Question: My show season is cancelled indefinitely. What can I do at home now to work on my mental game, so I come out swinging like Beezie Madden circa 2014 WEG when the shows start up again?
John Haime: With COVID-19 dominating the news, our question this month relates to what’s on everyone’s mind in equestrian sport: “When can I ride again.”
Well, we’re really not sure yet. But there are many things you can do off of the horse that you may not have made time for when life was normal, and you were in your regular routine.
Part of my job as a mental/emotional coach to performers is mining for opportunities in every situation—no matter how difficult. Because of the way humans are wired, the tendency for people is always to focus on what’s wrong instead of what may be right. Believe it or not, there is opportunity for your equestrian performance during COVID-19 and we’ll talk about one of them now.
A little inspiration for readers who may not be familiar with the reference in your question.
In 2014, the incomparable Beezie Madden broken her collarbone just three months before the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France and required emergency surgery. With only weeks to qualify for the US team, Madden healed in time to contest the last selection trial, where she jumped double clear in the Nations Cup and won the Grand Prix. She went on to win team and individual bronze for Team USA at WEG that year.
As Beezie demonstrated, with the right mindset, it’s possibly to come out stronger than ever in the show ring even after a setback!
Build your mental and emotional muscles
The performance area where you can make the biggest strides right now is building your equestrian mind. This is the perfect opportunity to build some basic skills necessary to help you maximize your efforts in the other three areas of equestrian performance (technical, physical and strategic/tactical).
Here are a few simple suggestions you might work on at home to bring a more focused, confident mindset to the ring when you return:
Always a critical piece in building the mental/emotional foundation of a rider! The stronger the base, the stronger the likelihood that distractions in the sport will not weaken your performance.
Why do you ride?
Think carefully about this simple question and bring that purpose to the ring every time you ride. If you ride because you love it and it gives you joy, distracting performance fears like FOPO (fear of other people’s opinions) won’t have the same impact.
Understanding your riding values can create clarity. What is most important to you? Is it having fun? Being/acting professional? Being confident? Work rate? Humility? Excellence? Decide what is most important to you in your equestrian life and create actions that will empower you to live by these values each time you visit the barn or show your horses.
Benefit to you when you return to riding—Self-awareness is a critical skill that is related to every part of your equestrian performance. Remember: if you get to know your equestrian self a little better, there is a greater likelihood you will believe when it counts.
2. Go to the movies—in your mind
Done properly, imagery can be a powerful exercise to develop both positive memories and practice for when you do get back to riding.
First, think of your best performance in 2019/2020 and review it in your mind. Bring back all of the feelings and senses (what it looked like, what it felt like, sounds, smells) to create the real environment. Take yourself through the ride in the seat. And, think about why this ride was so good?
Second, see yourself riding in a class when you get back to riding. Put yourself at the in-gate and then go through an entire ride using a course you experienced from 2019. Add in some challenges and some unforeseen obstacles in the trip—how do you overcome them?
Both of these scenarios can help build confidence (reinforcing a great experience and seeing and overcoming obstacles in a new one).
Benefit to you when you return to riding—You always have the opportunity to both review and preview performance. During this down period, you can do it from the comfort of your own home.
3. Be mindful
A calm rider who is able to ride in the moment is a rider that will have both enjoyment and achievement in the sport. If you don’t have one, start a simple mindfulness practice around your breathing to better understand your thoughts and gain a sense for the moment. There are some simple online Apps to help get you started in a mindfulness practice and keep you motivated. Headspace has sessions specifically for sport and the time commitment is only about ten minutes per day.
Benefit to you when you return to riding —Exercises that can bring you into the moment from the distraction of the future or past are valuable for any performance endeavor, helping to alleviate fear.
The equestrian world may be on hold, but your development as a rider doesn’t have to be. This COVID-19 break presents a unique opportunity to reflect on your horse life and develop your mental and emotional skills. Use this time to reset, recharge, rest, re-evaluate and recalibrate!
You’ll be back on the horse and in the show ring soon. When you do, think like Beezie and you can pick up right where you left off!
John is the President of New Edge Performance. As a Performance Coach, John calls some of the world’s leading athletes, teams and companies his clients. He regularly works with professional & amateur athletes inside the Top 50 in the world in their respective sports. His clients also include leading equestrian athletes in show jumping, dressage and eventing. He is the Author of the bestseller You are a Contender! Learn more about John at www.johnhaime.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.