Category Archives: Guest Blogger: Susanna Halonen

Susanna Halonen about Learning to Deal with Uncertainty with Horses

Horses are your love, your energy, your oxygen. Yet sometimes you have moments in which you are so exhausted, frustrated or overwhelmed that all you want to do is give up. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in this. And this doesn’t happen only with horses, but also in life in general! This is why resilience is such an important skill to learn and continuously develop.

Psychologists refer to resilience as the ability to cope with problems and setbacks, something which is common with both horses and in life. Some people are naturally more resilient than others, but the good news is you can learn to become more resilient so you can recover from setbacks quicker, overcome challenges more effectively, and have more fun while doing it.

There are two key factors which make up resilience: persistence and flexibility. Persistence is driven by the inner hope you have, whereas flexibility enables you to try different things to overcome things which stand between you and reaching your goals. This is wisely put by Charles Darwin, and is equally relevant to your success with horses than to the survival of our species: “It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

So how do you make sure you bring persistence and flexibility into your training with your horse? There are a few simple steps that will help you get started.


1. Identify the key goal you have with your horse. E.g. “The one essential goal I would like to reach with my horse in 2014 is…”

2. Avoid distractions from other competing goals. Scratch things off the list which are not helping you reach your number one goal. It’s all about prioritising & focus!

3. List five alternative pathways to achieve this goal. Really get creative here. It’s these pathways that help you remain flexible and think of alternatives when a challenge or setback appears.

This exercise has definitely helped me focus my training with my young horse Mickey (aka Eurythmic). I’ve outlined my answers below to give you inspiration for you to try the exercise yourself.

1. My goal is to finish in the top 10 of a Premier League 5-year old young horse class.

2. Now that the first show is weeks away, I’ve cut down on jumping and upped the number of schooling sessions we do in a week. Every time I get on him, regardless of whether it’s a hack, jump, gallop or schooling session, I make an effort to ride him properly so he’s working through the back into the bit whilst on front of my leg. I’ve also become more aware of my posture as well and how it affects him.

3. – I travel to my dressage trainer Sarah Millis bi-weekly for a focused schooling session.
– I get another dressage trainer to come to me weekly or bi-weekly if I can not make it to Sarah’s.
– If Mickey gets stuck in the schooling sessions too much, I make an effort to school him on the gallops as I would in the arena to get his mind and body in the right place.
– I use pole work and grid work regularly to strengthen his hind end and teach him to use it more effectively.
– If we don’t finish in the top 10, I make an effort to take him to a few novice tests in the fall to get him more familiar to a show environment, making him ready for the 6-year old classes in 2015.

Now I want you to put your resilience into practice. Complete the exercise yourself so you’re ready to persist and remain flexible when you work towards your main riding goal for 2014.

Would be great if you wanted to share some of the exercise in the comments below – the other readers can help you come up with other pathways too!

Guest Blogger Susanna Halonen about Riding for the Love of the Sport


The main competition season is approaching and you are training hard to prepare for your first show. You start to feel those very familiar nerves from last weekend. What if I make a mistake in my riding? What if my horse spooks? What if we forget the test? These are only a few of the million questions that are probably floating around in your head. And I’m here to encourage you to forget about them all. You can choose to stop worrying, and instead ride for the love of the sport.

And why should you focus on doing that? You have goals, you have ambitions, and you want to improve. Of course these all play a role in helping you enjoy the upcoming competition season and perform at your best, but these are only possible if you remember why you ride: for the love of the sport.

Research has shown that the biggest predictor of burnout or loss of an athlete’s performance is due to the interest in their sport decreasing. Of course there will be times you love the sport more than others, but constantly reminding yourself of the positives will help your focus, performance, and enjoyment. It will also help you to bounce back from defeat quicker and adapt to new challenges better. So what are some of the positives of riding? I’ve outlined some of my favourite points below.

  • It allows me to build a special relationship with a horse.
  • It makes it possible for me to experience those special moments of harmony when I’m one with the horse.
  • It enables me to keep forever learning & growing as a person and rider.
  • It keeps me healthy and fit.
  • It allows me to exercise in fresh air.
  • It helps me connect with nature.
  • I find a sense of belonging by socialising with the other riders at the yard.

These are only a few of the many things which remind me why I love the sport so much. Now I want you to come up with your own list!

