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Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi

Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi

Reposted from Darby Bonomi PhD.. Darby Bonomi is a practicing psychologist and consultant that works with people of all ages to achieve lasting change and establish foundations for mental wellness. Darby combines her life-long experience in the equestrian world with her vast toolbox of psychological and coaching interventions. Riders of all levels and their families reclaim joy in the sport, leading the way to improved performance and better health.

Dear Dr. Darby,

I have been on Shelter In Place for several weeks, with no end in sight. I can’t even see my horse, much less ride or have a lesson. And, of course, we have no idea when the shows will be rescheduled. This is my last junior year and I feel so sad about it. I know it’s a small problem in some ways, but it’s a real loss to me.


—C.P., Sacramento, CA

Dear C,

Thanks for your question. You raise many important topics. Let’s start with the grief you are feeling, and the guilt that is on top of that grief. I’ve had quite a few clients feel guilty about their sadness over the loss of horse shows, or horse time. They feel that it’s not OK to have these feelings when others are in much worse shape. It’s important to recognize that we are all experiencing losses in our lives, some bigger than others, and all the grief is powerful and real.

When you feel that grief—usually a very heavy bodily feeling along with intense sadness—allow it to be. Don’t push away your feelings. Acknowledge them.

You might try writing them down in a journal.

Journaling about your feelings during this time can help you manage and cope—it gives you a safe place to put feelings out there, in an unedited version.

If you are in your last junior year as a rider, I suspect you may also be a senior in high school. If so, you’re missing out not only on horse show milestones, but also on other milestones—prom, senior retreats, yearbook meetings, parties and even graduation. The losses are significant, and there is no way to ”make them up.” Nonetheless, this crisis calls upon us all to accept the situation, gather our strength, and find ways to move forward in positive and productive ways.

After you have allowed yourself some grieving time—maybe even daily—put it away and actively decide to focus on moving yourself forward.

One of my mantras is stay grounded in present time while keeping your eye on where you’re headed. This perspective is even more relevant now. As I said before, we have to mindfully acknowledge what we are going through, and at the same time keep our intentions and larger purpose in mind.

Keep Your “Why” Front & Center

What is your why, when it comes to riding? Is it to hone your skills and jump bigger? Or complete a pattern flawlessly? Or take your skills to the next level?

Well, all those goals are still relevant. We are all a work in progress. This crisis has changed our path, but the floodwater will recede, and we will navigate a new path to our destination.

So now let’s talk specifically about the loss of riding during Shelter in Place.

First and foremost, stay fit. Ok, you can’t ride right now, because you’re at home. But you can be active. Actually, it’s essential to stay fit, both so that you can be ready to get back on when we get the green light—but even more important—for your overall physical and mental health. I suggest, if you haven’t already, designing a plan of workouts six days per week, that includes stretching, strengthening, balance, and aerobic conditioning. If you need help, there are countless videos and Zoom workouts available right now. The most important thing is that you put workouts in your daily routine and stick to it. I personally like to get outside, and because of where I live, this is relatively easy and safe for me.

Second, use visualization to “ride.” Visualization is a powerful tool that many of us use to prepare for a performance. In this circumstance, you can “practice” your rides by closing your eyes and visualizing. The more intense and alive you make your visualization, the more effective it will be. Sit yourself on a stool or somewhere where you can simulate your position in the saddle. Sit up straight, put yourself in a riding seat. Close your eyes. Call to mind a lesson, or a show round that you want to work on.

Bring it into sharp focus so that you can sense every detail, just like you would on an actual ride. Feel your horse underneath you. Feel your feet in the irons.

Touch your horse’s mane. Feel the bridle in your hands. Now, in great and vivid detail, ride the round or the lesson. Practice what you are working on. To your brain, such intense visualization is very close to doing the real thing. Visualization is a great way to correct mistakes, too!

Third, study videos of yourself and of pros you admire. Really observe both yourself and the pros—see what tips you can pick up. Now that you have more time, videos can be an effective tool, and studying them closely will give you real information rather than just the gratification of watching.

Finally, staying socially connected, even though we’re physically apart, is essential during this time. You’re young so it’s likely you’re on social media a lot, but even so, try to maintain more real time connection with your riding friends. You’re not alone in your predicament, and I think sharing feelings with friends makes us all feel better. Be sure to reach out to people beyond texting and messaging so that you can have more meaningful conversations. One of the beautiful elements of showing is that we all tend to make friends across the region and state. During this time, you might be surprised how many people are in your same boat and feeling the same things.

Hang in there. We’ll get through this together.

—Darby Bonomi, PhD

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