Rider Mindset: Can sport psychology enhance performance in the show ring

Rider Mindset: Can sport psychology enhance performance in the show ring

By Samantha Osborne

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety and PTSD after a turbulent 2019, which left me grieving and depleted. Lockdown forced me to rest and address year of putting myself under extreme pressure, stress and workload. I practiced sport psychology to prepare for the show ring, and I’m interested in resilience building in my classroom practise (such as Dweck’s Growth Mindset) but it wasn’t until I received coaching from Laura at Equestrian Sponsorship Hub, that I began to support equestrians with Instagram mindset tips.

The Horse Feed UK contacted me and asked to feature my material and do a feature interview for their tenth podcast. Additionally, episode 12 featured an interview with Dan Petho who explored topics like riders not feeling ‘good enough’ for their horse to stigma attached to mental health and the automatic link with psychology. Dan states: ‘80% of our performance is mental: 20% is physical’.

On reflection, this made me consider how rugby teams perform a haka or boxing legends get hyped up before they fight.

  1. Write and display a list of your unique qualities and achievements. A rosette or photo wall is a great visual of your success!
  2. Look the part and feel the part! When I put my showing top hat on, I am hungry to win!
  3. Think ‘nourishment not punishment’. Constructive and confidence boosting instructors are better than a backside kicking! I had a really positive lesson with Simon Reynolds – so much so that I took supreme champion a few days later!
  4. Stay focused and limit anxiety at shows by parking away from distractions. Work your horse in alone and listen to a motivational playlist as you ride. I have a card in my pocket to read before going in the ring with basic reminders like: ‘Smile – this is meant to be fun’ and ‘Breathe’. You can socialise after your class!
  5. Who are your equestrian role models and why? Picture them when you ride. Watch and learn from them! I admire A P McCoy for his resilience and focus.

Horse first

I’m from a working class, single parent family but have a passion for a rich man’s sport. At times I have felt frustrated due to being restricted as a result of capital – who ever invented ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ clearly didn’t ride horses!

As a child, a set of shoes cost £27 and my DIY livery bill was £52 a month, in comparison to £70 and £550 retrospectively for a DIY livery bill for 2 horses on a basic yard today!

Due to rapidly evolving technology, shows are streamed live on social media and people cast their (sometimes controversial) opinions; results are instant; we have huge choice from everything to feed brands to grooming products. My well-supported, local circuit began to dissolve and many of the showing community became hooked on various championships and the HOYS dream, which is competitive, expensive and ultimately requires the skin of a rhino to ask judges to rate out precious pets and hours of hard work on whether they ‘like’ our horses enough for us to win a ‘golden ticket’.

I think many have been reminded that the horse comes first and the sport second during the Covid era. It’s been lovely to see friends building relationships with their horses at home and investing in training instead of tanks of fuel and entry fees. My geldings have sunbathed and enjoyed timeout but I continued to support online showing (as a judge and competitor) and I enjoyed the rosettes arriving in the post! I think it is important to flip every negative or disappointment in to a positive statement; we have to focus on the positives-always.

It was exciting and educational to listen to Nigel Hollings explain his thoughts when judging Virtual Royal Windsor; (I was lucky enough to be placed in both May and the autumn series with both of my horses last season!) I was most interested in Nigel’s comments about a rider’s position and body language that displayed confidence, harmony with the animal and winning showmanship. 

We consider every fine detail when producing a pony for competition. In 2019, I spent a fortune on my horse to ensure he had the ultimate nutrition programme, perfectly fitted tack and osteopath treatments but I wouldn’t think twice about eating yellow sticker food for dinner, working 70 hour weeks or skipping sleep.

No other sport would expect an athlete to perform to their best in such conditions because our mental and physical performance suffers with these compromises. In a discipline where confidence is key, it is important that we work on our minds as well as our horses.

Many riders have experienced the self-fulfilling prophecy of being pulled in top to convince ourselves that we will pick up a wrong canter lead to then execute this! How many times have you tried to sleep the night before a show to go through every possible thing that could go wrong in the ring from your horse spooking to refusing to stand for a rosette presentation? We have all been victims of catastrophising at some stage!

In a sphere that often encourages us to focus on perfectionism, we have to be realistic that we desire well-fed blood animals to go like clockwork toys in electric environments for strange ride judges or children onboard, and this just doesn’t work for all animals all of the time. Sometimes, we have to be open-minded to a direction change and to not view this as failure – we never stop learning with horses – and if you think you are an expert already then it is probably time to quit now!

In daily practice, I keep focused with some visual tool: a giant whiteboard of ‘the bigger picture’, a journal and photo diary to record a horse’s progress, and a selection of mindset books for personal growth. The skills we learn with horses can be applied to wider life and vice versa. My favourite mindset books include: The Thinking Rider by Schinke; Perfect Mind: Perfect Ride by Wolframm; Brain Training For Riders by Waldo and The Chimp Paradox by Peters.

The Thinking Rider encourages riders to visualise their goals in all 5 senses for extended periods of time to realise the importance of their dream. It also advises on how to control the emotions created by our desires and how to put them to positive use. I practice breathing and mindfulness techniques to help keep calm when I start to feel anxious. Most riders get an adrenaline rush or nerves before performing but it is important we manage this and recognise that the feeling stems from a sense of care and value for what we are about to do. If emotions escalate, often suffer from paralysis by analysis! My emotions were always heightened on show days due to being able to afford a limited number of events per season and so each one became really important.

2020 taught me that there will always be another year, another show or something much more important to worry about on a global scale. All top riders have bad seasons, misfortunes or fears. Brain Training for Riders explores examples of this and encourages riders to put their experiences in to context.

SMART targets (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) help riders to break down overwhelming plans in to smaller chunks so that we can move forward.

When setting targets, remember to make them controllable! To set a target of winning a showing class is out of your control when it is a judge’s opinion and horses are unpredictable! Instead, consider what could contribute to winning that you can control like remembering to keep a rhythmical canter on the go round. 

Example of a past target used for show jumping for the first time BS:

S – I want to complete the course in the Discovery class.

M – I won’t get any faults or eliminated for stopping, time or knockdowns.

A – Train at home to prepare, jump double clear at 90cm first, warm up appropriately on the day, get a good canter rhythm upon entry, plan my route carefully, keep my shoulders back in short distance doubles and think ahead.

R – The horse jumps 1m20 and I’ve had a few days to get to know him. My trainer believes in my ability to perform so respect her judgement.

T – By the end of a 5 day SJ show at Onley EC, August.

Social Media v Reality

Remember, social media world isn’t reality and people sell the image they want people to connect with. When I posted pictures of RoR, Stilo Blue Native, wearing sashes at shows with me on board grinning, it suggested that my horse had performed superbly and that I had enjoyed the day. The reality of the situation was that after working all week on top of juggling dogs and a house, I would often be found bathing and plaiting a highly-strung, 16.3hh horse with limited facilities for show production until very late. After cleaning tack, I would try to get a few hours of sleep before downing Rescue Remedy and driving the lorry several hours to the show ground to then start working in for hours (often including rodeo riding) on an empty stomach and feeling baked alive and pestered by horse flies in a wool showing jacket! ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ and not everything we see on social media reflects reality. Whenever you think, ‘it’s not fair’, delete this from your thoughts because everyone has their own battles regardless of how wonderful or easy you think someone has it. 