Think of at least 5 things which remind you why you ride. Have this list somewhere handy and have a look through it when you’re feeling unmotivated or getting too stressed out about competing. Keep going back to it, and adding to it. It’s a great tool that will remind you to ride for the love of the sport and enjoy your riding more!

Good luck in your riding adventures & until next time!

Susanna Halonen is a Finnish rider based in Southeast England. She offers positive psychology coaching to help you to get the most of your riding, be it enjoyment or performance wise. You can follow her blog here: 

Guest Blogger Susanna Halonen about Riding With a Positive Mindset

Here you can see smiling in action as Susanna giggles as her 20 year old Ollie is eagerly going towards a small jump.

When you train your horses and want to improve your riding, you are very focused on your body and your horse’s body. From suppleness to swing, from forwardness to relaxation, your training is focused on getting your horse’s body working in the best possible way. You adjust your riding, from half halts to your posture, to affect how your horse moves forward. But the one thing that’s often forgotten is your mental training.

Riding horses is a challenging sport because you have at least a half ton animal underneath you with a mind and body of its own. This means things don’t always go to plan. That’s why riding with a positive mindset is so powerful and helps build your resilience. Not only does it help you enjoy your riding more, it also helps you perform better.

As a positive psychology practitioner, I work both with riders and non-riders to help them find their best performance through positivity – be it in riding, in life or at work. All the research is there to support how happiness fuels success hence this is a really opportunity for you to get more out of your riding by adapting a more positive mindset. Here are some tips to help you get started.

1. Use challenges as opportunities to learn. 

Maybe things didn’t go quite as planned in your schooling session or your latest competition. Think about what you actually learnt from the experience and how you can use that to do better next time. You often learn best through setbacks so really cherish that opportunity.

2. Focus on using your and your horse’s strengths. 

By focusing on the good you set yourself into a more positive mindset which helps your body perform at a better level. Also, you can often use the good to fix the not so good. Every horse and rider has strengths and weaknesses, so think about how you can make the most out of the strengths and use them to help improve those weaknesses.

3. Celebrate every little success. 

No matter how small. It’s easy to get hung up on fixed goals but it’s actually counting the little successes that make all the difference. Think about what went better today than yesterday, which could be anything from picking up the left canter straightaway on a horse that usually doesn’t, to getting your young horse on the bit for one circle, to being brave enough to pop over a cross-country jump for the first time in your life.

4. Smile while you ride. 

Smiling sets a positive chemical reaction in your body which helps you relax as well as perform at a higher level. Even fake smiling sets it off! So if you’re feeling frustrated, tired, or your horse isn’t cooperating, just take a moment to take a deep breath and SMILE 😀

Really think about putting these into practice in your daily riding schedule and make an effort to practice riding with a positive mindset. Trust me, you will see a difference quicker than you think!

Good luck in your riding adventures & until next time!

All posts by Susanna can be found on:

Susanna Halonen is a Finnish rider based in Southeast England. She’s competed up to 120 cm show jumping internationally and advanced medium level dressage nationally. She offers positive psychology coaching to help you to get the most of your riding, be it enjoyment or performance wise. You can follow her blog and find out more about her here: 

Introducing new guest blogger Susanna Halonen – Positive Psychology Practitioner

susanna halonen2 Susanna is a Finnish rider based in Southeast England. She has been a passionate rider since the age of 9 and her global lifestyle has allowed her to train and compete in Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Portugal and England. Even though she currently focuses her riding predominantly in dressage, she has competed up to 120 cm show jumping internationally and up to advanced medium level dressage – all with her own superstar horse Ollie (aka Orlando Metodo). He’s now enjoying retirement from competitions at age 20 (she’s had him since he was 5) and her energy is now focused on bringing on her rising 5 year old Mickey (aka Eurythmic) whom she’s owned for 2 years.


She is passionate about riding with a positive mindset. As a positive psychology practitioner, she offers coaching which helps you get the most out of your riding through a more positive mindset. Not only does this help you enjoy your time with the horses, it also helps you perform better. Her work also extends to working with individuals and organisations both inside and outside the equestrian world to help fuel enjoyment and performance through a more positive mindset.

You can follow her blog at SH Dressage and find out more about positive psychology coaching for riders here.

She is also on twitter @SHdressage and on Facebook at SH.Dressage