It has happened to all of us, and if you pretend it hasn't then I don't believe you! You know the days I am talking about, the ones where maybe you have had the best preparation and it just doesn't work out on the day. Or the many other scenarios that might take place and mean that things just don't go to plan when you want them to!
Gio can be a bit of a tricky boy, as many of you already know. He is quirky, sensitive and has a very big opinion of himself. You really have to work with him and convince him it is his idea, get him working on your team and once all of the stars has aligned in this sense he would pull the moon down for you. Many might find this kind of horse quite frustrating, don't get me wrong I have my moments where I do really question my sanity but he has taught me a lot about riding on no matter what happens. Over time I have been able to build confidence on this, I have faith in myself that I can handle any situation and I have more courage to try, even if that means I might fail. This has taken quite some time and quite a lot of heart ache, hard work and soul searching to get to this point so I thought I might share some of my thoughts (albeit briefly) with you all about what has helped me because I know I am not the only one who has bad days!
Confidence in the journey
Recently I have found that I may not be feeling super confident in what the outcome of that particular day might be but that doesn't matter, I don't need this kind of confidence. I have found confidence and belief deeper than that within myself that it may not happen today but I know that my time is coming and eventually, if I don't give up, that day will come. I might not nail the challenge of the day but this confidence goes far beyond that. Confidence in the long term belief allows you to say “it doesn't matter what happens now. I am working towards something great and I know my day will come.” When you can find that within yourself and actually believe it in your heart, the whole game changes.
Having that confidence that one day it will happen for me also lends me the courage to go out and do it today when it might not happen for me at all today. Embracing this means that even though something might really terrify me, I can still face it because I am not afraid of the outcome. There is no lose in this situation because I faced something that was scary and I did it anyway. This mindset and feeling inside of myself allows me to let go of trying to control anything- my horse, the environment, other people etc. When things don't go to plan I don't feel rattled anymore because I know I can ride through it and this is just one day in a journey of many. This means that when things used to go wrong for me, I would lose many movements trying to regain composure but now I can give myself a moment in time, regather and carry on and instead of it becoming a huge big deal, it is a minor blip.
Allowing yourself to try- and fail
The more you allow yourself to try, even if the outcome is failing, the stronger you become in your mindset. You will be able to push yourself to do things and to progress in a way you wouldn't otherwise be able to do. Often I find that what we most fear in performance isn't even the performance itself, it is the result that may come of that performance. In dressage this outcome is based on an opinion of others. Getting last over and over again was the best thing that happened to me in competition. I used to have such a fear of coming last that it would pollute my headspace and it was totally unnecessary, it used up so much of my thoughts that I couldn't actually focus on doing the job! I got to the point where I couldn't compete because my fear crippled me and I allowed that to happen. Then I went out and came last over and over again, for months and months, sometimes I still come last because hey, I am still pushing myself and I am still happy to fail. I am better prepared for things going wrong because I have let myself stretch out of my comfort zones so when that does happen it is no big deal anymore.
I know that if I give myself this experience now then later on when the competitions are bigger and more important, with more pressure I will have built a solid foundation to not only be able to cope but be able to thrive. I won’t choke like I would have otherwise done so if I didn't give myself these uncomfortable opportunities!
Riding forward in the present moment
This means riding forward with energy and harmony with your horse and yourself but only thinking of the present moment. Not what has just happened, or what is coming next, just responding to what is happening right now. Quite often I have experienced recently that if something has gone wrong I become more fearless in riding forward to the next movements, more so than when things are running smoothly and I end up trying to be a bit more careful! Now, I try to get that feeling no matter if something has gone wrong or not, but thats a work in progress still for me! This is something I have only been able to learn once again because my quirky and sensitive horse has offered me these opportunities through things going wrong! Thank you Gio!
Note: To be able to fully commit to riding in the present moment you will have to be very prepared that you know your test inside out, you need to know it so well that you don't have to think about what is coming next. It is not good enough to learn it the night before if you know you are someone who has to really think hard to remember things well under pressure! I have a very good memory for tests but I also am looking at them frequently to know that I know all of the level 5 tests without even looking at the book. Knowing your test will also mean that you are not using up any of your headspace worried about whether or not you know your test well enough, if you don't this will only add unnecessary anxiety to your preparation and experience!
Don’t be afraid to get up and try again
So what, you just got slammed in your first test, or your show last week. While you are down, make sure you pick up some learning to take with you when you stand back up! I often find I learn a whole lot more and feel a whole lot stronger and more prepared for next time after I have had a bad day. This is because I make the effort to not beat myself up to much (anyone who knows me, knows how difficult this is for me to do so its not something that comes easy to me at all!) I also had a good, hard look at how things went, jot down some notes about it, come up with some ideas going forward and then I work my arse off to make sure next time is a bit better than last. Sometimes the outcome is not better! So you have to go through it all over again until you get that outcome that you were aiming for.
These are just a few of my ideas of what helps me that might give you some food for thought to use in your own training and competition! I would love to hear your thoughts and what works for you!