Perfect Mind: Perfect Ride, taught me that, ‘No man is an island’ and to build a support network to help us to succeed. I try to operate solo so that I can only hold myself accountable for mistakes made and sometimes because I haven’t got a choice! I believe in give and take in the showing world and I often dedicate my time to teaching at clinics, judging, stewarding, supporting balls or fundraising. We should do things for the right reasons and because we enjoy them not for personal gain as this doesn’t bring joy. We need to work together as a team in the showing world if we are to keep showing thriving. Everyone is an important cog in the machine and everyone is of equal importance from the jockeys to the producers to the society admin team.

Mental Health

I admire what the racing industry does to support jockeys with their mental health. After working in a male dominated, results fuelled, adrenaline rushed, fast paced career, many jockeys struggle to deal with a ‘normal’ life when retiring or when injured. Although show riders might not experience the daily adrenaline spike of racing, we do have highs and lows which impact on our well-being and as a community we need to support each other. As a school teacher, I encourage pupils to ask for help and I think we need to teach our younger jockeys to do the same in our sport, especially if we are to encourage them to continue in the discipline. Perhaps showing societies should focus on mindset training camps as well as riding lesson bursaries so that riders can focus on both their mental and physical performance? 

Humans are programmed to be selfish and insatiable (Freud’s Wish Fulfilment Theory). For years, I was desperate to qualify for HOYS and to be awarded a purple and gold rosette. When this became reality and I surpassed my expectations and gained a few placed rosettes, I then wanted to win. We must stay grounded, humble and grateful for what we have achieved – anything else from now is a bonus. We are already winning if we ride and own a horse we love!

I constantly challenge myself to develop as a horsewoman because I gain a sense of achievement from learning new skills. I am forever reviewing my equestrian bucket list and have ticked off items including: riding side saddle at The Great Yorkshire Show; a Cumbrian Heavy Horse beach ride, competing at Dublin Horse Show and riding in a charity flat race, where I finished 2nd. In July 2020, I joined BS and by the end of August I jumped a double clear and finished 3rd in my first Discovery class on an 18.3hh KWPN who was a tricky ride but taught me so much. In February I was close to quitting. I turned my horses away and didn’t ride for 5 months. If someone had said to me that I would be schooling a range of horses over 1m20 at home, XC schooling and competing an intimidating horse, I wouldn’t have believed them! We never know what is around the corner and we are capable of so much more than we realise so long as our brain is on board!

Simon Charlesworth is passionate about rider mindset and his impressive CV of showing results speaks volumes.

Simon: “I believe mindset if vital to performance. Self-confidence is everything. I can remember riding my 13.2hh and my mum always said, ‘you’re in it for the kill’. That always stuck with me! I wasn’t there to mess around with friends; I was there to do a job. On the flip side, I would be raging when I didn’t win and she would always say, ‘don’t be such a bad loser’. I learned to be objective. 

I love a supreme championship because that’s when I can bring the best out of myself. I push myself to risk more in the hope of winning. The hardest losses for me have been when I’ve made a bad decision in the ring for the horse’s sake but get criticism for it. You have to stick to your convictions and believe that what you did on the day was right.”

As a final piece of advice, roll with your feelings and keep them on the bridle. You can’t ignore them or hide from them but for those of you who have ridden a keen racehorse up a gallop or a strong horse on a hunt field, you will understand that you need to be in control from the start because the minute you let them get away from you, it is even harder to get them back! The same happens with our minds – if you let anxiety, depression and fear take the lead, they will snowball in to an overwhelming barrier to success. Learn to recognise and manage your feelings in order to do the best for yourself and your four legged partner.

Beating Winter Blues and Building Resilience

Many of us dread the winter routine with horses: frozen pipes and smashing the ice from field water troughs, endless mucking out, power washing thick mud from horses and their rugs, clutching every minute of daylight we can, feeling itchy from clipping, and suffering with chilblains as the temperature drops. Many of our younger jockeys wave goodbye to their ponies after HOYS due to being out of their class and moving on to a new partnership and only a minority of competitors are lucky enough to have Olympia Horse Show to keep them motivated! But does the equestrians’ winter have to be so bleak?

Studies have shown that January is the ‘unhappiest month’ on the calendar and one third of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter season. Our Serotonin (happy hormone) levels can decrease if we don’t get much Vitamin D from time in the sun, which can be difficult, especially for those of us who work full time hours and frequently go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. Symptoms of SAD include: irritability, low mood, a sense of despair or worthlessness, low self-esteem, anxiety and feeling stressed.

Survival Strategies

To help combat a decline in your mindset this winter, consider these six survival strategies, collected from members of our equestrian community:

1.            Schedules and show plans are often released early in the New Year. Get a new diary and calendar and plan some events to give you something to work toward and to look forward to.

2.            Create an upbeat playlist or put the radio on in the yard. A motivational play list will boost morale and wellbeing, plus the horses enjoy the background noise as it breaks up the long boring winter if they are stabled. If you prefer to listen to audio books, consider Yes Man by Danny Wallace or The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, for some motivational advice.

3.            If your horse is enjoying a winter break, focus on your own fitness and flexibility instead. Attend some rider yoga or Pilates sessions.

4.            Join a support group or invest in one to one mindset coaching sessions. Mindful Riders have an anxiety group available on Facebook and can provide a number of work booklets and self help guides to support show riders.

5.            Declutter! Have a good tidy up in your tack room or horsebox living. You may wish to organise rugs that need to be cleaned or display the season’s rosettes on a wall. Cleaning can be therapeutic: ‘out with the old, in with the new!’

6.            Support your societies by attending their balls. The Showing World Award Party is the highlight on the showing social calendar. It is lovely to socialise with likeminded people and to ditch the show ring clothing for evening wear!  In the words of racehorse trainer, Willie Mullins, “I keep my horses in the worst company and myself in the best company!”

Inspiration and Challenges

My partner, Fergus King, ex professional national hunt jockey, had to end his racing career prematurely, due to a shoulder injury. This huge blow to his lifestyle and passion required him to reshape and evolve. When questioned how he coped at this challenging time in his life, he explained: “I kept busy by completing my trainer qualification. It is important not to mope around and to keep busy. Change is a part of life and it is a positive thing!” Many of us will have faced life changing setbacks that force us to take a break or change our direction. In time, it is easier to understand that these experiences shape our journey and we build resilience and learn to problem solve as a result, and nothing motivates a show rider more than the upcoming season.

Two members of our showing community really inspired and moved me this year. Both Jenny Keepe and Sophie Clohessy have displayed courage and resilience beyond what most of us could begin to comprehend in our life time.

Jenny Keepe wished to share her story in the hope that it helped others:

“Some would say this year has been the worst year ever, but to me it’s been a small blessing in disguise.

I’ve always believed that things happen for a reason and I feel this pandemic tried to tell us in some way that something wasn’t right; mum and I sometimes joke and say maybe it’s a message from my dad trying to slow me down and stop me going out getting drunk and jumping top of the wings with my horses as my idea of fun! But with no symptoms, how was I supposed to know I had a brain tumour?

