The mental game is a huge part of the equestrian sport… a huge part that has been given very little thought and consideration until recently. Equestrian sport is unique from all other sports in the sole fact that our teammates are not human and that as riders and trainers we are responsible for our teammates well being. As equestrian athletes we spend copious amounts of time and energy focused on our horses’ needs – their diet, their training schedule, their stress level, and their ability to perform. Somehow, it seems, in all of this focus we tend to forget that we, as riders, comprise the other half of the team and that all those aspects of our horses’ well being are just as important for ourselves. Specifically in this post I’m going to focus on mental training, which is a factor in both our stress management and or ability to perform.
This was a thought that occurred to me today as I was working on counter canter. Movements such as counter canter require a rider to be as mentally strong as they are physically strong and tactful. Because they are completely backwards to all intuition!! Tactics such as visualization, taking the movement one stride at a time, and going back to ground zero when it’s going wrong, have been extremely helpful for myself as a rider and trainer. For example, in the counter canter I visualize that the wall is on the inside rail so it’s like going straight. I also remember that it is just as challenging for my horse and he is relying on me as a rider to stay cool and collected and help him through it.
This said, these are not skills that we attain overnight. They are, more often than not, years in the making. For myself personally, over the last year I was given the opportunity to work with a sport’s psychologist in a group with my peers. One of the biggest points that I was able to take away from these sessions was that if I was having a thought or a feeling, so was somebody else! And there is definitely comfort in knowing you have a peer support network. The other element of my season that allowed me to gain strength in my mental game was to ride and compete a multitude of horses, all at a variety of levels. As an rider and trainer, this really solidified for me that it’s okay when things go wrong and that there is always a solution and another day. Sometimes it’s just a bad day, sometimes it’s bad weather, sometimes it’s an un-ideal schedule, and sometimes it’s something that is completely out of our control. Finally, from a competition stand point, the element that was the most useful to me was to control the elements that I could control (my warm up time, preparation and organization, having everything I need, performing to the best of my abilities) and to make the best of the elements that were out of my control (the show schedule, the weather, the judge, the other competitors).
So with all this in mind, on wards and up wards to the 2018 show season to kick some butt!!