The Grateful Equestrian

How a simple emotion can elevate high performance

What are you grateful for?

That might seem like a strange question to ask an equestrian athlete, but the emotion of gratitude can help take your performance to the next level.

Let me explain …

Research has linked the emotion of gratitude to better overall physical and mental health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression. Athletes are more satisfied with their teams, less likely to burn out and enjoy better well-being overall.

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. The athlete who pursues achievement in sport so diligently that they forget about one of the key purposes of—enjoyment and fun—can often end frustrated and miserable. The athlete who pursues enjoyment first, with a deep commitment to excellence and improvement is the athlete who lasts and achieves.

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. And, the same goes for thoughts, for that matter—we can only handle one thought at a time. As an athlete, this is important for you to know. When you do feel negative emotions that limit your performance, you have the option of changing your state to a positive emotion—and gratitude is a great one to make the shift.

Let’s consider a few characteristics of grateful equestrian athletes

Grateful equestrian athletes 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 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 equestrian athletes are grateful for competitors

Appreciate your competitors! Competitors can bring out the best in you and without them you do not have the opportunity to show and test your limits. Competitors give you an opportunity to bring out your best. 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 equestrian athletes appreciate the journey and 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 equestrian athletes “sweep the shed”

Like the great New Zealand All Blacks who “leave their dressing room the way they found it” after any game, believing humility is aligned with greatness, grateful equestrian athletes appreciate everyone around them. They appreciate everything they receive—there is never an attitude of entitlement.

Grateful equestrian athletes 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 equestrian athletes 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 equestrian athletes 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 …

  1. 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.
  2. 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!”
  3. 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. See www.johnhaime.com to learn more.

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