In­side Your Ride

Tips for en­hanc­ing group co­he­sion at your barn

Practical Horseman - - Contents - By Tonya John­ston

Men­tal-skills coach Tonya John­ston and Olympian Ali Brock of­fer sug­ges­tions and ex­am­ples on how to build a team­work dy­namic at your barn.

Have you ever been to a barn where you could tell ev­ery­one was on the same team? You could sense the ca­ma­raderie, good vibes and to­geth­er­ness through­out the fa­cil­ity? When it ex­ists it’s ac­com­pa­nied by an en­ergy that gets peo­ple work­ing to­gether in a pos­i­tive way. You hear rid­ers say­ing “Beau­ti­ful job!” to each other in a les­son, invit­ing each other to hack out on Sun­day, com­ing to­gether to get the barn ship­shape for a clin­i­cian and head­ing off to a horse show as a united group.

In my work with teams, barns and rid­ers I have seen first­hand what a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive ef­fect the health of your group can have on your per­sonal en­joy­ment and suc­cess. I would bet you know ex­actly what I mean. It may feel like this sort of to­geth­er­ness is out of your con­trol or just hap­pens by luck, but ac­tu­ally there are many things you can do to build pos­i­tive team co­he­sion at your barn.

Al­li­son Brock: In­spi­ra­tional Team­work

The very best com­pe­ti­tion teams pur­pose­fully strive for group co­he­sion,

ex­cel­lent com­mu­ni­ca­tion and mu­tual sup­port. Al­li­son (Ali) Brock was on just such a team when she was part of the bronze-medal- win­ning Olympic dres­sage team that went to Rio in 2016. As she de­scribes it, there was a clear com­mit­ment to fos­ter pow­er­ful group syn

Robert Dover. It was achieved through ex­ten­sive plan­ning, co­or­di­na­tion and will­ing­ness from all in­volved to truly come to­gether, and in her opin­ion it played a sig­nif­i­cant role in their suc­cess.

“We were all show­ing to­gether for at least a year be­fore the Olympics … . We would make sure that we sta­bled to­gether and our team group was all for one and one for all. We lived to­gether, trained to­gether … through all of the ups and downs … . [As a re­sult of that process] you learn how to be a good sup­port sys­tem to one an­other. When

Be­ing on a team forces ev­ery­one to com­mu­ni­cate well. You learn how to be di­rect and tact­ful. You have to talk to each other.

Oc­ca­sion­ally things are un­ten­able, that is true, but more of­ten than not you can ab­so­lutely change things for the bet­ter.

we got to Rio we were very, very tight. It wasn’t a group of in­di­vid­u­als show­ing up to an event, it was a team.

“The peo­ple are so key, and we had like-minded in­di­vid­u­als. All of us are highly am­bi­tious, all of us were ex­tremely fo­cused … . We wanted to medal. We re­ally be­lieved in each other and we be­lieved we were strong enough to do so. We made a pact that if we got a medal we were go­ing to get Olympic ring tat­toos—and guess what, we got a medal and so we all did!

“Be­ing on a team forces ev­ery­one to com­mu­ni­cate well. You learn how to be di­rect and tact­ful. You have to talk to each other. It doesn’t go per­fectly all of the time, and feel­ings get hurt and this and that, so it’s a great op­por­tu­nity to work on your com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills … . Show with your friends and go as a group … . Op­er­ate as a team even if it isn’t a for­mal team. It makes it more fun.”

Ali’s ex­pe­ri­ence is such an in­spir­ing ex­am­ple of a suc­cess­ful team you may be tempted to take your horse and rid­ing bud­dies to com­pete in an­other coun­try for the rest of the year. (Wouldn’t that be amaz­ing?) How­ever, in case that is a tad unrealistic, here are some of my top tips for fos­ter­ing a team at­ti­tude at your cur­rent barn.

Share Your Goals

Ali and her team­mates hap­pened to have some com­mon goals, such as medal­ing at the Olympics, but it was also be­ing open and hon­est with each other that built such strong bonds. It is up to you to re­spect, honor and share your goals with barn mates when you can. “I’m work­ing on stay­ing straight and us­ing the whole ring at the show this week,” you say to your friend as you pack your tack trunks to­gether. By tak­ing the ini­tia­tive to share,

you are mod­el­ing open­ness, trust and in­clu­sive­ness that will help fos­ter a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment. In­stead of be­ing afraid that peo­ple are judg­ing you or are fo­cused on be­ing com­pet­i­tive, you are tak­ing the ini­tia­tive to cre­ate pos­i­tive en­ergy for your process.