During lockdown, I spent more time with my family; that’s when my mum noticed my eye wasn’t quite right, but due to Covid19 it was very difficult to see a doctor. I attended an appointment at my local opticians and they send me straight to Warrington hospital for an urgent MRI scan. Twenty four hours later, I learned that I had a very large tumour behind my eye.

After meeting with my surgeon for the first time, the terrifying reality hit me and I just broke down inside.  Without my family and friends I’m not sure how I would have coped with the lead up to my first major operation which took place on the 24th July and lasted 10.5 hours! As they couldn’t remove the whole thing I had another 7 hour operation on the 2nd of October and the next step is radiotherapy!

When returning home, I had a few sleepless nights and one Meningitis scare but as weeks went by and the pressure started to ease, it eventually got better. I feel very lucky to have recently received the most hopeful results possible: it is a grade 1 benign tumour!

During my recovery, although I had to rest, I am so grateful that I could recover around my horses – sometimes a cuddle with your four legged friend is all you need and I just couldn’t resist spending time with my horses, whether I was allowed to or not! Without those horse, I think I would have truly struggled and during my recovery I couldn’t resist the temptation to make another purchase (a two year old Warmblood colt)! I entered a few virtual competitions; one was the Supreme Products Virtual Show, the other Royal Windsor. I scooped two wins and took champion. It really did cheer me up to win some fabulous prizes!

My advice to anyone going through an illness, loss or setback in their life, is to think positive, talk to someone and don’t be afraid to cry! I cried a lot and that’s normal. I’m a very busy person, so these past few months have been very out of the norm for me (being a nightclub manager and then juggling horses in between) but it’s made me realise (not just the brain tumour, lockdown as well) that we’re here for a good time not a long time! It’s time to enjoy every day we have and be thankful every morning that we woke up! Material possessions are nothing if you don’t have your health and this year really has put a lot of things in perspective for me.”

Sophie Clohessy’s story:

“The first blow was losing my mum in January. She was one of our biggest supporters and had a passion for our riding ponies. Shortly after losing my mum, our first home bred, Malcolm, suffered from colic and was hospitalised at Leahurst after undergoing colic surgery. We were so grateful to everyone who supported our online show, which helped towards his vet bill. 

Next, we had to say goodbye to my mum’s favourite horse, Reuben, and just three weeks after putting Reuben to sleep, our homebred filly, Linsop My Fair Lady, suffered a fatal injury in the field.  

The only thing that has kept me going this year is the support from my amazing family, friends and of course our ponies. My partner (Lindsey Hewitt) and I are determined to breed true riding ponies and our vision for Linsop ponies is still as clear as it was at the start, despite the knockbacks we have endured.

I am working hard on my mental and physical health as part of my recovery. I quit drinking and I now exercise on a regular basis. So far, I have lost three stone in weight and I am already feeling excited about competing in some hack classes next season.”

In order to continue to grow, it is important that we reflect on our practice regularly. One of the cheapest and most effective ways to learn is to video your schooling session on your mobile phone and to watch it back (critically). Evaluating our performance allows us to improve. Technology has advanced so much in recent years and riders now have access to motion sensor cameras, like Pivo technology, as well as school training mirrors. As well as watching yourself, it is useful to learn from others too. Fergus King explains, “When I took out my license, I would often watch Richard Dunwoody ride and try to learn from him. I worked for Mary Reveley at the time, and she would make me watch my race rides back and focus on where I went wrong or very occasionally right, in her eyes! It is important that you are aware of your own ability and you need to surround yourself with good people if you wish to develop in the equestrian world. There is no substitute for practise and competitive circumstances are always different to home training sessions. We always have to aim higher. Riders like AP McCoy have always pushed standards higher, and if we want to be at the top of our sport, we need to keep getting better!”

Sport psychology is often blurred and stigmatised with other mental illnesses. We can’t ignorantly expect everyone to be the same or fix our mindsets in a past time. The world is constantly changing and every generation faces a new pressure; no pressure is necessarily easier than another. We treat our horses as individuals and it is important that we do the same for each other. It is important not to judge others based on our personal experiences rather than one’s circumstances. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” I believe that complimenting and praising others, celebrating another person’s achievements and helping someone in need, is just as rewarding for the giver as it is for the receiver. It genuinely makes me happy to see hardworking, good people do well. I remember judging at an unaffiliated show in 2014 and placing a beautiful Connemara gelding with super limbs as my supreme champion. I have continued to watch this pony (White Diamond) and his owner/rider, Katie Goulding, go from strength to strength every season and every time I see photos of them winning a golden ticket, I am thrilled and always send messages to congratulate and recognise their success.

After losing Stevey’s Lad following my HOYS 2012 and 2013 success in the SEIB Racehorse2Riding Horse Final at Horse of the Year Show, I was petrified by the thought of competing in the qualifiers again in 2019 with my retrained racehorse, Stilo Blue Native. I put myself under a lot of pressure after having five years out of the class and after having spent several seasons judging for ROR; I was concerned that I should perform at a high standard to validate my position on the panel. I was frequently told on social media that Blue was good enough to win HOYS. Even listening to the HOYS lap of honour music would make me burst in to tears but I continued to ride with it on when schooling at home to desensitise myself. Stepping foot in to the ring for my first HOYS qualifier was one of the scariest and most overwhelming things I have faced. In some respects, it was more of an achievement and mental win than anything I experience each day as a secondary school teacher! One quote that inspired me to conquer this fear was: “Sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you’ll have to do it afraid.”With some coaching from my sponsor Mindful Riders, I gradually learned to follow their advice: “Remember you’re up against a judge with a different vision of perfection. To find inner peace, try to list three things that went well and three things you can improve on to allow learning to continue and to hush the inner desire for perfectionism as a show rider.”

We need to break our goals down in to small steps: “You can’t eat an elephant in one bite!” I am currently saving up to purchase a new horse and I often get frustrated about not being able to go out and buy my dream horse straight away – especially after working full time since my teenage years and being 12 years in to a professional career! We live in a world where answers are provided at the touch of a button and we expect results fast. The Digital Revolution has opened us up to choice but also made us impatient and sucked in to a material and false world – don’t be a pawn in the game! Recently, I watched The Social Media Dilemma film on Netflix, and it described social media participants as ‘users’ – the only other industry that refers to its clients in the same manner is the drug industry! Don’t be afraid to step away from social media if it distracts you from your goal or makes you feel negative about what you have! I admire show riders like Helen Baker who are so well respected and talented yet continue to hold their own without succumbing to social media drama or promotion to thrive in the showing world. Sometimes, we have to accept it is a marathon, not a sprint, and like with the famous fable The Tortoise and the Hare, the slower learning route can be so much more prosperous than the one that comes easily, and that is often unappreciated.

