ring”

With just a few days away until the first horseshow of the season, I know my students are starting to get anxious and excited about getting into the horseshow ring! Sure, ribbons are great and it’s an amazing feeling when you end your show day on a positive note; however, in order to be successful, you need more than just the right horse or the right show attire. You need to be confident. We prepare all winter for the upcoming season: jumping courses, practicing lead changes, etc. but when show day comes, and the nerves set in…well, it sometimes seems like we may not be as prepared as we thought.

I came across an excellent article in the May 2017 issue of Horse Sport Magazine written by registered psychologist, April Clay which gives insight into how to BE confident and how to make your show experience the best it can be:

Bullet Proof
A Rider’s Guide to Killer Confidence in the Ring

“1. Understand this: Confidence is more than a feeling
When confidence is approached as a feeling, the way to change seems to be through willpower. You tell yourself to feel better, to buck up, to believe. It just doesn’t work. Your confidence is a set of beliefs you possess about your abilities; it is knowledge gained through experience. The feeling good part is simply a by-product of this new knowledge. Ask yourself what experiences you need to create for yourself in order to become a skilled rider. What kind of goals are you reaching for? Don’t get too hung up on feeling good; figure out ways to be good. Confidence is not a feeling, it is a “knowing” and the good news is you can grow your knowing!

2. Get ready for waves
Confidence is naturally variable. Confidence can be shaken. Even the most elite riders sometimes suffer doubt. This can come on the heels of an accident, or while trying to extend yourself to your next plateau of competence. If you are moving up a division, of course you will experience some doubt. If you are practicing more risk-taking, you will not feel a sense of certainty.
All doubt tells us is that something needs attending to. It sends a message that you are responsible for decoding. If you treat doubt as nothing more than an unpleasant feeling you have to avoid, then you are missing something – an opportunity to grow.

3. Talk to yourself
The tough part about negative thinking? We come by it naturally. It is part of our survival mechanism to look for potential problems. It’s called the “negativity bias” and unfortunately speaks to the way our brain is wired.
Sometimes you have to recognize how the negativity is trying to serve you, and look for a different way to get the same service! For example, “look out for that jump, your horse hates water” is your mind trying to warn you. Say ‘thank you for the warning,’ but turn your thinking into a solution: “stay straight, horse in front of leg, that’s how I ride to water.” Confident riders make sure their self-talk stays directive and productive. On the other hand, self-talk should not be so over-the-top gooey positive that it’s unrealistic. What you choose to say to yourself must be something you actually find believable. Otherwise you will activate that devil on your shoulder; you know, the one that wants to argue with you about why you’re oh so wrong. Instead of “I am the best rider in this class” try saying “I know I am prepared.”

4. Make a plan
The business of changing what you know about yourself as a rider entails action or experience. After an uncomfortable incident you can’t just pat yourself on the back and tell yourself to feel better. You need to lead yourself through the experience in a way that assures you that you can handle that situation and come up with a plan of coping and problem-solving. Find a way to work through the challenge and you will come out the other end a much stronger person.
A rider who becomes uncomfortable when asked to ride at faster speeds and take risks in a jump-off needs to define a path to that goal. What skills are needed? How might simulations of jump-offs be set up in order to provide greater rehearsal opportunities? Breaking the job down and knowing how it might be accomplished sets the task and the rider up for success. Experiencing the development of specific skills brings confidence in those skills in that setting. A confident rider is a good student of their sport; they know how to study.

5. Train for Adversity
You say you want to increase your confidence? Be careful what you wish for. Confidence-building may not always arise from pleasant circumstances. To be mentally tough, you have to learn how to have ‘good bad days.’ Every time something doesn’t go quite right in your training, this opportunity presents itself. You can either allow yourself to opt out – “I just don’t feel quite right today, better quit while I’m ahead”– or you can grab onto it and reap the rewards: “Sure, I don’t feel great today, but I am going to practice dealing with it because who knows how I might feel before my next performance.”
Janet, an amateur jumper rider, and her trainer decided to make sure they utilized the adverse circumstances life normally presents. Each time a challenging moment presented itself, one of them would say “that sucks, buckle up!” and then together they would devise a clear plan to deal with the challenge. Using humour helped Janet. “I liked the idea of our joint silly key phrase. It made tough times seem a little lighter and more like a normal thing to deal with instead of a huge deal, and the planning made it fixable and learnable. I never thought I could actually be tougher, but I think I am!”

6. Abandon Perfection
One of the greatest thieves of sport self-esteem is the habit of clinging stubbornly to the idea of perfection. Some people believe if they are not reaching for perfection, their goals are not high enough. The truth is, perfection is not a high goal, it’s an impossible one. There is no perfect performance – especially in horse sport, where your teammate comes supplied with their own set of variables. Horses can have off days, injuries, and most certainly a changing inner nature which makes each ride a unique conversation.
Accept that each performance you give will be different, and your job is to create the best you can with what you have on that day. Aim for excellence in your skills and learning to trust your instincts. This you can control.

7. Define your Brand
What is your confidence “brand”? Every athlete has an overall sense of confidence about their ability to perform in their sport, but there will always be strengths and weaknesses in that profile. That’s normal. You can, however, bolster your overall confidence by choosing an area of specialty. In other words, choose a skill that will really define you and go for it! Become known for possessing an area of expertise. Ian Millar, for example, is known for having a keen sense of direction and planning. George Morris is associated with discipline and consistency.
Having and developing a self-chosen superpower can help you get in touch with the rest of your confidence, especially in a pinch. For example: become an expert course walker, study equine body language, explore the history of equitation. Have fun creating your brand!”

I hope that by sharing this article with all of you, that perhaps your confidence, whether in the riding ring at home or at a horseshow, can get a little boost!

Until next time,
Robyn

April Clay is a Registered Psychologist with an independent practice located in Calgary, Alberta. Although she works with all kinds of athletes in her practice, April especially enjoys assisting equestrian athletes with their mental goals. She is a qualified member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) and she is a regular contributor to numerous publications both locally and abroad. You can visit her main site at www.bodymindmotion.com and the online course site at www.outofyourmindcourses.com