Find the Gold in Co­op­er­a­tion

Co­op­er­a­tion el­e­vates your pur­pose and helps you gain per­spec­tive on your ex­pe­ri­ence. Rather than run­ning the risk of nar­row­ing down your focus too much, over-think­ing your rides or over-hyp­ing your com­pet­i­tive juices, col­lab­o­ra­tion can help you cre­ate bal­ance as you value your role as a team player. For ex­am­ple, “Hey ev­ery­one, let’s of­fer to be back-gate sup­port for each other at the show this week­end. We can co­or­di­nate our schedules, keep bot­tles of water and sup­plies at the ring and then make sure ev­ery­one gets some TLC be­fore they walk in.” Keep your mind on cre­ative solutions for things like time man­age­ment and chore chal­lenges while you con­tinue to be­lieve that ev­ery­one can, wants to and will rise to the oc­ca­sion. Then, on a per­son­ally chal­leng­ing show day (per­haps your horse saw a mon­ster in the cor­ner of the arena), you can go home still feel­ing great about your con­tri­bu­tions to the team.

Re­spect Each Other’s Process

As Ali de­scribes, ev­ery­one was ex­tremely fo­cused and am­bi­tious on the 2016 Olympic dres­sage team. She felt a sim­i­lar­ity in their ded­i­ca­tion, work ethic and at­ten­tion to de­tail. How­ever, re­mem­ber­ing that most in­di­vid­u­als will have their own slightly unique ap­proach to prepa­ra­tion, rid­ing and care is im­por­tant. Your in­ten­sity and ef­fort may be sim­i­lar to your team­mates’, but your road maps to achieve a goal may dif­fer. You can likely point to some ex­am­ples of this at your own barn. For ex­am­ple, you know that Rachel likes to have some time alone while she gets her­self ready for an im­por­tant ride, while Matt pre­pares for a clinic ses­sion by stay­ing busy do­ing chores. Honor your team­mates’ per­sonal ex­per­tise by giv­ing them space to do their rou­tine and you will win in many ways, in­clud­ing gen­er­at­ing pos­i­tive feel­ings and greater team co­he­sion.

Be the Change You Wish To See

Lead by ex­am­ple. So many times I hear rid­ers talk about dif­fi­cult so­cial sit­u­a­tions at the barn as if they are play­ing

a role in a script they cannot edit. Oc­ca­sion­ally things are un­ten­able, that is true, but more of­ten than not you can ab­so­lutely change things for the bet­ter. As Ali pointed out, things aren’t al­ways easy and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills are key in a group set­ting. Take the lead by brain­storm­ing ways to affect the en­vi­ron­ment in a pos­i­tive way. Greet­ing ev­ery­one with a smile and a kind com­ment no mat­ter what is a ter­rific way of im­pact­ing a chal­leng­ing dy­namic, for ex­am­ple. Be sure to feel good about your ef­forts no mat­ter what tran­spires as a re­sult.

Re­mem­ber That Suc­cess Fos­ters Suc­cess

Even if you aren’t rid­ing for a team score like Ali was in Rio, be aware that ev­ery in­di­vid­ual’s suc­cess is a po­tent cat­a­lyst. You want to be sur-

rounded by suc­cess; it is catch­ing. The mo­men­tum of a pos­i­tive at­mos­phere is pal­pa­ble—if you al­low your­self to soak it up it will con­trib­ute to your progress. Happy horses and rid­ers achiev­ing their po­ten­tial in­spire ev­ery­one to put in their best ef­fort. Don’t get stuck play­ing the com­par­i­son game, just ap­pre­ci­ate your own and your team­mates’ ded­i­ca­tion to ex­cel­lence in prepa­ra­tion and per­for­mance.

If you are a lucky per­son who has ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ing in a won­der­ful team at­mos­phere or has your horse in that en­vi­ron­ment now, you know what a valu­able im­pact it can have on the part­ner­ship you share with your horse. If you rec­og­nize some op­por­tu­ni­ties here to im­prove your barn’s co­he­sion, I en­cour­age you to take con­struc­tive ac­tion right away—im­prov­ing the time you spend with your horse is well worth the ef­fort!

If you rec­og­nize some op­por­tu­ni­ties here to im­prove your barn’s co­he­sion, I en­cour­age you to take con­struc­tive ac­tion right away.

U.S. Olympian Al­li­son Brock and Ro­sevelt at the Ach­leiten CDI in June 2015

An eques­trian men­tal-skills coach and A-cir­cuit com­peti­tor, Tonya John­ston has a mas­ter’s de­gree in sport psy­chol­ogy. Her book, In­side Your Ride: Men­tal Skills for Be­ing Happy and Suc­cess­ful with Your Horse, is avail­able in paper­back or e-book edi­tions. For more info on Tonya’s work, go to www.Tonya John­

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