Why is it that we can ride at home producing some of our very best work, yet when we go to a competition it all falls apart or doesn’t go quite as we expected?

This is the first of two articles designed to help you get the best from your riding and competing.  Let’s start with defining what success really is.

Is success winning?  Well yes it probably is to many.  But isn’t success more about knowing that you rode to the very best of your ability and gave it your very best shot?  That feeling where you were in complete harmony with your horse and it all just flowed, and it was easy. Horse riding is unique – in the horse we have another being, another mind, which makes the sport all the more challenging as we have to work on developing a partnership together, a bond.  And as horses are prey animals they will very naturally flee in order to avoid danger.  So imagine what the horse thinks when we ride happily and confidently at home, but when we’re out at a competition suddenly we become all tense and anxious?  If we have doubts, then he will have doubts, and the horse picks up on all this.  He senses danger, senses that his rider – his leader – is not in control, and so prepares himself for the worst and often his resulting behaviour is far from what we expected!  If a horse can feel a fly on his coat, he’ll very certainly feel tension in our legs, seat and through our hands not to mention picking up on our emotional state!

Emotional state?  There are a few riders who are not in the best emotional state when they’re out competing!  Anyone relating to this?  Well, read on for some tips and pointers…

There are 5 main attributes that we as riders need for success –

  • Physical Fitness
  • Coaching, Training, Development of Skills
  • Concentration
  • Confidence
  • Relaxation

And of these 5 factors you’ll see that the last three – Concentration, Confidence and Relaxation – that’s 60% – are emotionally based.

So why do we spend so much time, energy and money on the physical aspects of training, when these emotional components account for so much??

It’s these 3 that lead us either towards or away from what we really want to achieve.  Let’s take a closer look.

Concentration – If our mind is wandering when we’re riding it isn’t exactly fair to expect the horse to be focused and listening to us.

Confidence – We need to have confidence in our own ability and in our horse’s ability.  If we have had some previous bad experience then we will doubt this.

Relaxation – If I were to choose the single most important quality for achieving success I would have to say this is it!  I suppose, to many of you talking of being more relaxed is quite unusual.  Why would we want to be more relaxed when we’re riding?  Don’t we want to be up and happening?

Operating in a relaxed state free from unnecessary or residual tension enables us to be in the present moment – which ultimately gives us a choice as to how we react to things.  You know how fast a dressage test or show jumping round can go when we’re not relaxed or present??  Not a good feeling and not a feeling that we have any control or ability to make good decisions because we’re clouded with tension.  Plus, mental stress affects our body as well.  We all know stress is a drain on the body – so why do we all get caught up in it?

Do you ever give your mind a rest?  Where is all this ‘thinking’ taking you?  Do the same thoughts or to-dos go around and around – over and over and over?  Does your mind EVER stop?  What if my horse shies?  What will people think of me?  I’m not ever going to be able to… (you fill in the blank!).

The key is to train our minds (just as we train our bodies for skills and fitness) so that we may be able to clearly identify stress when it comes, and therefore implement tools to keep negative thoughts, stress, or residual tension at bay.

Less really is more – let go, and allow yourself to ride!

Being more relaxed and easing stress from our bodies helps to build the mental aptitude to be able to identify early on things that can hamper our progress, and it enables us to take a proactive approach, rather than a reactive.  Thereby enabling us to remain in control so that we can more readily create what we really desire to happen.  Using our minds in this more productive way enables us to identify weaknesses and causes of negativity whilst remaining focused on strength and positivity, thus empowering ourselves.

So until next time, relax, think in terms of what you can do rather than what you can’t.  Be aware of your thoughts and that internal chatter.  Next time I’ll talk more about how you can refine your concentration and help yourself to be more in the present moment when you’re at a competition.

Pre Competition Anxiety
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