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Motivating a depressed/disgusted teen?

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  • Motivating a depressed/disgusted teen?

    I am hoping some of the more experienced instructors can help me out here.

    I have a student who has quite a bit of natural talent. Last year she purchased one of my personal horses and did quite well showing him. She had a lunatic when she came here, totally unsuitable, and bought my horse right before show season. With her history with the crazy horse, much time was spent last year rebuilding her confidence and fixing some major bad habits she had (hanging and picking for fear of being run away with). Everything was not perfect but they enjoyed many successes, including a really fantastic finish at the state 4H show.

    Fast forward to this year... student knows she needs to buckle down and really apply herself, really looking forward to the season, etc. This year there are many really expensive horses showing against her (we are in a local, unrated show circuit), so the competition is stiff. She is not enjoying successes like last year. We are making some adjustments to her riding, horse got his hocks done. At home she schools well, at shows, if she gets to a less than perfect spot, it all falls apart.

    This kid in the past has always done really well. Always won. Had great ponies and a small first horse that were unbeatable around here because of their consistency. She moved up to the 3' with current horse, never did more than 2'3" with the others. I claim she is nervous and disgusted with herself. Parents can be harsh. Father rode as a kid and is super competitive. Mother semi-resents the money spent on the horse, and now that kid isn't beaming from her wins, wants to throw in the towel on the entire thing. I tell them that she gets nervous at shows, they claim she never did before. Kid claims she's not nervous, either, but I know better. She has been riding some ponies for a friend and is really enjoying that, is also doing a judging team thing that she is doing well at, and the horse is kinda on the back burner.

    I would like to knock her down a division, but that is hard to do mid year and would be percieved as a failure to kid. She has the talent and the horse has been multiple year end champ around here. I just am at a loss with it all.


  • #2
    Reach in and build confidence and NO Pity

    It is a tough balance to build their confidence and not wipe their noses.
    Remember success is usually reached after failure.

    If you hold her hand she will not tap in to the determination she needs to climb up to the next level.

    Actually this is all good for her--- If she has what it aked to stick it out and work out -- she will remember and learn from it.

    If it is all about winning --- well she will be disapointed .
    Riding is a humbling sport!
    The greatest gift you can give a rider is the confidence to succeed and to the awareness if you don't work hard you will fail.


    • #3
      Can she do a different division on him at the same height? Maybe she could show in the eq if the horse normally goes in the hunter ring or vice versa. Or maybe you could find some smaller jumper classes she can ride in at 2'6"... you know, "so the horse can get used to the brighter fences and more difficult lines."

      Actually the little jumper stuff may be quite good for her -she won't have to find 8 perfect spots and as long as the horse is honest, she might have a bit of fun doing something different, where there are no expectations based on "what she did last year."
      We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


      • #4
        She's not depressed in the classical medical sense...she's experiencing a dose of reality and sometimes, life just sucks.

        Poor her that she has a great prospect horse and a trainer willing to work very hard to help her and parents who are footing the bill and one who is hard on her! BOO HOO I say! Boo hoo!

        That sounds harsh, but for pete's sake. She has all the tools there in front of her. You don't always get a cookie or a reward for your hard work. Sometimes, all you get is knowing that you did your best. And sometimes your best comes from a lot of blood, sweat and tears where others get to just sail through. But it's still your best.

        I honestly think the best lesson here would be learned with some tough love. THIS is the horse you have. THIS is what you have to work with. You are BLESSED to have this opportunity. Now LET'S DO IT. The best we can. Winning isn't just about blue ribbons.

        Maybe horses just aren't for this kid. Because all the truly horse crazy kids/adult *I* know? They would kill to just get the opportunity to compete. Forget winning. Just being there would be enough. Having a HORSE would be enough.

        Let her take some time off if she wants. She might just not be THAT into it if she can't see it all for what it is. Maybe she was in love with winning--not horses.
        A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

        Might be a reason, never an excuse...


        • #5
          How old is the kid, and how mature for her age?

          You might try explaining to *all* members of the family several things:

          There is such a thing as a "rebuilding year" in riding. She's having one now. It's not time wasted.

          You never get to blame/dump/inject or medicate the snot out of the horse should there be a possibility that part of the problem is rider error.

          Together these mean "learn to ride the horse you have." If you don't, you won't progress through this bottle-neck.

          It also means that the rider has to either "come clean" about what she knows she's doing that's detracting from the picture. In this case, it sounds like the kid loses it once she has made a mistake, and that she is afraid of making one. She needs to practice screwing up and recovering. Dad needs to know (or ought to) that it's a skill worth learning.