As the year closes, focus on what you have achieved, learned and how you have grown. Even if it felt like a disaster at the time, you can always pull something positive from the most negative experience. Did you manage to help and support someone? Did you overcome a fear or achieve a personal first? Have you set sail on a new adventure? Have you formed a new relationship or become part of a new team? Focus on what went well and try to build on this in 2022. Although recent times have been very strange and at times challenging, with many claiming “should have been lunged first!” I have still managed to set and meet a range of targets. Control your own route and don’t do something unless it makes you happy, or in the words of Jenny Keepe: “Eat the cake! Buy the horse!”

You’re Not Just a Show Rider!

Two summers ago, I had the opportunity to start competing at British Showjumping; after one of my rounds, a lady complimented my riding and said I had done a great job. Instead of accepting this positivity, I replied by explaining that I was new to the discipline and I was, ‘just a show rider’. On reflection, many of our showing community are exceptionally talented riders beyond the show ring; some have ventured in to disciplines with global success, the obvious prolific super star being Charlotte Dujardin in the dressage world but professional ex show riders like jump jockey Nick Scholfield and eventer, Laura Collett excel in their disciplines too.

I’ve always tried to ride in a correct classical position in the saddle, and I enjoy studying biomechanics. Lots of show riders participate in dressage training and competitions; Jordan Cook always looks elegant in the show ring or dressage arena. To those equestrians who have never stepped foot on a showing yard or competed in a showing class, it is probably quite easy to ignorantly state that showing is ‘easy’. After working on a number of yards and home producing my own animals over the last few decades, I can certainly vouch for the ‘stickability’ I developed when breaking in ponies or retraining racehorses. I have many fond memories of Peter Emmerson shouting: “Ride ‘em cowboy!” with such enthusiasm as my friend Rachel and I rode away the season’s set of youngsters in our teenage years.

Standards of schooling have increased; you only have to watch a supreme championship to see riders battle for the top title with displays containing flying changes, one handed collected canter serpentines and balanced halt to canters – even from native ponies, not just the show hacks! In order to execute these shows on well fed animals in electric environments, riders have to be effective and form trusting relationships – just sitting pretty isn’t enough! Many of our current show riders show alongside other disciplines, for example, Rob Walker is passionate about his hunting in winter and I love seeing his hedge hopping images with his son, Sam.

As a secondary school teacher, I work in an education system that credits English, Maths and Science above everything else. When I go to horse shows, I feel like I can escape this rigid system to one that praises creativity and art first. From the outfits we select to the plaiting and quarter markers we create to the individuality in our ring craft, we are a multi-talented bunch of people and I believe the creditable reputation of the show rider should be commended by all equestrians. I have so much respect for the young jockeys who pilot their ponies around ambitious Desert Orchid WHP courses; thanks to social media, I currently enjoy watching Gracie Aungier jumping a range of ponies – fearlessly, and I’m certain with the right tuition and support many young riders like this could win at a top level beyond the show ring too (you only have to watch Cate Kerr’s winning 128cm championship round at Aintree 2020 to see a versatile show rider in action)!

I have felt that my progress has been hindered due to owning a Highland pony which I love far too much to part with but I can’t afford to purchase a horse that I can continue to learn and fulfil my jumping dreams on. As versatile as Bow is, I don’t think he has what it takes to compete in the Foxhunter Final or Cuddy HOYS WH! As I wait patiently to take the next step in my equestrian life, I try to seek opportunities to learn and to keep me busy rather than just admitting defeat– anything from building my Instagram page to work as an equestrian influencer @samanthaosborneequestrian to competing in virtual showing competitions during lockdowns; I simply don’t have rich parents to buy me a flash horsebox and a fleet of horses to ride! I have won various sponsorship and brand ambassador deals and have faced comments like: “You’re so jammy” and, “How do you get so lucky?” To some extent, we create our own luck through hard work, commitment and self-belief is paramount – those are things that money can’t buy. I don’t think that. Although it is nice to have a work life balance, I believe in order to compete at the top level against professionals who do the job day in day out to earn a living, it requires an amateur to live, breathe, eat and sleep it 100% of the time if they choose to aspire to compete at HOYS level – not just their local unaffiliated circuit. I have often heard or read people’s comments complaining about producers winning and amateurs not having a fair chance but in the words of my good friend and amateur show rider, Lorna Blake: “You’ve got to be in it to win it.”

As a school teacher, I often observe students refusing to take part because they fear failing and they believe if they don’t try then they can keep their pride and self-esteem intact. Lorna believes it isn’t always about the rosettes: “I get a buzz out of the horse going well and I just want to be better than myself last time.”

In the showing world, if a producer’s client can afford to have ponies professionally produced, it is quite likely they will be able to afford expensive animals and to attend a higher quantity of shows and training sessions – the first three areas I know I fold on first as I retrain free racehorses, can only afford to do a minimal amount of shows and can rarely afford lessons.

Nobody can deny the talent of producer Jane Ross and why she is a multiple supreme HOYS champion – she is idolised by many in the showing world. As much as dedicated amateurs are every bit capable and do produce their horses to win at the top level, we must not patronise them with statements like, ‘she is good for an amateur’ and we must recognise that everyone has their part to play if showing is going to prosper long term. We all pay the same entry fee and we all enjoy doing it otherwise why would we do it? It shouldn’t be an amateur versus professional mindset as both groups face different challenges. Amateurs have to start their horses after a full time job and often with limited facilities on DIY livery yards in the dark. We often juggle the roles of lorry driver, groom, rider and bill payer, independently. Producers have battled through a year with no showing and their livelihood is still uncertain during the unprecedented Covid19 era we live in.

Overall, as a community, we need to support each other and try to view situations from different perspectives – not just our own. Try to be a role model regardless of your position in society, wealth, results, and connections because we need to inspire the younger generation to want to continue showing in years to come.

HOYS M&M Champion, Amy Smith, knows what it’s like to ride in the ring after winning such a prestigious title and how to juggle a busy life when competing. Amy explained, “I put immense pressure on myself when I ride Pedro! He’s my ultimate favourite to ride. People ‘expect’ him to jump clear and win but we all know that there’s only one way to go when you’re on top, and that’s down!” We presume that some of our most successful riders are having an easier and more enjoyable experience but even being at the top of the sport comes with its own set of challenges and scrutiny. Amy shared that losing her father has had a massive impact on her life, “I lost the love of everything. I didn’t want to go showing. I couldn’t deal with people. It’s still an uphill struggle.”

To conclude, I would like to suggest reading The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters, which provides the science behind the way our reptilian brains work in the modern world. Furthermore, Peters refers to an individual’s support network as their ‘troop’ and the mindset book explores the quote, “No man is an island”. It is important to have a trustworthy, reliable and genuine tight circle of friends and family members to help you to achieve your goals. Whether your troop is your riding instructor, your vet, your physiotherapist or your blacksmith, everyone in your troop plays a vital role in allowing you to have the privilege of being a horse owner and a showing enthusiast.

The Smith sisters manage their showing hobby with the help of their family: “I am so lucky to have a good support network, as is Vikki. Our partners are supportive. John comes to help me at the shows and being from a horsey background it helps a lot. My mum is amazing; she helps with the children.” People are willing to advise and physically help if you are brave enough to ask for help. During a challenging showing season with my retrained racehorse last year, I was grateful to gain advice from Faye Helliwell and Jo Bates – riders I have admired for years. Help is out there if you look in the right places. Even during a national lockdown, Sara Parrott and Jasean Spraggett selflessly taught from social media to keep training sessions fresh and morale boosted in a difficult time…

Remember: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

Light at the end of the Covid 19 Tunnel

How has the equestrian community been challenged over the last 2 years?

