We all know that not all horseshow days are perfect – some days there are ribbons and some days there aren’t – and all riders need to hear the truth…that they, too, are not perfect. As parents/supporters , we need to recognize that our children will be more successful not just in the show ring but more importantly, in life, if we don’t always “sugar coat” our comments.
With a busy schedule of lessons, summer camps and horseshows, I rarely have time to catch up on my horse magazines/articles; however, last week, I finally got around to reading the 2019 Canadian Horse Annual issue published by Horse Media Group. With five more horseshow days to go for our 2019 Foxwood Farm Show Team, I came across a very timely article written by registered psychologist, April Clay, that I thought all parents should read.
“5 Tips for Horse Show Parents”
“Horse shows can be stressful enough – be sure that you aren’t adding to your young rider’s anxiety by following these helpful tips:
1. You might be tempted to shower your child with positive comments about their ability, but use caution. Comments and compliments should be sincere and straightforward. Children are perceptive and excessive praise for an easily-accomplished task (such as being on the correct posting diagonal) may convey negative information about the child’s competence. Or you just may get the eye roll if you go on and on, but for a different reason. I often hear kids remark “She has to say I’m great, she’s my Mom, but really she doesn’t know anything about riding so I don’t listen.”
2. Identify things that can lead to stress and worry or undermine confidence. Unrealistic expectations about winning ribbons or making someone else happy take away from the focus of fun. If you hear your kids making comments like “I have to have a perfect barrel run today” or “I have to win this class or my coach won’t like me as much”, nip that right away. Help your child develop new thoughts that will help rather than hurt them.
3. Go easy on the pep talks. Many parents forget that “pumping” their child up can tip them over the edge. Keep it short and encouraging, and watch your intensity level. It doesn’t take much for some kids to view these talks as pressure. (“If my Mom/Dad is so intense about this, it must be important. I have to do well.”)
4. Be respectful when dealing with an upset child. We might think it’s not a big deal, but to them it is and should be approached as such. Try to help your child process events and use open-ended questions. If a tearful child says, “I rode horribly today,” don’t brush it off and say “It will get better tomorrow.” Instead, try: “It sounds as though you’re upset, can you tell me what happened?” This acknowledges the child’s feelings and lets them know you’re willing to help them work it out.
5. Children who live with excessive worry about making mistakes are stressed and aren’t able to enjoy their sport. Create an atmosphere where mistakes are a normal part of learning and riding competitively. Let them know it’s okay to miss a distance to a fence, or even fall off. Tell them all athletes (even Olympic riders!) make errors and have bad days, and what’s most important is how they handle the challenge. Encourage your child to come up with their very own key word or phrase they can repeat to themselves when something goes wrong to help them get back on track – something like “shake it off” or “move on”. Have fun coming up with a cue and then encourage them to try it out when things go wrong in practice or in the show ring.”
So parents, remember, just a spoonful of sugar will do;)!
Until next time,
About April Clay: April Clay is a Registered Psychologist with an independent practice focused in: counselling, consulting, and sport psychology. She draws from a wide variety of experiences working with many types of athletes and performers (from youth to elite) including: equestrian athletes, swimmers, wrestlers, golfers, competitive dancers, figure skaters, para equestrians, mixed martial artists (MMA),and more.
April is a member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). April also works as a service provider for the Canadian Sport Centre Calgary.
As an adjunct to her practice, April writes for several local and national magazines, and offers workshops on a variety of topics. As a sports consultant, she draws on some 15 years of experience as a competitive horse show-jumper.