          You might try having her keep going (perhaps lengthening the course) even after she has made a mistake. We might know we ought to ride the next fence and not the last one, but that takes practice.

          I think the kid needs to separated from the parents a bit. She needs to not let the pressure of her situation "come out sideways" in the form of poor sportsmanship. She needs to know and feel capable of stopping the accelerating buck of family pressure before it affects other people or her horse.

          It may be suprisingly easy to explain to her dad that this is a moving up year and that sacrificed wins are worth it in the long run.

          Not that it's your business, but her mom needs to work out the disagreement about how to spend the family's money with her husband. It's not the kid's call or problem. It's really easy to acquiesce to her husband's desire to have his daughter kick ass at his sport, and then hold the kid responsible for making her "unwilling investment" seem justified. And you know what? No amount of winning on the kid's part will make her feel better for having her husband not treat her as his financial equal and partner.

          If you can't become the family's counselor, you might at least let the kid know that her only job is to come out and ride the horse she has that day to the best of her ability.

          Now if I could just fix my life....
          The armchair saddler
          Politically Pro-Cat


          • #6
            Wow, some great suggestions.

            There is only one 3 foot division in these parts, hunters. As I said in the OP, I competed this horse in that division for years, and was no worse than reserve. So the horse is proven, kid is talented. But is scared of mistakes and feels tons of pressure from dad, even when he doesn't say anything. She knows he wants perfection, and that is enough to shake her.

            We do have 2'6" puddle jumpers and she is talking of doing them next year. Horse is dead honest and scopey, never needs to school, so that is a definite possibility. We also have the same height eq and I was thinking of that, but the kid hates to switch divisions in the midst of the year when she is trying for year ends.

            No, she is not "clinical", but just down on herself. I am thinking of tough love but the kid can be stubborn and gets enough tough at home. Hate to do that if there's another way.

            She is 16 and mature in some ways, not in others. I would say average maturity wise. I spoke to her tonight and she knows she does lose it when she screws up and I keep telling her that is experience. She does really well at home and the show atmosphere is enough to push her brain over the edge. She also is really hung up on the 6 figure horses around here that are being ridden by the pros - she has a very nice horse and could compete with a good round, but she is discouraged by them. She doesn't want to drop down if she can help it because the horse looks better over 3'.

            I was thinking of perhaps trying to trick her brain when she screws up... Like after each fence, say out loud, "Done" or something. Thinking it might help her compartmentalize each fence as its own element. "Done" and recheck position, pace, etc.


            • #7
              Could she "apprentice" with you and help you with younger kids?
              A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

              Might be a reason, never an excuse...


              • #8
                I think it's important that kids learn how to win -and- lose with grace.


                • #9
                  Sad story. I'm no expert, but I think you need to focus on THE PARENTS, not the student.... reminds me of a friend of mine in HS whose parents disciplined and occasionally smacked the child (no, I'm not kidding) if the results were not consistent (e.g. no blue ribbon meant hell to pay on the way home). Needlessly to say, friend quit riding the day he turned 18.

                  I'd let her try whatever she's willing to try within reason, and let the parents know she might not win every class. If they have a problem with that, well, maybe the family should not be in the show world. If student is truly talented and motivated, hopefully she'll find a way.
                  "Go on, Bill — this is no place for a pony."


                  • #10
                    First off, I commend you for asking for suggestions with this. I have had a similar situation, and I realized that the problems (in my situation) stemmed from unrealistic expectations, and a family priorities that just didn't mesh. It sounds like the parents have their priorities a little skewd. Mother is trying to spend the least amount of money, and Father wants the win. Neither one of these is wrong, but may times it takes money for the win. Daughter wants to make her parents happy...spend no money and still win. That is a lot of pressure for her, and she will be unhappy...especially because she was used to winning. You are in the middle trying to work this out. Maybe have a meeting with the family in your office and create goals that are not based on ribbons. At the same time create a budget that everyone can feel comfortable with. Winning is great, but there will always be someone better than you and someone worse than you...congradulate the winner and always be gracious when you win. Just my 2 cents...
                    Certified Spiritual Medium/ Animal Communicator


                    • #11
                      Sounds like there is a lot of emphasis on always winning at shows -- how about focusing instead on the sheer joy of riding and spending time with the horse? Sounds like a case of burnout combined with constant pressure (self-sourced or otherwise) to be competing and winning, which is pretty much a guaranteed joy-smasher.
                      Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                      Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                      We Are Flying Solo


                      • #12
                        great suggestions

                        FWIW, I think the suggestion of adding some small jumper stuff as a nice change of pace is a good one. One doesn't need to go fast to win, if one has a scopey honest horse that is supple and flexible and can make time on the turns, right?. Also, apprenticing to help with the youngers could reinforce self esteem when she finds herself giving advice and consoling others over a bad spot. As for nice six figure horses.........well that does make the competition stiffer, but goodness - in life there will always be someone prettier, thinner, more talented, smarter, richer, etc. She's got to develop a sense of self worth, and the apprenticing might be the ticket when she realizes how much she's learned. Also, it might take her eye off the ring and keep her occupied.
                        pace, path, balance, impulsion and ??

