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Maialisa Jensen


About Maialisa Jensen

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The Difference a Trainer Can Make

Eventing is as much a mental game as it is a physical one, and the best trainers can have a positive impact on both fronts. Maialisa Jensen, a Bio-Behavioral Health major at Penn State, explains the difference between good stress and bad stress and shares the story of how trainer/4* rider Allie Sacksen helped get her head back in the game. Thank you for sharing, Maialisa! 

Photo by Kirsten Jensen.

Photo by Kirsten Jensen.

Eventing and rider-confidence are symbiotic; the safety of the prior is dependent on the security of the latter. As riders, we get our confidence from our skill sets and we develop our skill sets with experience and with help from our trainers.

I believe there are two relationships that are vital to becoming a successful event rider. They apply to every level of competition and arguably to every competitor. From a young rider to an adult amateur to a professional, these two relationships affect all of us who wish to compete in this challenging and exciting sport.

Naturally, the first is the relationship between horse and rider, as cross country riding takes a special kind of trust and bond. The second is between rider and coach; a relationship that peaks my interest both as it relates to my sport and my education, and on which I plan to focus here.

I recently completed my seventh semester at Penn State University. I am a Bio-Behavioral Health major in the college of Health and Human Development and am focusing on neurophysiology and developmental psych. I have taken several classes concerning eustress (beneficial stress) versus distress (the fear response) and their subsequent effects on health and performance in school and in the workplace.

I have also been riding with Allie Sacksen, of von Sacksen Eventing, since 2012 at which time I was struggling to get around Novice courses with a mare that fell a bit on the “disinclined-to-acquiesce-to-your-request” side of the spectrum.

Allie saw me through my first, albeit unimpressive, move up to Training with the mare. She helped me achieve my C-3, B, and H/A certifications in Pony Club. She helped me make the tough decision to sell the mare. She aided me in getting used to my new OTTB gelding and got me through the rough patches with him in the beginning. Allie was with me at the start and finish of my first clear Training cross-country and at the start and finish of my first Preliminary this past fall. I could not have done any of those things without her help and I owe her so much.

So how do my areas of academic interest and my experience in eventing coalesce into a concept that I feel strongly enough about to share with my peers? Stress! I think everyone who competes in eventing feels some degree of stress — either when you’re stepping up a level, or before an important event, or before you contest a particularly big course. Having a good coach can make the difference between feeling eustress or distress.

Eustress is beneficial, it is normal, it is the result of challenging yourself but having confidence in your ability to overcome the stressor. Distress is the opposite. In eventing, it is entering the start box and getting that sinking feeling in your stomach that tells you: A) you don’t feel prepared (or able) to meet the challenge which lies ahead and B) you are unsure of your ability to finish the course in one piece.

I have experienced both of these feelings in the box, and when your most convicted thought as you thank whomever counted you down is “why am I doing this” you know there is a problem. Thank goodness, my trainer helped me see this, we were able to make changes, and I am now borderline bubbling-over with excitement to get back out and compete.

It is so critically important to find a coach who understands you, your horse, and how the both of you work together. Someone who can gauge both your confidence and your horse’s confidence and who can help you both have fun and stay safe. I would encourage anyone who has goals in eventing at any level to find a trainer who not only looks good on paper, but one who feels right, who makes you feel like they care about your goals, and who you care about in return.

At the end of the day, eventing is all about confidence, preparation, keeping red on the right, white on the left, and adding just a pinch of insanity in between.

Thank you for sharing, Maialisa! Have a story to tell? Email it to [email protected].