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Keep Calm and Carry On: The Art of Turning a Bad Show Day into Future Success

We’ve all been there – after what feels like an investment of endless time and money, you go to a show and have a blow-up in a class, struggle to make it through a pattern or find your horse would rather spook at the arena banners than listen to you. It can be maddening, disappointing, and disheartening. 

However, it is possible to turn these setbacks into set-ups for future success by following these five simple tips. 

Turn that Frown Upside Down

It’s cliché and overused, but so entirely relevant to the horse show setting. According to Ron Gutman, the author of Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act, “British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.”

Smiling elevates your mood and creates a sense of well-being by stimulating your brain to release dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, which boosts your mood. Smiling is so powerful, a University of Kansas study found that even fake smiling reduces heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations. So, how can you smile when you’re down?

Take a break. If you can, take a moment away from what is upsetting you to do something that will make you smile. Change gears and listen to a favorite song, read humorous online articles or memes, take a nap, or eat a favorite snack. This separation will allow you to push the reset button and return to your horse in a better frame of mind. 

Science also shows that the brief dopamine rush from instant gratification does not make us happy (at least, not in the long term). Indeed, happy people are said to “choose” happiness.

Therefore, being comfortable requires work and practice. Remind yourself to choose happiness. Remind yourself to smile, not only for your mental health, but smiling is also contagious.

If you smile at others, more often than not, they will return the smile. This may allow you to brighten someone else’s bad day and that will have a snowball effect on your mental health. After all, “When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you!”

Focus on the Positive

Improve a bad day by putting a conscious effort into “reframing” a bad situation and focusing on the positive. When we change our perspective on any given circumstance, the facts will remain the same, but a deliberate shift is made in how we see it.

For example, instead of focusing on the moment your horse spooked, focus on the soft lope departure before or the fact that you were able to recover and finish your pattern.

Additionally, researchers have shown that self-professed optimists are more likely to approach disappointment by identifying what actions to remedy the situation. Instead of ruminating on what went wrong or wasting energy focusing on things they cannot change, optimists try to resolve complex problems.

Try to concentrate on things you can do at home to help your horse deal with whatever bothered them to make it less likely they will react so dramatically the next time.

Spread Kindness

Improve a lousy show day by doing something kind for someone else. According to the Mayo Clinic, “kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy, compassion, and improve mood.” It can even decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a hormone that directly impacts stress levels.

The warm feeling you get after doing something kind, also known as the “helper’s high,” actually brings about a biochemical change. Our brain’s pleasure center lights up as a reward for being friendly, causing a dopamine rush.

According to the University of California, Berkeley, the “helper’s high” is said to produce enough endorphins to have the same mental effect as a mild morphine high.

So, when you’re feeling down, look for ways to be kind. Look for someone else who is struggling and offer them a word of encouragement or opportunity to commiserate. Offer words of congratulations to a competitor who won your class. Clap for great goes. Help another member of your barn get ready for their class.

These actions will not only make others feel better, they will reduce your stress and help you recover from your struggles.

Remind Yourself of Your Journey

Turn a tough day into a springboard for success by reminding yourself of your journey as a rider or your horse’s journey as an equine athlete. Where did you come from compared to where you are today? Often, even on a bad day, you can recognize several ways in which you have improved. 

Maybe you are competing at a higher level, or your horse is adding a new class? Perhaps you are learning to apply new techniques? Be gentle with yourself and remind yourself that any competitive activity is a journey.

There will inevitably be bumps along the road, but the trajectory is generally toward ongoing progress with time and practice. If you can acknowledge your progress and areas that will require more work, you will keep improving and be in a mental place to learn from your mistakes.

Vent Privately to a True Friend

Finally, another way to turn a bad day around is to talk about it with someone. Venting is proven to help people discharge negative emotions and restore their psychological equilibrium.

However, psychologists advise that you only vent feelings to a close, trusted friend and that you make sure to vent privately. Additionally, venting is intended to be temporary, and the most successful venters express their frustrations and then move on. 

So, when you’ve had a bad day, it’s ok to admit it was a bad day. Talk about what upset you and why you are upset. And then stop dwelling on those frustrations and choose to move forward.

Remember, horses are only animals, and we are only human…and sometimes we both have bad days. But if we don’t define our show experience by those bad days, we can use the low points as launchpads.

If we all work together to encourage positivity through struggles, we can be guaranteed more good days than bad and horse showing will remain fun for everyone. After all, the majority of us show horses because it is supposed to be fun. So don’t forget to have fun.

About the Author: Megan Rechberg has been riding horses on-and-off since she was in sixth grade. Megan is currently taking a break from practicing law to raise her kids (Jackson and Sterling), and she spends her free time riding her APHA all-around mare Hoos From Heaven under the guidance of Katie Wagner Show Horses.