                        Don't panic! Ralph Leroy Hill


                        • #13
                          Well.. none of you fellow cothers will agree with my standpoint but...
                          tell it like it is.

                          I am a junior as well and although I don't have the same feelings and seemingly constant disappointments as your student does.. I really abhor a trainer, or adult for that matter, that is constantly making excuses for my poor riding. I would rather be told quite frankly that "It's your stinking fault you chipped and ducked on every God awful fence and didn't move up for the five stride, learn from it young grasshopper"(you get where I'm going with this..)
                          If I was you.. I would go back to 2'6 and rebuild your student correctly from there.
                          I don't think that putting her on a total schoolmaster will rebuild her self esteem, instead learn to ride the horse you're given. You mentioned shes hung up on the high end horses that people mistake for being "easy." Let her know that instead of wishing for a fancier ride, work at your own ride in an effort to win against them when the time comes.

                          As for the parents, have a meeting over lunch or something. Really let them know that it's best if you support your daughters riding in a fun family orientated situation. Celebrate the wins and don't dwell on the bad.


                          • #14
                            Meliora, you nailed it when you said about the kid trying to win while not spending money, etc. She is working this summer and footing some bills herself, but there is definite fear of asking for something the horse/she needs.

                            We don't have younger students, but I do have her help me with my greenies and baby projects to help her feel accomplishment. She's just kinda shutting down, I think.

                            I keep telling her that there will always be a nicer horse/better round, etc, and that she should rise to the occasion. That I think is a touch of immaturity on her part, and of course, wanting to win. Basket case horse she came with, she hated on first sight, father loved him and bought him anyway. Very talented, but a screw loose. She spent 2 years with him, hating riding and fighting with her dad over that darn horse.

                            I am emphasizing trail riding, and am thinking of doing a bareback lesson soon, as well. I would also like to swap horses for a lesson, but our 4H county show is coming up and the girls really need to focus on their own mounts. A few weeks back I even shipped her down with me to ride with my trainer, who is fantastic, to have her hear the same things, but in a different way.

                            Keep the suggestions coming - both for dealing with the family and any exercises or riding ideas, as well!


                            • #15
                              I think it's great that you are perceptive and caring about your students.

                              I like the suggestion about jumpers but you said there isn't an equivalent that wouldn't be a step back, which I understand.

                              What I wanted to suggest was a paperchase or long trail ride or something with your barn group and not the parents. That would take the kid back to basics/connection with the horse, and give her fun things to do (and jump). It would only be one day but it could be very fun and valuable and a Paperchase For The Soul kind of thing.

                              We take almost all of our show hunters paperchasing (carefully, prudently, we don't rip and tear a whole lot). But we gallop a bit and spend some really fun time exposing the horses and riders to that type of experience. Everyone has a great tiime. This could be one of may fun ways your student could reconnect with her horse and maybe enjoy him more and then be more confident/happy in the show ring.

                              Are there paperchases near you?
                              * * *
                              Ch. G, 2000
                              Stalwars x Theydonittoknight


                              • #16
                                I love the paperchase idea!

                                I actually have a good amount of sympathy for the girl. From your description, it doesn't sound like she's sulking when she doesn't win, but is having an anxiety attack of sorts when she makes mistakes. And once that starts happening, you just make more mistakes, and it escalates.

                                I have a pretty similar reaction to things, and it's really not fun. Having an easy time learning new things at first can make it worse, I think, since you get used to picking stuff up easily and in a way don't know how to learn. I also had a high-pressure parent, in a different way, and you really internalize that. How ever many times I tell myself no one will yell if I don't get it perfect the first time, I never have quite managed to believe it.

                                Honestly I'm still pretty inclined to freak out at myself when I make mistakes or don't learn quickly. I have to make a very conscious effort to calm down and focus only on what I am trying to do and block out thoughts detailing how I suck. I hate getting only positive reinforcement when taking lessons - actually I'm suspicious of it - but do much better when corrections are very calm and direct. "It's your stinking fault you chipped and ducked on every God awful fence and didn't move up for the five stride, learn from it young grasshopper" would totally freak *me* out, although I think it would be great for other people. "You chipped every fence because you did _____, you were ducking, and you should have moved up for the five stride" would work better for me. In other words, I'm all for taking the responsibility, just need to focus only on the actions and not my greater suckiness.