How can we support each other and create a safe environment moving forward in the competition world?

It has been a long time since we saw our showing friends and attended shows – something we are unlikely to take for granted again in seasons to come and it just feels like we are starting to get back to ‘normal’ again. As the vaccination programme continues to roll out across the UK and Covid laws become much less restrictive, some of our showing community may feel a little anxious about keeping safe. It is important to recognise that everyone will have insecurities at the moment, whether it be riders feeling show ring rusty or perhaps apprehension about novice horses who have missed a year or two of their show ring education. We must support each other and focus on gratitude for the small things that we may have overlooked in past seasons. It is ok to feel emotional! Everyone has had a different experience during lockdown and we need to respect that people may be changed from the last eighteen months. You are what makes you unique and you must stay true to yourself. Focus on your journey. Sometimes showing makes individuals crave an outcome or a result over focusing on the learning process. Precious qualification tickets are magical but we must put them in to perspective with the global pandemic and remember to try to have fun at every show and support shows of all levels if we are to keep them. Aim for a nice photo, an ice cream and an enjoyable ride on your horse. Ultimately, we are the lucky ones who survived this nightmare!  

I worked from home throughout lockdown but in my spare time I kept my mind busy to avoid my anxiety spiralling with every 5pm televised announcement! I studied a degree level course in Equine Behavioural Science, which I recently completed with a ‘distinction’ grade. I have already started plotting out a business for equine therapy consultations. I extended my education by completing all Rider Biomechanics and Advanced Schooling modules as part of The Dressage Coach monthly Hub Plus package. Additionally, I have started to write an equestrian novel to put my English degree to good use. I certainly feel much happier when I have projects to focus on; it provides me with a sense of purpose. 

Many of us have missed competing our horses but with a diverse range of roles in the industry, many businesses and organisations have been challenged from event photographers to professional producers. 

It is always a pleasure to work alongside Yorkshire steward, Jackie Coultas, who has felt the impact of Coronavirus on her horse transport business as well as her mental health over the past 12 months. Jackie is always smiling and bubbly at shows but the pandemic has been a huge blow even to some of our most positive showing members.

Jackie stated: “I am a believer in reacting rather than pre-acting to situations. I adopt a logical and rational approach and try to switch off from rumours and gossip to protect my wellbeing. I like to research factual information and then form a plan. As media coverage of the virus impact started to build, I decided to phone DEFRA to seek professional advice about my transport business. Initially, I didn’t feel scared but during isolation I experienced some dark times and became quite angry and helpless – particularly about the threat of fines. In order to keep as busy as possible, I volunteered to do some dressage writing for some local eventing that took place behind closed doors. I also completed some online courses, including an FEI stewarding course. Despite embracing these challenges, I was conscious of gaining weight from being less active but most of all I missed the buzz of horse shows, shopping villages and animals! 

As shows begin again, I am concerned about having to wear a mask as a steward. We have to shout and it may be difficult for competitors to hear us with face coverings on. It will be challenging in hotter weather too. I fear that some shows may be lost as a result of Covid19 and that numbers and standards may decline due to owners who have suffered financially during the pandemic.”

Welshmoor Events show organiser, Kate Scorey-Sayer, is a keen supporter of shows both inside and outside of the ring.

Kate notes that planning and organising a show is an amazing privilege but it’s more work than most people realise, “we have to consider everything from booking a suitable venue on a date that doesn’t clash with other shows to recruiting a team of skilled and qualified people so that the event can run safely. When Covid19 hit the showing world, our team felt stressed about constant changes in law and eventually we admitted defeat and cancelled all 2020 events. We supported each other by positively looking forward to the 2021 season. My biggest challenge was managing my bi-polar depression. Show planning helps me to keep level. The lockdown and cancellation of horse shows meant that I had additional time to care for my late husband in his final months.”

Kate believes that all show organisers need to be consistent in the delivery of safety measures at shows or the industry will be at risk. She intends to offer pre entries only and each class will have a limited number of entries. Masks and gloves for judges and officials will be in place. Numbers will be collected at the show in named envelopes. Antibacterial gel will be available to all. Social distancing will be in place and anyone not following guidelines will be asked to leave. No risks can be taken to anyone attending the show, or risk the future of the events themselves. 

Emma Wallace of the Anchor Exmoor Pony Stud focused on spending time with her grown up children during lockdowns and invested her energy in to breeding quality future show ring stars. 

Emma shared: “Being based on a farm in rural Exmoor, we felt very lucky that normal family life and business could continue as normal because staff stayed as part of our bubble and the welfare of the livestock remained our priority. We had show brood mares and several Exmoor mares in foal as the first lockdown was imposed. Fortunately, foaling was uncomplicated with the hill mares and little intervention was required.

We manage Rosettes Direct, which was severely affected by Covid19 due to not making rosettes for shows but also due to racing taking place behind closed doors as we manufacture wrist bands and badges for racecourses. However, this enabled us to complete jobs that previously got overlooked and we found additional time to handle our youngstock, which was very satisfying. Sadly, we won’t show any of the new youngstock this year as we must prioritise our business.

The  Exmoor Pony Society decided to hold a virtual online show that required entrants to submit photos and videos. This allowed the Anchor Stud to gain some exposure and publicity and we were thrilled to celebrate our three year old colt winning the youngstock championship.

As spring progressed, we dedicated some time to studying our herd’s precious bloodlines; we are dedicated to preserving this endangered rare breed. We gathered the mares from the hill and chose those ponies that had potential to become show animals as well as those who could promote the breed and help boost our income. In a normal year, we probably wouldn’t have sold such smart and valuable lines but after vetting homes for ponies, some made their way to new families. I have noticed inflation in horse prices over the Covid19 period and I hope they will level out as we return to normality.”

As a school teacher, I am conscious of the impact that lockdown life has had on the younger generation’s education as well as their development socially. Kim (founder of Pegasus Jewellery) asked her daughter, Charlotte Wilson, how she perceived a season away from showing and she replied: “I really missed my first year in first ridden on my pony, Bambi.  In my last season, it was amazing to ride at RIHS and HOYS on the lead rein with Craig (Eleanor) by my side but I was so excited to be able to ride in the ring on my own in 2020! 

I missed a lot of thing when the shows were cancelled but mainly my showing friends and the Easter eggs at BSPS Championships!

I had all three of my ponies at home during lockdown. I rode and groomed them every day.  My ponies have made me feel better when I missed school friends. I especially loved galloping up the fields! There was no time to be sad because I have been practicing for the area Pony Club quizzes about horses and stable management. 

My top advice for younger show riders is to have a sweet for your pony in your pocket and to make sure you give your pony a big pat after your salute at the end of your show. Also, remember that the judge gives extra marks for a big smile!”

