While many Equestrians go through meticulous preparations for their competitions, one area is commonly overlooked. In between schooling and packing lists, well-planned schedules and organized tack trunks, mental preparedness for the rider can often fall to the wayside.
Many riders suffer from nerves and could benefit from making mental preparation a part of their preshow routine. To strive for a more confident and enjoyable performance, consider the following five simple steps for mental preparation.
1. Open your mind. To benefit from mental preparation, you must first acknowledge that mindset matters. A rider or handler who is suffering from nerves or feeling stressed is unlikely to perform as well as one who feels confident and ready. A solid mental prep routine can provide better focus, confidence and overall composure for those who are open to working on themselves to attain it.
2. Practice makes perfect. While most riders and their horses have often practiced physically for the event, many forget the importance of mental rehearsal. By positively visualizing the course, test, or class, competitors can gain confidence in the arena, thanks to a solid understanding of what they need to do while performing. Visualizing a positive experience automatically helps calm nerves, leading to a better ride. It can also be helpful to use simple reminders during your rehearsal for the kind of ride you want. For example, remind yourself “deep into the corners” or “slow and steady.”
3. Control what you can. Many experts in mental competition prep recommend selecting one or two objectives that the rider is fully able to control while in the ring. For example, “I will keep my heels down and my chin up,” shortened to “heels and chin.” Repeating these phrases before and during can help the competitor feel in control, stay focused and give a better performance.
4. Be kind to yourself. Learn to be conscious of your inner dialogue in the time leading up to and during a competition. Strive to be positive and constructive when you talk to yourself, as you would be to any of your fellow competitors. Switch negative self-talk for positive phrases like “I’ve worked hard to be here” and “I’m going to give this my best.” Focus on these positive affirmations rather than worries or nerves.
5. Fill your toolbox. Spend time before you compete, or even leave for the show, gaining some skills in managing your nerves, fears and feelings. With the internet readily available, it’s easy to find a plethora of information and pick up some exercises to tackle nerves, such as breathing protocols. Arm yourself with these skills beforehand and employ them at the show to up your focus, soothe your nerves and perform your best.
In general, equestrians don’t let our horses compete without being mentally prepared. We work hard to minimize stress and create positive environments for them to not only succeed, but enjoy their work. Mental preparation can be employed to help move towards a similar experience for the rider.