In this new series, equestrians share their strategies to master the mental aspect of the sport.
Mindy Coretz is a hunter rider from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is currently studying Business Management at the University of Tulsa. After spending some time competing as an amateur, Mindy has made the transition to riding as a professional. Mindy no stranger to handling nerves, as she makes her living buying and reselling horses with her LLC, Eighteen Acres Farm. Visit her website at eighteenacresfarm.com.
Pressure Proof Riding
I’m going to give you some strategies, but if you’d like some ‘real’ ones, I can not say enough good things about Coach Daniel Stewart. I had the good fortune of attending one of his ‘Pressure Proof” riding clinics and he does a tremendous job showing where our brain can get in our way and empowering riders with the skills they need to overcome it. That said, I have a few of my own tips and tricks to add, too.
It’s All About Your Preparation
This one might seem obvious, but the difference it makes is tremendous. If you will do yourself the favor of over-preparing, you leave less for yourself to get nervous about. It makes enough sense, right? Do your homework. Think of absolutely everything that could be asked of you at your upcoming competition, then practice it until it’s easy. Then take your stirrups off and practice it again. Then have a fake competition to put the pressure on, and practice it yet again. Then add elements to it that are harder than it could ever be in the show ring, and practice it again. In doing this, you empower yourself to arrive at the competition, find out what will be asked of you, and know that it will be a piece of cake for you and your horse. That you are more than prepared to take it on. You know what is being asked of you, and how to answer each of the questions involved. When you check the course and the rollbacks and bending lines are tremendously easier than what you practiced at home, you start the competition off feeling eager and capable rather than anxious and unsure.
Just Do It
Again, this is not rocket science, but it’s unbelievably true. There is no replacement for experience, and the more you get in the ring, the less you’ll feel and be affected by those competition nerves. The goal is for riding under pressure to become second nature, where your reactions are rooted in feel and reason, not fear and panic. If you do it enough, you’ll start to be able to do that. Of course, it is not reasonable to expect that everyone can simply compete all the time to obtain that mileage, so get a little bit creative and figure out ways to put the pressure on when practicing at home. It is possible to create situations that emulate the pressured situation of competition, and it’s excellent practice.
Staying Focused On Course
Remembering a course is not worth having anxiety over. It’s just not. If that is something that troubles you, put yourself in a position to have the course mastered long before you ever get to the ring. Learn it early, watch it. Tell it to yourself with your eyes closed to be sure you know it based on memory and not just visually. Walk around the arena and see the course from every angle so that you know what it will look like when you come out of each turn and there are no surprises it when you suddenly see the far end of the ring for the first time. Practice technical, long, confusing courses at home. This is a skill, like any other, that can be practiced.
Take A Moment To Breathe
Don’t forget to breathe. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again. It’s no surprise that this fundamental biological process is crucial to our mental and physical game. When you feel yourself start to get jittery and you notice that your mind is beginning to race, or when you’re approaching the in gate and you know your heart is about to jump into your throat, have a plan. Breathing is a good one. Have the presence of mind to recognize what is happening and to react with breathing. This is actually a skill that should be practiced in order to be able to use it in such a way that yields the greatest benefit.
Sometimes, it’s just not possible to stop your mind from messing with you despite your greatest efforts. It is in those moments that distraction is a great idea. If your mind wants to run wild in a counterproductive direction, give it something else to think about. Step away from the arena. Don’t continue to watch and overanalyze. Go grab a snack and chat with some friends. Go do some homework. Take your horse for a graze. Call up your friends back home and chat about something unrelated. Find something that will help get your mind off of whatever it is that is making you so nervous.
This is supposed to be fun. Make it so. Seriously, sometimes it’s that simple. It takes a lot of mental strength to get yourself in this place sometimes, but take a moment to step back and remember that you are lucky to get to be there, you’re among the luckiest in the world for the opportunity to compete with a four legged partner, and no matter what happens when it comes your time to compete, you will enjoy it.