Emma Rees, CHAPS ride judge and amateur show rider, worked throughout the pandemic as a frontline worker but also juggled children at home. She explained: “I am proud to work as a paramedic for the Welsh Ambulance – something I enjoy immensely. The lockdown restrictions had a huge impact on family life and I faced juggling being a frontline worker with home schooling three children (getting creative with empty milk cartons and toilet rolls has been great fun)!

Recent government announcements has given the equestrian world a light at the end of the tunnel! We have been lucky to be able to be outdoors with our horses. Many families have been locked in a house and haven’t even got the freedom of a garden to enjoy during isolation periods. We are fortunate to have amazing countryside for hacking which has been a great opportunity for me to clear my head and relax. 

I think it will be interesting to see what decision societies make with regards to judging practice. I know quite a controversial question that was discussed in a recent AGM was if ride judges should judge from the ground this year so that competitors and judges can practice social distancing. My personal opinion is that it would be a great shame to lose the ride judge as this is a traditional part of showing and something as a ride judge I feel honoured to do; however, I do appreciate the risks that societies have to assess.”

Emma is pragmatic about her position as a judge:

“I would like to advise judges that, you will never please everyone; all you can do is be true to yourself and judge what has been put forward on the day. Always thank competitors for coming forward. I don’t usually get stressed when ride judging – I leave that to my husband who often can’t watch!”

As a ride judge, I have often felt under pressure to perform to a high standard, especially when competing against people I sometimes judge. I have always been interested to know how other judges feel about accessing both sides of the show ring. Gypsy cob enthusiast, Rachael Ho, is a dedicated judge, steward and competitor from unaffiliated to county level shows. Rachael is committed to promoting true to type animals, selflessly giving back to the horse world and extending her knowledge of horses and showing.

Rachael, has leaned on me for sport psychology support in the past, knowing about my battles with confidence. Rachael is keen to illustrate the pressures as well as the privileges of being a judge: “Despite been around horses my whole life, as a 30 year old woman in a world where social media and gossip is rife, as a judge, our role can be quite daunting. I never had any form of nerves or anxiety before I started judging but now I feel the judgement is on me as a horsewoman rather than my horse when I compete. People can be so cruel to each other, which is so sad, particularly after the recent pandemic we have all endured!

Some people are keen to pre-judge you, based on their social media impression of you. Logically, I understand sometimes things can go wrong on the day and I do aim to just have a good day out but in the back of my mind, I am always mulling over who is watching me and what could go wrong. I tried taking herbal remedies and now I hum a song to take my mind off negative and distracting thoughts that impact on my performance in ridden showing classes.

 I am dedicated to improving my mindset and I believe I owe it to my cobs as they won’t prosper from my stress! I have been reading a lot of literature about positive mind set, provided from my friend, Samantha Osborne. I intend to use breathing strategies and to focus on my mum’s words of wisdom: ‘You’re not competing with anyone – you just need to feel better and improve on previous performances.’ I must remember that I am only competition!

I thoroughly enjoy my role as a judge. I view it as a chance to help others. Although most competitors are lovely, the odd one can test your resilience! I would like to remind all competitors to be kind to your judge, whoever they are. They give up their days for free in all weathers to be there for you! We are only human and all abuse hurts whether verbal or online! 

I was fortunate enough to experience some virtual judging during all three lockdowns, which I enjoyed greatly but I can’t wait to back to reality and see all animals in the flesh!”

Socialising is a huge part of showing. I am already excited for Scott Dixon’s UK Nationals Show in August as he has carefully planned crowd pleasing classes like a puissance working hunter final through to an impressive evening party for everyone to celebrate their successes and make up for all the party moments we have missed over the last year! 

Amateur rider, Chantelle Joslin, has also missed socialising at shows this year. She is most looking forward to riding her novice small hunter, Carnsdale Let It Be, and: “being able to catch up with showing friends. I participated in some online showing which was easy to enter and required minimal effort. I won some beautiful rosettes but it is a questionable method of competition as a judge can’t properly judge a horse from a photograph. I also benefitted from an increase in hacking as a result of lockdown. 

My top tip to prepare for the season is to resist the pressure to rush. Take it as slow as you and your horses needs rather than trying to make up for last season’s missed shows. Attend training clinics; they are a great way to help educate yourself and your horse.”

Dedicated showing enthusiast, Polly Mallender not only competes and stewards but is on a number of showing panels, including BSPS. Polly is one of the most compassionate and thoughtful horsewomen I know. As a friend, it was sad to learn about Polly’s struggles during lockdown. Polly was keen to share her story to encourage others to be kind to each other.

“The sweeping statement: “You’ve got your horses to keep you sane!” has been repeated to me often. But what happens when something goes wrong? Who do you turn to for your sanity and comfort? During the first lockdown I lost my ‘beautiful yellow’: Pancake. In ordinary times, a trip to the pub, a toast to my boy and couple of pints would have been therapy; however, I returned from the yard to an empty house with nothing to do but look over old photographs and cry for what seemed like days on end. Less than a month later, we discovered my home bred 8 year old had an untreatable spine abnormality. Once again, I had to lean on the virtual and phone support of my friends, who were like therapists to me. Due to the social restrictions that were enforced because of Covid19, my mental health dwindled – something I can normally recognise. I was unable to work but thanks to my super-hero mum and my friends and family, I received help from my GP. I am now feeling more stabilised and focusing on improvements. Losing a horse is never easy but losing them with no one by your side is even harder. I can’t even begin to imagine how so many people are coping with the grief of losing loved ones during this pandemic. 

Please remember to speak to your friends, lean on your family and raise a glass over Zoom. Don’t sit alone in saddening silence!”

I respect and admire the older members of the showing world. The sheer graft and passion about our discipline is oozed by those like Peter Emmerson and Paul Langrick (who I am lucky enough to have ridden for and learned from in my teens and twenties) and I am confident they will help to shape and drive showing forward safely. With the team spirit, love and wisdom of our experienced showing heroes, we will bounce back from Covid19 limitations to the sound of early morning alarm clocks, the smell of coat shine and the sight of colourful rosettes once again…

Women of the Equestrian World

Today’s women are superheroes! I admire all from the single mothers to the professional career driven females. With the contributing pressures that media brings, lots of women feel pressurised trying to balance ‘looking good’ to being ‘successful’, whether it be conforming to the largely expected stereotype of being a wife, mother and running the house or flying the flag for the modern day business woman who juggles everything from an extensive social calendar to a yard full of horses after work! It is important to remember that despite what we think society expects us to be, we must do what makes us happy and what is right for us. We are fortunate to live at a time that recognises the strength of women and provides more equal opportunities than ever before and the showing world is a shining example of equality for women in a sport or workplace. From Emily Davidson’s sacrifice as a suffragette at Epsom to the sheer excellence of female jockeys like Hollie Doyle and Rachael Blackmore breaking records today, we have evolved significantly as a more liberated world just 108 years from when women had to die for the rights we often taken for granted now.

