In this new series, equestrians share their strategies to master the mental aspect of the sport.

Nick Hansen is a dressage rider who swept the North American Junior/Young Riders Championships in 2016.

Nick and his horse, a Westphalian gelding named Ritter Benno, won gold medals in all three team, individual and freestyle in the dressage competition at NAJYRC in Colorado. He’s now a Grand Prix dressage rider. When he’s not showing and riding himself, he’s teaching clients and U.S. Pony Club members.

What’s your routine to stay relaxed and focused before you go into the ring? 

The first thing I do is put my headphones in and zone out. I try to imagine myself riding every step of the test. I like to listen to heavy metal music for this. On my Spotify channel I have a lot of Metallica and Rob Zombie, and stuff like that. It gets me pumped up but it’s also so loud and overwhelming that it helps me tune out everything else that’s going on around me. That way the only thing I can focus on is myself and forget about what’s going on outside.

But that’s really it. I don’t have any specific routine I have to do every time. I just try to focus on the test as much as I can.

What about with the horses? 

When I’m with the horses, the first thing I do is give them a really good groom and check them over to make sure they’re happy and healthy. Before our class I usually let them have a quick stretch ride to see the arena and feel relaxed. But we try to keep it low key.

Any advice for other riders who struggle with staying focused? 

The first thing is to always remember that this is a horse show, even if it’s Young Riders or the Olympics, we’re there just to have fun. So don’t put so much pressure on yourself or work too hard. I notice when I do that, I always make mistakes and don’t really compete to the best of my abilities.