Ocala, Fla. – January 25, 2021 – Women from all over North America trekked to Ocala, Florida for C-6 Equestrian’s premiere masterclass symposium focusing on Energy for Confidence & Connection in Horsewomen. Dr. Jenny Susser, an acclaimed Sport & Performance Psychologist, Mette Larsen, a USDF Silver Medalist, and an accomplished FEI dressage competitor, and Sinead Halpin Maynard, a CCI5* Eventer and United States Equestrian Team rider, joined forces to form C-6 Equestrian in hopes of creating “A new model for women and horses grounded in ‘How Women Do It.’” The team hosted what they are referring to as a “symposium” which was a far cry from the average clinic. With four mounted riders and 50 audience members, the female-only audience walked away from the event with a fresh mindset and a better understanding of how to succeed in the male-dominated equestrian world.
Saturday’s theme focused on transitioning between the four energy categories: high-positive, low-positive, high-negative, and low-negative. The all-female audience, now fully settled into a low-positive mindset, were eager to absorb as much insightful information from the three clinicians during Sunday’s portion of the symposium. Building off of Saturday’s discovery of energy, Sunday’s theme honed in on learning how and when to create and harness positive energy.
Together the three women came up with the concept of “conducting energy.” Dr. Susser explained, “Energy is a conductor of emotion and emotion is a conductor of energy. Sometimes you are the maestro and sometimes you are in the orchestra, and sometimes that is good and okay to not be the leader. I want you to start to think about your energy and who is directing and sending that energy in your relationship with your horse. Think about that in all of your relationships and connections – horses and people alike.”
Here are our top takeaways from the C-6 Equestrian Symposium on Energy for Confidence & Connection in Horsewomen.
Conducting and Reciprocating Energy
Dr. Susser explained, “All forms of energy are constantly going back and forth. We react based on who is sending and receiving it. You can send the energy everywhere but if you never take your turn in the audience you never get any back. Is it ever appropriate for your horse to be the conductor? When and how?
Throughout each day, Dr. Susser, Larsen, and Halpin Maynard highlighted each volunteer horse and rider combo’s exchange of energy. Elle, a para-dressage rider, was the third to step into the ring. With hopes of attending the Paralympics on her imported gelding, Duke. Elle volunteered as a demonstration rider in order to work toward improving her connection and communication with her young partner. She entered the ring Saturday beaming with confidence and with a big smile on her face, but after a few missteps, Elle retreated into a mental safety zone and began doubting her ability. This mental change showed throughout in her demonstration. Elle’s position became rigid and as she was warming up her horse and Dr. Susser noticed the change, stating: “Your horse is your tell, just like in poker.” Sunday, Elle came back into the ring admitting she was, “emotionally exhausted and drained and not quite present.”
Halpin Maynard, Elle’s current trainer, took this opportunity to highlight an instance where the horse should be the conductor of the energy. In order to bring her out of her low-negative state, Halpin Maynard wanted to present Elle with a “winnable” task for the day. “Play. Let’s just play,” she stated. Elle and Duke galloped around the ring, not focused on anything but connection and having fun. The duo’s “playtime” came in the form of jumping cavalettis, and Elle fed off of Duke’s positive energy, allowing herself to take the backseat and recharge.
Through Elle’s experience, the audience learned you cannot choose when you have a bad day. As Dr. Susser said, “Pressure doesn’t make appointments, it just shows up.” Elle’s personal struggles were very relatable to the audience, highlighting an opportunity that all riders can take advantage of every week – take the time to do nothing with your horse. Do not try to create suppleness or work on straightness, just let your horse be and revel in the happiness that they bring you.
As Larsen explained, “You can just be and let your horse take care of you. That is why I love dressage. It is all about energy and flow. If my energy is all over, the ride is so unsatisfying. If I get in this space where I can ride alone with my music I can become totally lost in that flow of energy. I love those rides. That is what I love about horses.”
Uncovering Your Toolkit
Throughout the course of the two-day clinic, the main goal of the C-6 Equestrian Team was to help each rider uncover their own “toolkit” which they could use to generate and support the confidence and connection they have with their horse. Dr. Susser explained, “You have all the tools you could ever need, but the moment you disconnect from your skillset and your toolkit you disempower yourself. Own your skillset.” An audience member echoed Dr. Susser’s mindset, stating, “You can’t just go to Lowe’s and buy what you need to fill it up. Your toolkit is unique to you.”
Throughout the weekend, volunteer demonstration riders Stephanie and Lisa worked on discovering the tools they could utilize to help with their anxiety while riding. Stephanie was first to take to the ring with her horse Blue. Saturday, the duo showed signs of disconnection and lack of confidence from both sides. Stephanie, a normally extroverted person, became shy and timid in the saddle and lacked the support Blue needed to feel comfortable and trusting in their new environment. In order to take her focus off of her nerves and anxious thoughts, Dr. Susser and Halpin Maynard suggested counting out loud to try and find a rhythm within the trot. With the help of the audience, Stephanie found cadence and calmness in her riding by taking her mind off of the anxiety. Sunday, the pair showed up with their chins a little higher and their breathing a bit steadier. Larsen and Halpin Maynard focused on continuing to build on the confidence aspect of their riding.
