Equestrian sports are unlike any other. Not only do we have to overcome the challenges that other athletes do, but we have a living, breathing animal thrown in the mix who as we all know, can have their own agenda at the best of times. This makes for one hell of a rollercoaster ride where we enjoy the highest of highs in our victories and the lowest of lows in our defeats- in competition, training and horse management alike.
Psychologically speaking, this can really take its toll not only on our performance but also on how much we enjoy our horses and sport. It’s not always as straight forward as being able to win or lose, there are so many other factors to consider when it comes down to it. Winning to one person might involve entering a show and turning up, to another it means clenching victory at nationals and to someone else it could be as simple as getting on your horse. No matter where you are in sport it is all relative.
DEVELOPING MENTAL STRENGTH
Our sport can be demoralising at the best of times and this is where having good mental strength will improve performance and enjoyment alike. The difference between a good ride and a not so good ride can often be decided before you even reach the tack. We have all been in a situation where we would really have rather not been riding for whatever reason that day but we pushed through and did anyway- that came down to having great discipline. But then the ride didn't go so well because you let your emotion get in the way. That was decided long before you even got on your horse. You set yourself up to fail because your mental game wasn't on point and this is just one example of how riders need to master their minds and emotions to maximise our result. Of course sometimes we feel great but as horses aren't robots, maybe they are having an off day. It doesn't really matter at the end of it because if you can conquer your own mind and control your thoughts then things will always go a whole lot better than when we are unable!
BANISH NEGATIVE SELF TALK
If you are having a ‘bad’ day and you know that you really need to be out there riding, try resetting your emotions and attitudes towards whatever it is that is bothering you before you even get near your horse. That means slowing down, taking some deep breaths and refocusing on the next hour or so that your horse needs your attention. It can be so limiting rushing around your horse and not letting go of any negative energy you have. When you are riding try not to think of anything but what you are doing and how much you are enjoying what you are achieving together. It can be easy to let negative self talk or memories creep into your head but banish them right away, do whatever you need to do to refocus on positive energy. Your horse will thank you for not venting your frustration on him! Acknowledge the thought for what it is- just a thought, with no bearing on your current situation in this exact moment. Take a breath and keep going.
BUILD YOUR PSYCHOLOGICAL TOOL BOX
You can also prepare a few phrases that mean something powerful to you so that you can repeat to yourself in preparation for a situation where you feel doubts creeping in. Have a few personal mantras such as; “we are a team, we are working together,” or even something that reminds you to trust your own journey. It can be anything that sparks your positivity and reignites your excitement for your horse and your relationship. Have these phrases prepared in advance so that you can draw on them in times of stress, it’s all about building your psychological tool box and unleashing your power to be the very best version of yourself.
QUIT COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS
Easier said than done! It is a competitive sport after all but we are all on our own journey, facing our own challenges, building our own strengths and progressing at different rates. It’s absolutely okay to go out and not do as well as you hoped or that you are capable of and never let yourself fall into the trap of thinking that you are the only one out there in that situation. Anyone that tells you that they have never had a bad score, or a disappointing round is lying to you. Just move on, learn from it and be proud of yourself for pushing yourself hard enough that you were in a position to even see how far you could go in the first place.