What are you grateful for?

That might seem like a strange question to ask a rider in a performance article, but it’s one well worth exploring. Research shows that the emotion of gratitude has been linked to better overall physical and mental health, as well as sounder sleep, reduced anxiety and lower incidences of depression. It can quite literally improve your riding performance.

Riders who are more satisfied with their performances are also less likely to burn out and more likely to enjoy a better overall well-being. (The opposite is also true: emotional turmoil has an adverse effect on performance and longevity in sport.)

In my work with athletes at all levels, and in previous articles I have written, I highlight the importance of “enjoyment over achievement.” Making sure that enjoyment is at the forefront of performance with achievement following. Riders who pursue achievement in the sport so diligently that they forget about the key purposes of sport—enjoyment and fun—often end up frustrated and miserable. Riders who pursue enjoyment first, with a deep commitment to excellence and improvement, on the other hand, are the ones who achieve and last in the sport.

So why can focusing on gratitude be so beneficial to you as an equestrian athlete?

Well, consider that it is impossible to have two emotions at once. The same goes for thoughts; we can only handle one at a time. As a rider, this is important to know. When you feel negative emotions that limit your performance, you have the option of changing your state to a positive emotion. Gratitude is a great way to make the shift.

Let’s consider a few characteristics of grateful riders

Grateful riders appreciate what they have

While some equestrians complain, make excuses and don’t appreciate the fantastic opportunity of sport, grateful equestrians are excited to have the opportunity to play a sport they love and for all of the benefits that go with that sport (fitness, relationships, life lessons, joy of winning, the learning from losing and the opportunity to challenge and test your abilities).

Grateful riders are appreciate their competitors

Competitors can bring out the best in you, and without them you do not have the opportunity to play and test your limits. Grateful athletes know this! In his autobiography, former Olympic track star Carl Lewis reports that he chose to embrace his competitors as essential in the quest for performance excellence rather than as enemies meant to be beaten down. Lewis won 10 Olympic medals, nine of them gold.

Grateful riders embrace the journey and the struggle

They know that there will be difficulties and sport often goes in cycles—ups and downs. Grateful athletes learn from these struggles to always move forward. There is an appreciation in the value of their struggles and an ability to look at the big picture and know there are brighter days ahead.

Grateful riders “sweep the shed”

Like the World Champion New Zealand All Blacks, the rugby team that tidies up its dressing room after every training and game, grateful riders appreciate everyone around them who contribute to their ability to ride (coaches, parents, grooms, show volunteers, all others). They appreciate everything they receive; there is no attitude of entitlement.

Grateful riders enjoy pressure

Is there pressure in sports? Yes! But, grateful equestrians recognize the incredible opportunity they have to demonstrate their skills and test their limits. You compete in a sport you love often with people engaged and cheering what you do. Grateful equestrians appreciate the meaning that pressure gives their experience. Grateful equestrians look around and appreciate the challenge that is being given to them.

Grateful riders do not rely on winning

Because they are so focused on a great process and appreciate great competition, the joy of grateful equestrians is not dependent on winning. They want to win, but appreciate and enjoy their process, the competition and the challenge.

©FEI/Almeida family

Grateful riders let go

When it’s time to ride and train, it is done with intention and efficiency. Grateful equestrians appreciate and enjoy their time away from practice and competition—appreciating all parts of their life.

©FEI/Arnd Bronkhorst

So, what can you do to become a grateful equestrian athlete?

Here’s a start …

  • Realize how lucky you are to be participating in your riding, having the opportunity to express yourself and having the opportunity to give your life meaning.
  • Remember you can only feel one emotion at once. Replace anxious feelings with feelings of gratefulness. Make the decision to change your state with a shift to being grateful for this great opportunity to participate in your sport. “I can’t do this” or “what will they think if I lose?” shifts to a grateful attitude. “How lucky am I to do this and test my skills!”
  • At the end of the day, think about two things you are grateful for from the day. Write them down! Get in the habit of being grateful for things in your sport and in your life.

Remember to be grateful for what you have including your opportunity to ride and test your skills. Riding is not something you have to do, but something you get to do!

About the Author

John Haime is President of New Edge Performance. A former professional athlete and current bestselling author of You are a Contender! Build Emotional Muscle to Perform Better and Achieve Morein business, sports and life, John understands how athletes think and feel…he’s been there—under the most intense pressures of amateur and professional sports. John coaches athletes in all sports and is trusted by some of the world’s leading athletes—professional and elite amateur.