                                I also have found that practicing things alone can help me a lot, since it takes off the pressure of someone seeing me mess up. I recently tried relearning to ride a bike (sad, I know) with some help from friends, and it was a disaster. A while later I just went by myself to a parking lot, and was fine.


                                • #17
                                  I think the kid is in a tough spot. She is caught between the parents' issues and also - is buckling under the weight of the expectations of how she "should" do, based on her prior success as well as her horse's record.

                                  If changing divisions isn't possible, I would give her simpler goals. Whether that is to maintain a single, consistent canter around the ring at the appropriate pace/track, always find the center of the jumps, always ride straight to the ends of the ring or whatever - give her ONE thing to focus on and do well. Doesn't matter if she has other mistakes - as you will fix them one at a time.

                                  With riders like this, it is all about creating the appropriate muscle memory, so they don't have so much to handle all at once. If you can put it in terms of what her horse needs, so much the better - "Suzy, Trigger is drifting a little left over the verticals coming into the line. You need to help him by shaping the corner properly, keeping him between your inside leg and outside rein, and really ride him straight down the line so he doesn't bulge. I don't care what else happens but in that line, he MUST be straight," or something similar may be easier for her to focus on than worrying about winning the class. And if the goal is just to ride straight down the lines ... she can be successful even if she has mistakes elsewhere in the course that keep her out of the ribbons.
                                  We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


                                  • #18
                                    Get her a journal, and have her write down weekly goals, and then at the end of teh week, evaluate them and set the next goal accordingly. For example, instead of working on a perfect round, work on getting the perfect spot to the green vertical off the corner. by the next week, how has it improved? If she considers it a goal met , then add to it-get the green vertical and then the line to the blue oxer.

                                    Same deal for shows-this show work on getting one line really great, next, both outside lines, etc. It gives her concrete evidence of her improvement that is not a ribbon. When it's about setting and achieveing realistic goals in a set amount of time, she will see that she is improving, and hopefully will be able to realize that sometimes, meeting a specific goal and getting it exactly right feels better than any ribbon.


                                    • #19
                                      Can you change the focus of each show for HER? I know her dad is probably going to be all about the ribbons, but if you borrow from dressage a bit - while you do get ribbons in dressage, part of the value of competing is to compete against yourself. Many people are quite happy to come in dead last if that score is a significant improvement over the previous show (even if they won the previous show due to the quality of the competition. The loss means more than the win, because of what the score represents.)

                                      I don't know enough about hunters to suggest what an appropriate focus/goal per show would be, but I'm sure you can probably come up with things.

                                      Also, something which is useful for positive thinking in general is actually writing things down. So after every show (or every lesson, if necessary) give her homework (or do it with her at first, to get her thinking of things) to write down X number of things she did *well*. She probably gets quite a lot of 'you did this bad and that bad and this other mistake' from herself and possibly at home, and of course lessons tend to focus on what needs to be improved, not what's going well. Having successes written down so they're firm and concrete can really help keep things in perspective.

                                      Until she gets into the habit of thinking more positively, I'd probably avoid asking her to identify what she did wrong - it's too easy to start dwelling on mistakes and getting very nit-picky, which is not what she needs to keep a good mental state. You're obviously going to bring the subject up in the next lesson anyway, so unless she's able to be positive about it - go beyond what was wrong to think of possible approaches to fix the problem to create positive goals - there's no need for her to be dwelling before then.

                                      Another approach might be to just let her ride a different horse in a show or two - one that isn't really good or special, maybe one that's a bit green, so there's less pressure to win because the horse hasn't done it before anyway, so it's not expected. She can then just focus on getting a good round for that horse and that might help with what I was mentioning earlier, with shifting the source of that sense of achievement from "getting a ribbon" to "improving the performance."


                                      • #20
                                        Don't have the parents come to the show!!! That way you and the kid can have fun at the show w/o the kid having the expectations of having to do well for the dad. I also like letting the kid go on trail rides. Let her do fun things like taking the horse in a lake near the barn and using him as a slide. (yes it can be done). just letting her take a day where she just hangs out with the horse and just learns to bond with him again. Sometimes we get soo caught up in the 85 cent ribbon that we lose sight of the fact that horses are supposed to be enjoyed!!!!!
                                        Author of COTH article "The Other Side of Aaron Vale"