When driving on to a showground at the crack of dawn, it isn’t a strange sight to see confident women driving huge horseboxes, like the hugely successful Danielle Heath, who looks glamorous both on and off a horse and her showing record speaks volumes for her talent, dedication and work ethic. Not only do women have the chance to succeed as show producers or riders, women continue to pave the way in our sport. Sarah Chapman created The Showing Register and competes around a busy judging schedule, bringing her wealth of experience and knowledge forward as a much respected member of our community. Nicolina McKenzie (SEIB) has shown such loyalty and commitment to opportunities for amateurs and works hard with a fantastic team to develop Search4aStar, R2R and Your Horse Live classes, on top of the fantastic work she does for charity.

In some cases, showing provides exclusive classes for women, such as the ladies hunter class. I adore how we have preserved this tradition and the skill required for riding sideward is impressive! 

I think it is brilliant that women can compete fairly in the same classes as men, and charge the same rates for their services. This is not something that is represented across sport, for example, women’s football. 

Aside from celebrating our showing queens, we must recognise the pressures women can face in today’s world. As a child, I watched some of my showing friends starve themselves in order to be as thin as possible for riding show ponies. I was too tall to ride lead rein and first ridden ponies and at nine years old, I rode my 14hh novice Highland. I used to feel self-conscious about being tall – even though I am 5ft5 as an adult! As a welfare issue, we police rider weight, which is positive for our animals but do we offer the correct support and what message are we giving to impressionable children? I think it is important that we educate our young riders to be fit and healthy rather than to focus on a number on the scales. 

As a young adult, I tried to balance studying for an English degree alongside working full time to pay for my hobby. I can remember competing in a Miss England beauty pageant round then heading to a nightclub to work a shift before driving to the Emmersons’ Showing Yard ready for a day’s showing. I lived at 100mph – constantly, and now I am paying the price!

At 34 years of age, I am conscious about my biological clock ticking and know I need to decide sooner or later whether having a family is for me. I have so many aims with horses and know that I will have to make a sacrifice to fulfil my equestrian hopes. Women do have to factor in the time out required to have a baby, and of course the dependency of a child means that horses often have to take a back seat.  Many manage to ride throughout pregnancy and some ladies bounce back in the saddle in no time, like the amazing Sam Roberts, who inspires me and makes me believe I could potentially manage being a mother and still being able to ride and compete, as much as this level of responsibility and the thought of getting much less sleep terrifies me!

Isobelle Seery understands what multi-tasking a modern day woman has to manage. She runs a successful business (National Horse Transport) and has always been a popular face on the county showing circuit. In her own words: “I know it sounds a touch cliché, but when I was a little girl I used to read all the magazines and think it would never be me. Now, I am lucky enough to look through the pages and consider some of my childhood idols in all disciplines as my friends and clients. My mum and I are from somewhat humble beginnings and she has most definitely instilled my resilience, no nonsense approach and borderline obsessive work ethic. I sometimes feel I’ve missed out on some normality with my line of work, as it’s not a normal job with normal hours. I struggle to find a healthy balance but I would love to settle down and have a family one day.”

Charlotte Miller has spent the majority of her life supporting the showing world, even after the tragic loss of her mother four years ago, who attended all shows with her. Her daughters have also inherited the showing bug and Charlotte is enjoying doing lead rein classes with Sophie this season, although she admits she suffers more nerves leading than riding herself! As well as being a full time mum, Charlotte runs a livery yard, has completed panel judge assessments for BSPS and has competed at HOYS, RIHS and Olympia. Charlotte’s advice is: “Never give up. You never stop learning.” Despite dealing with grief, Charlotte’s resilience and strength is admirable and she sets a positive example to the young judges and competitors in BSPS 1A. 

Helen Whiteley is also a shining example of female courage. Her story:

“During Albert’s first ridden season, I lost my older sister, Kelly, very suddenly to heart failure. In December 2019 I was told I had a growth in my bladder and would need surgery and chemotherapy. Just weeks after my operation I became ill again; further scans and consultants confirmed that the cancer had returned. 

My son and my fiancé pulled me through this difficult period. Knowing I had a season to aim for with Albert made me determined to get back to the stables, with the help from my sister, Jamie.

In 2020 we managed to get out to some shows, with him still being a novice I wanted to do as much as I could. He won the restricted at the BSPS Summer Championships and we took supreme champion at South Yorkshire Medal Show. We started this season with a win and champion in the Olympia Semi Final at NCPA, Derbyshire Spring and followed this up with an RIHS ticket at BSPS Winter Championships.” 

One partnership I enjoy following on social media is that of Michelle Feeney and her mare, Raegan, who is partnered in the ring by HOYS winning jockey, Emma Dewhurst, as Michelle suffers with arthritis. Michelle has struggled with her mental health and at the start of 2020 she was all set for her rescue horse to campaign in the HOYS Ladies Hunter class. Covid 19 shattered her showing plans: “It was like dressing up for a date and being stood up.” Despite being financially tested during lockdown, Michelle has rallied round to prepare for this season. She states: “Horses are one of life’s privileges and not a necessity and to think that we are so very lucky to have a horse as our escape or a conversation starter has been a lot of people’s sanity during Covid19. We all like to paint this super happy life on social media but behind closed doors there’s challenge. As a community, I like that we are very niche which is special. Not everyone understands it but there has been a lot of virtual hugging that has kept me going in darker time, and so for that I’m incredibly grateful and humbled.”

I think we should take note of how liberating the showing industry is. It is a beautiful rarity to be part of a community that doesn’t discriminate against race, sexuality, gender or age. In Michelle’s words: “We are niche and special.”

Spring Vibes – let the sunny season commence!

The festive period can be a time of emotional turbulence for some people. Many of us dwell on loved ones that we have lost. The majority of us feel the pressure of finding the right gifts, and ultimately financing the occasion – often to please others. Overall, as a society, we tend to lose concept of the true meaning of Christmas as we are force fed media pressures, and we get lost in the chaos of sales shopping, bigger and better decorations and attending social events. I would encourage everyone to be content and grateful with what they have and to not compare your position to those who are wealthier or more privileged and plaster it publicly online. Use the holidays to unwind, reflect and spend time with those who matter – horses or humans – all are our family! We frequently dispose of items before we really need to, and this has a huge impact on the globe. Handmade gifts and recycled items can still be special and cherished, all year round, not just over Christmas. I always find that my mood lightens when the clocks go forwards and the birds are tweeting at 5.30am when my alarm sounds!

I was humbled by a 2021 social media post, published by one of the younger members of showing community, Sophie Judge. Following a working hunter pony win on her mare (pictured), Sophie wrote: “Everything we have has been passed down or bought second hand – and I love it! The numnah is Rocky’s hunting numnah (very special to feel like he is still part of this). The jacket was our amazing friend’s and one that my mum wore in the ring too. The breeches also belonged to mum and are at least 10 years old. The tie was one made in the Blundell colours from when mum produced their ponies over ten years ago. My trainer lent me the bit. The newest thing I’ve got on is my hat (for safety reasons). My lorry was made in 1989 but keeps on getting us about. I have always been taught: ‘it’s not about what you turn up in; it’s what comes down the ramp!’ Stay humble: there is no shame in that!” When I was a child, I vividly remember Virginia Furness adopting the same principle and I admired her for this as one of my showing friends.

