Dana Cooke is a 29-year-old Canadian event rider based in Mooresville, North Carolina at Kingfisher Park Equestrian. Originally, Dana came down to the US in 2008 to be a working student for Rebecca Howard at The Fork international event. Eventually, Dana transitioned into becoming a professional groom and rider for Rebecca, which allowed her to travel all over North America and to the 2011 Pan Am Games and the 2012 Olympic Games. Since 2015, Dana has been the Director of Equestrian Activities at the Kingfisher Park Equestrian, where she competes 5 horses up through the two star level.
With four-star and team goals, Dana is no stranger to mastering her mind and nerves to be successful in the ring. With an average of 20 horses at Kingfisher Park Equestrian in training at any given time, it’s important for Dana to have a deeper understanding of staying mentally strong when riding.
Understanding Where Your Nerves Come From
I think people feel the pressure to do well. I think as riders we create false expectations from other people (for example coaches, family, friends, etc…), when really it is just us putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves. That being said when you have a business and owners you want to do well and make our owners happy or when you move up the levels and want to make a team, you have pressure to do well in order to make that team or to win a medal for your country.
Coping With Nerves
I have a sports psychologist that I have been working with since I was about 16 years old and I speak with him approximately every 2 weeks. Through him I have learned how to visualize, which I do a lot of especially at a competition. While I am laying in bed at night or have a few spare moments I visualize my upcoming rides and I always visualize right before I am about to get on my horse. If I don’t have time to visualize in between horses, I will visualize as I am heading over to warm up or find a quick moment before I go in the ring. When you visualize what you need to do, it’s not as a big of a deal when you get in the ring or out on course, because you have already jumped those jumps or done those movements a hundred times in your head. I try to act like all competitions are the same, it’s just like riding at home. Even if I might be a bit more nervous than normal, I do my best to fake my confidence. I am all about the “Fake it till you make it” concept!
Visualize Your Ride
I do a lot of visualization before I get on. Always as I am entering the ring or the start box I take a deep breath and try to relax for a moment and I tell myself “you got this!” When I am about to go in the show jump ring or xc start box I run through my course in my head and sometimes if I have a moment before I go into show jumping I like to watch the rider or 2 right before me.
Apps Aren’t Just For Games
Use apps for visualizing and taking photos of the jumps. For xc you can use the CrossCountry App on your phone (it’s the app with the wheel). It is $9.99 but it is the best app besides my GPS that I have on my phone, not only can you take photos of your entire course, you end up with a map of your course as well as your Minute markers. So when you are sitting there playing on your phone you can take a look at your course and what jumps you have. Walking it multiple times helps, as well as telling it to someone.