Lisa then took to the ring with the same challenge, struggling with severe anxiety. She admitted she woke up hours earlier than necessary Saturday morning because she was worried about riding in the clinic. Lisa was led into the ring by Halpin Maynard and was extremely anxious about riding in a foreign setting. After uncovering Lisa’s habitual negative thoughts when riding Saturday, she returned to the ring Sunday with more confidence. She was relaxed and less rigid in her stature, mounting and walking into the ring on her own for her one-on-one lesson with Larsen. Though at the beginning of the weekend Lisa felt she was merely a beginner, by the end she realized she already had the toolkit she needed to succeed based on her eight years of riding experience. In order to deal with her anxiety, Larsen, Dr. Susser, and Hapin Maynard uncovered Lisa’s key tools for her riding toolkit:
- Safety Check: Am I in a safe space with my horse? Can I stop? Can I turn? Are they listening to my aids?
- Identify Habits: Recognize and accept when something happens to disempower you or take away from your confidence and acknowledge when and how often you do it.
- Take and Action: Dr. Susser stressed how her goal was not to eliminate Lisa’s negative thoughts, and ignoring them would only make them worse. Instead, Dr. Susser suggested Lisa create appropriate responses when she feels anxious. Instead of worrying, Dr. Susser said, “Take an action.”
- Documenting Experiences: Dr. Susser explained when you think of a memory you are not remembering it with exact clarity. Your current emotions cloud what is perceived in the moment. By writing down what exactly happened, good or bad, it is easier to reflect and learn from each situation.
Identifying Your Energy Zone:
Saturday, Dr. Susser drew a graph that outlined the four different energy quadrants that both humans and horses exist within. On one side there is high-positive and low-positive energy. On the other, there is high-negative and low-negative energy. While many high-performance athletes believe they ride best when they are in the high-positive zone, Dr. Susser revealed that this was an incorrect assumption. Dr. Susser explained the high-positive state is extremely draining mentally and emotionally. Solely existing within it leads to burnout, landing the rider in a low-negative headspace. The best performance actually comes from the low-positive state of mind in which people and horses are relaxed but open. In this state of mind, you can recharge and absorb information.
Megan Kepferle, 4* eventing athlete, was the fourth and final rider in the symposium. A highly successful rider and trainer who learned from none other than Halpin Maynard, Kepferle brought two of her horses to the weekend, Icebreaker and her top mount Anakin. After riding her anxious horse, Icebreaker, during the first day, the outgoing extrovert returned to the ring Sunday reserved and guarded. She revealed her horse Anakin had recently been diagnosed with Lymphoma. Megan explained she felt guilt and fear over riding Anakin at such a high level with his condition, but she has aspirations to move up to the 5* level. Dr. Susser unpacked Megan’s emotional state, categorizing her as existing in a constant state of fluctuation between high and low-negative mental states. The typically outgoing and bubbly rider thought she was existing within a high-positive mindset.
When competing at such a high level, Dr. Susser explained, the line between high-positive and negative mindsets is extremely blurred and many riders mistake the negative adrenaline for something positive. The emotional session brought Larsen, Halpin Maynard, Dr. Susser, the entire audience, and even the camera crew to tears. Lightening the heavy mood, Megan jokingly stated, “I can’t wait to see these pictures!”
From the female-run business to the all-female audience and even the female-only camera and equipment crew, the ladies behind C-6 succeeded in crafting a safe and fun learning environment for everyone. The weekend was honest and filled with belief-altering realizations, triumphs in and out of the saddle, a lot of honest jokes and laughter, and even a few cathartic tears. The C-6 Equestrian team helped the women in and out of the saddle discover their own toolkits to use with their own horses and in their everyday life. There was not a hint of judgment or condescension that can commonly be found in the highly-competitive, high-performance equestrian environment. The phrase “How Women Do It” took on a new meaning during the weekend as females from all over found the confidence to claim their successes and lay down the foundation for open and effective connection with their horses and with each other.
“Assess the horse every ride. Figuring out their energy is the starting line. Then only after that can you take into account how they feel physically. The warmup is the assessment and there are key things that we are looking for. The body part of riding is secondary to the mindset.”
-Sinead Halpin Maynard
“It is ok to mess up on your horse, you aren’t going to ruin them. You have to break it down and let it get messy before you can bring it back and actually learn something.”
“You may have an assumption that you have a pre-existing connection with someone or with your horse, but really it has to be renewed over and over and over again. This is the key thing that impacts all performance”
-Dr. Jenny Susser
To read more about day one of the C-6 Equestrian symposium, check out our article on Phelps Sports.