Written by: April Clay
How to walk the fine line between being supportive and interfering.
Know your role
As a parent you are part pit crew, part groom, title sponsor, and certainly head cheerleader. But there is one thing you should not be – and that is a coach. Coaching when you have no business doing so, whether it’s at home or from the sidelines, can cause considerable stress for your young rider. You could be offering conflicting advice from that of their coach, leaving your child confused and worried about pleasing you both. You could also be sending an unintended message such as, “I don’t think you’re riding well,” or worse, “You’re disappointing me.”
Regardless of their age, and no matter how independent they seem, your child needs a parent. The day they are overwhelmed or dispirited they will need you, but they will not be inclined to come to you for comfort or advice if they think they’re going to be judged or corrected. Make it easy for them to access your support in times of need and leave the coaching to the coach.
Respecting the bubble
Riders of all ages have their own preferences when it comes to their personal space at horse shows. The younger rider may need more hands-on help and support, both physically and emotionally, right up until they enter the ring. Teenagers usually require a lot less assistance, but may still want to know where you are in case they need you.
Never assume that you need to do everything for your child at a horse show. Ask them what their needs are both in terms of physical assistance and emotional support, then ask them when they would prefer you to not be around, or at least silent. Respect this “bubble time.”
Game time, game face
We get engaged emotionally in sport; it’s part of what makes it so thrilling. You will experience a range of feelings while watching your child compete, from anxiety and elation, to pride and even occasional outrage. A problem arises if you are not aware of, and in control of, these emotions, as they can negatively impact your young rider’s experience.
Like a world-class rider, be ready with your own tools for regulating your competition stress. Know what your triggers are: unfairness, your child’s attitude, mental or physical exhaustion. Then develop some tools for yourself in the form of distractions, positive tasks, or perception checks. For example, make yourself a self-appointed horse show photographer, water boy/girl, boot shiner, or horse holder. Take a page from your teen’s book of fun and play a game on your phone in between rounds to ease your intensity. Check your perception (just as riders have to now and again) by reminding yourself this is just one horse show or one round among many.
When emotions are intense, physiological changes occur that compromise decision-making. Be prepared for a self-directed ‘time out’ when necessary. Remove yourself from the warmup ring, in-gate, or any area that would otherwise leave you vulnerable to interfering behaviour. Know that if you have to communicate with your rider, coach, or someone else you will – but only after you have had a chance to cool off from your emotional response. Only then can you ensure your message will be the one you intended.