Learn why tak­ing time away from your fam­ily to be at the barn can be a ben­e­fit for your chil­dren and loved ones, too.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Jenny Susser, PhD

Jenny Susser shares tips for strength­en­ing your mind as a rider.


I’m a busy mom and I have trouble es­cap­ing to the barn. When I do get there, I of­ten feel guilty for rid­ing rather than be­ing at home with my fam­ily. My hus­band is happy to pitch in with the kids, but I can’t help but feel that I’m be­ing a lit­tle self­ish. The guilt makes rid­ing much less en­joy­able. Is there a way I can get back to en­joy­ing what lit­tle time I have at the barn?


You are not alone in this worry. Many ath­letes of­ten feel self­ish and some­times be­lieve that a life of train­ing, trav­el­ing and com­pet­ing is self­ind­ul­gent. When I was swim­ming, I ex­pe­ri­enced some of th­ese feel­ings as well. Par­ents can of­ten have a faulty as­sump­tion that any­thing they do that doesn’t di­rectly im­pact or support their chil­dren is self­ish or bad for their kids. But there is ac­tu­ally er­ror in this way of think­ing and feel­ing, and it takes a lit­tle bit of work to ad­dress this and cor­rect it.

First of all, as a par­ent, don’t un­der­es­ti­mate your job as your chil­dren’s role model. This is ob­vi­ously im­por­tant, yet some­times we fail to see just how much mod­el­ing we do. Chil­dren watch ev­ery­thing we do, whether they ap­pear to or not. When your chil­dren see you mak­ing your en­tire life about them, it will make them think life is about them.

When your chil­dren see you cre­at­ing a life with bal­ance and many in­ter­ests that are im­por­tant to you, they will learn that tak­ing care of your­self is just as im­por­tant as tak­ing care of oth­ers. I see way too many par­ents get­ting stuck out of bal­ance be­cause of the worry that they are not do­ing enough for their chil­dren. We want to teach the next gen­er­a­tion to have bal­ance in life and the only way to do that is to have bal­ance in our own lives.

Sec­ondly, if chil­dren see their par­ents do­ing some­thing that is chal­leng­ing, it gives them per­mis­sion and in­spires them to do some­thing that is chal­leng­ing. Horses are not for the faint of heart, and when you work hard and your kids see that, it cre­ates the op­por­tu­nity and de­sire for them to work hard at some­thing.

Think about your per­spec­tive and view of your par­ents when you were young. What did you learn or take from what they worked on or did for them­selves? Be­sides, no one wants his or her par­ents around all the time!

Lastly, com­mu­ni­cate with your chil­dren about your rid­ing. In­stead of po­si­tion­ing your eques­trian pur­suits as some­thing to hide or feel guilty about, use them to deepen your re­la­tion­ships.

Tell your chil­dren all about go­ing to the barn. Tell them how chal­leng­ing it is and how it cre­ates daily op­por­tu­nity for growth. Tell them about your re­la­tion­ship with your horse and how it feeds your heart and soul.

Tell them how hard you work to keep your horse healthy and happy and show them how dirty your fin­ger­nails are and how that se­cretly makes you happy ev­ery time you look at them. Tell them how dif­fi­cult dres­sage is and how you work on it to keep im­prov­ing and pro­gress­ing even when it seems im­pos­si­ble.

Share the ex­pe­ri­ence with them be­cause it has depth and value for both of you.

When you get stuck feel­ing guilty, just re­mem­ber the emer­gency in­struc­tions when you are a pas­sen­ger on an air­plane: “Put your mask on be­fore help­ing oth­ers.” The bet­ter you take care of you, the bet­ter you are able to take care of oth­ers.

Stay fo­cused, stay com­mit­ted and most of all, be kind to your­self.

Jenny Susser has a doc­toral de­gree and is li­censed in clin­i­cal health psy­chol­ogy, spe­cial­iz­ing in sport psy­chol­ogy. A four-year all-Amer­i­can swim­mer at UCLA, she swam on two national teams and at the 1988 Olympic Tri­als. She has worked with ath­letes of all sports and ages—col­le­giate, pro­fes­sional, in­ter­na­tional and am­a­teur. She was the sport psy­chol­o­gist for the 2010 WEG South African Para-Dres­sage Team and the 2012 U.S. Olympic Dres­sage Team. Dr. Jenny is also a per­for­mance coach with Hu­man Per­for­mance.

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