As well as having a spring clean, many of us start to improve our ‘summer bodies’. Julie Driver works as an equestrian Pilates teacher. She helps riders to improve their physical strength in the saddle, as well as their mental well-being. Julie believes that practising Pilates regularly develops your alignment, posture, stamina and balance. It works with your body as a whole, because when we improve our stability and movement in one area, it will have an impact throughout the rest your body improving your depth of seat and confidence. Developing your prorioception is the first step to recognising any imbalances you may have and therefore the first step in understanding how to improve your desired movements and restrict your unintentional ones. This is particularly important as it’s now recognised that riding and rider fitness have a direct impact on our horses. Our asymmetries and compensatory patterns can affect our horse’s performance and may resulting in veterinary/equine osteopathy intervention.

Julie recommends these exercises for all riders:

The Cat: Develops awareness of spinal neutral, improves spinal stability and mobility as well as scapular stability and mobility. Helps the rider to understand their position in the saddle and how to find their alignment if lost.

Start position: Kneel on all fours, with your knees underneath your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Your spine is lengthened, with your head in line with your neck. 

Movements: Exhale and begin to curl your tailbone down between your legs. Try to move vertebra by vertebra, curving each bone and allowing your upper back to gently curve. Allow your head to nod forward so you can see your pubic bone. Inhale to hold the lengthened curve. Exhale to start to uncurl your spine and head to the start position. Focus on moving vertebra by vertebra. Reps 5-10. Tips: Look for the sequential movement of the spine.

Threading the needle: Helps to improve rotation in the upper back and improves understanding of shoulder placement and stability within the shoulder.

Start position: Four point kneeling.

Movements: Put the back of the left hand on the floor, just behind the right wrist. Exhale to begin to lower the spine and rotate toward the right. Inhale to return to the start position. Reps: 3-5 times each side

Tips: Maintain the length of the spine as it rotates. Avoid leaning into the shoulder joint.

Half Roll back: Strengthens the abdominal muscles, helps us understand the riding position as we move in and out of neutral. Helps improve our “C-Curve”.

Start position: Seated with a vertical neutral spine, hands holding behind the knees.

Movements: Exhale to roll the pelvis backwards, allowing the arms to straighten as you move. Inhale to maintain position of the pelvis Exhale to roll back up, when the shoulder are back over the hip, realign the spine to neutral. Reps: 5-10 times.

Table Top: Challenges your spine and torso stability. This helps improve cross body co-ordination, which is important for developing an independent seat and use of aids. It also improves your balance and awareness of your position in the saddle.

Start position: Kneel on all fours, with your knees underneath your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Your spine is lengthened, with your head in line with your neck. 

Movements: Exhale to straighten and lift the left leg and right arm, keeping your spine and pelvis still. Inhale to return them to the start position. Reps: 5-10 times each pair. 

Lucinda Stockley

Lucinda is passionate about wellbeing and follows a vigorous exercise regime to stay healthy in body and mind. Lucinda advises: “To be a good rider, you need to focus on your own wellbeing. We spend hours focusing on our horse’s health and not as much on our own. I started focusing on my fitness and mental wellbeing during lockdown when the world stopped. It has helped me to become physically stronger and my riding has improved as a result. I learned to be satisfied with not being ‘perfect’. It is ok to have a bad day competing – it doesn’t mean that you are a bad rider!”

Lucinda’s 2022 aims:

1. Compete in some RIHS and HOYS qualifiers with Bracklinn Travis (my Fell).

2. Attempt a novice WHP track (if I am brave enough)!

3. Gain some judging experience.

Lucinda’s top tips to kick start the spring / summer season:

· Plan early as it takes time to get your pony fit enough to compete and you don’t want to feel stressed by being unprepared or rushed. I create a spreadsheet to manage my entries. This allows me to record judges and closing dates.

· Create a budget plan to allow for expenses like society renewals and height certificates that need completing at the start of the year.

· Try your jacket and boots on to make sure they fit or if they need dry cleaning!

Showing Calendar

We seem to want to plan our showing calendar earlier and earlier each time it comes around. Many of my friends purchase wall calendars and diaries early in order to map out which shows they wish to attend. In many respects, we are lucky that we can be so positive and plan out our hobby or business – especially at a time when the nights are dark and the weather is cold. So many feel winter blues and struggle to return to work but for equestrians, we bring horses in from their winter holidays, make progress with our novice animals and breakers, and we create goals and aspirations for the full year ahead. Georgia Aungier recommends using the winter months to, “give seasoned ponies a small break.” Georgia also promotes using down time from qualifying classes to: “pop a fence or try some dressage” to prevent ponies from becoming bored of schooling.

2022 Goals

For 2022, I have set myself a number of goals to motivate and drive myself. Firstly, I would love to build on the progress I have made with British Showjumping in 2021. After gaining my double clears for British Novice, I would like to compete at the second rounds, and will train hard with my trainers: Geoff Billington, Peter Allen and Paul Barker. I would also like to step up in track to Newcomers soon. This transition will require me to work on my levels of fitness as well as my horse’s level of fitness. I have recently been competing a former HOYS lightweight cob who turned her hoof to BS a few months ago. I like to compete at a new venue each year and this year I would really like to go to Stoneleigh for the National Championships as well as Bolesworth. As an equestrian influencer @samanthaosborneequestrian, I have lot of projects mapped out with equestrian businesses, which will also keep me very busy throughout the year. Furthermore, I have been fortunate enough to source a beautifully bred KWPN. Kornetto is jointly owned with myself and Rebecca Matthewman. We hope to kick start this horse’s BS record in 2022. It is important that resolutions create motivation rather than pressure and are achievable rather than unrealistic, as giving up and admitting defeat is never a positive feeling.

A new combination that has really caught my eye, is that of Christy Seaman and her beautiful Dales filly, Orla. Christy has had to overcome grief and tragedy after losing Castle Hill Taboo in 2021, at just 11 years old. Christy shares: “Losing a pony is never easy. After an ongoing lameness issue, my heart was shattered when I lost Taboo, and I realised just how lonely I was without a pony. I took it personally and dwelled on what I had done to deserve such loss. After a few weeks, I visited Griseburn Dales Pony Stud, which is where Taboo’s sire lives. Helen and Andrew Horn made us very welcome and showed us around all of the lovely ponies. In one field, were two fillies; one instantly trotted over to us and I knew I wanted her. I loved her temperament and conformation! She made my heart feel fuzzy. I learned that she is Taboo’s half-sister, which made her even more special. I phoned Helen every night for a fortnight and pestered her to sell Orla to me. Finally, Helen caved and a week later Orla arrived. Moving forwards is always hard after losing a pony but there are things you can do to help. Accept support from family and friends, try to stick to your normal routine and accept that crying is part of grieving and it is ok to display sadness. Ultimately, don’t give up on your dreams.”

I would like to take this opportunity to send all blog followers best wishes with your horse and ponies for the 2022 summer season. Be kind, be open-minded, be grateful and do what makes you happy.

Samantha Osborne

Instagram – @samanthaosborneequestrian

Website – Samantha Osborne Equestrian

Brand Ambassador for The Horse Life

Our Guest Bloggers

If you are an equine expert and would like to share your knowledge, please get in touch