So competition day has dawned.  How are you feeling?  Anxious?  Nervous?  Snapping at your partner, friends or others who are there to help and support you?  Maybe your appetite has gone, or worse!  Perhaps you haven’t slept for a week running through all those ‘what ifs’ in your mind?  You ride for fun, right?  It’s your time out, your hobby, why then are you feeling like this?

Competing is a time when all your training comes together and you go out to show what you have achieved, a marker for your progress.  Usually it involves being cleaned, dressed, plaited, warmed up, in the right place with your horse going the best it possibly can all at the right time, on time.  Phew!  No pressure!  Plus, you’ve got two, three or more tests to ride.  How are you going to remember them all or not get them muddled?

Can you see what’s happening?  Pressure, tensions, expectations are building.  Unlike when we practice and train in our own time there is so much more going on at a competition.  It didn’t really matter in training as we worked to our own schedule, but now it’s a different story!  It has to go well.

STOP!  Breathe.  Take a moment.  Whoa, a little half halt for yourself.  Check yourself and bring things back into perspective.  If you are uptight and frazzled then your horse is going to wonder what has become of you.  He’s going to get worried and he (and you) won’t be able to concentrate on what you’re doing.  Give yourself plenty of time.  Try this simple grounding exercise just before you get on –

Shake out the tension in your shoulders.  Roll them up and down a few times.

Look straight ahead and take a deep breath. HOLD that breath.

Now – keeping your eyes open – turn your head to the LEFT.

Then – still keeping your eyes open – turn your head to the RIGHT.

Turn to look straight ahead and EXHALE.

When you are riding in the warmup, make sure you remember to breathe – easy said.  Watch those thoughts – keep them present and on the job.  This is not the time to think about the endless ‘to do’ list or concern yourself about anything other than your riding.  So go for the feeling – focus and concentrate on getting him going – is he working correctly, engaged, moving off your leg?  Establish a warm up routine and use it – get the rhythm, the pace, the suppleness.  This way your mind is narrowed down to what you are doing and shouldn’t have time for anything else.  In doing this you are becoming more present – in the here and now, thus communicating more effectively with your horse.  There’s a pattern developing here – positive is building on positive – there’s an upward swing.  You are working together, in harmony, just you and your horse.  Things such as people watching or other distractions have faded away to the background, and so it becomes more enjoyable, you’re in a zone with your horse.  When you’re riding in this way – in the present – in the now – whatever you like to call it – you are better able to instantly and instinctively make good decisions if something unexpected should happen.  This is called controlling the controllables.  Not being present scatters your thinking because it reduces your focus, and makes it easier for negative thoughts to come in.  In the same way if you’re concerned about others watching, fellow competitors, or listening to others who are attempting to put you off in any way, or ‘psyche’ you out – you are lacking in both confidence and concentration, and not truly on top of your game.  If you are not in the present moment, then where are you – regretting a mistake you just made or angsting about something that hasn’t even happened yet?

This is key to when you are riding in the arena.  If you make a mistake, drop it.  Straightaway.  If you forgot to trot at C and keep going around the arena till E, what is done is done.  There is no point getting rattled by it, as it’s now of the past.  It cannot be undone – it can however be a lesson to be more aware next time.  But if you allow this to error to rattle you during the test it will quite possibly ruin the rest of your performance.

So, did you win?  Winning is not necessarily getting placed first.  It is performing up to 100% of your ability on the day.  There is nothing worse than feeling you missed out because you made some silly mistake – you know when you have gone out there and ridden your absolute best.  You may have actually got third place, but in your own mind you knew that you performed to the best of your ability.  And that’s what counts.  There will be times where you are well beaten by someone who is simply better than you, but as long as you can say that you gave it your best shot, that’s all you can ask for.

A winner is one whose subconscious mind and conscious mind are in agreement.  If we make up our conscious mind to be successful then all we need to do is tell the subconscious mind also.  This result = two minds working together and when we do this we have a winner.


Lindsay Cook is an accomplished Clinical Hypnotherapist with more than 30 years’ experience, specialising in Equestrian Sports Performance for horse riders.  Open Minds Equestrian Sports Performance has supported riders and their coaches at all levels to achieve their dreams and ambitions.  Lindsay is an experienced trainer and facilitator in Executive Coaching and Leadership Development, and also runs SafeTech her own Health & Safety consultancy.  Based in Auckland Lindsay travels frequently to Australia and designs individually personalised programmes to bring out the best in everyone.

For more tips and pointers feel free to get in touch with Lindsay on 021 222 5546, or email

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