A Mental Guide to Horse-Showing Success

A Mental Guide to Horse-Showing Success

Heed these 12 tips to change your thinking before heading to your next horse show.

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Great coaches in any sport will tell you that getting someone to become mentally stronger is their most challenging task. Teaching physical skills is much simpler because it’s concrete. For example, your riding instructor can easily coach you on seat, leg and hand cues to change leads. It would be much more difficult and elusive to help you gain the confidence to become an Olympic rider.

Fortunately, Dr. Jim Loehr, of LGE Performance Systems, has outlined concrete mental skills that apply to your riding, just as they would to any professional sport. Work on these 12 steps, just as your technical skills, and you’ll become a stronger horse-show competitor.

  • Change your thinking to change how you feel. Many people are careless, sloppy, negative thinkers who do not feel they have control of their thoughts or emotions. However, you can exercise great control over both. When you become a disciplined thinker, you can think in ways that call up positive emotions that empower your life.

  • Practice positive thinking. Practice the techniques listed here to remain strong enough to stay empowered under the stress and frustration of horse showing. In fact, that’s what this is all about: staying positive when results go south. But positive thinking and imagery are acquired skills, and you have to repeat the exercises every day.

  • Recognize and let go of negative thoughts. Negative thinking takes you nowhere when you practice or show. Commit yourself to taking charge of negative thoughts and feelings by first becoming aware when you feel nervous, discouraged, fearful, etc. Then, pretend you are an observer who commands you to “stop.” Each time you do the exercise, you train yourself to become more disciplined. After the “stop” cue, replace the former way of thinking with one of the following ideas.

  • If you’re feeling negative, change the picture in your mind. Images are more powerful to evoke positive emotion than words. When things are not going in the direction you like, imagine yourself being successful, having fun, riding well and staying cool.

  • Never say or think “Can’t” or “Hate.” These two words evoke powerful negative feelings that take your riding in the wrong direction.

  • Use humor to break up negative emotions. Fear and anger cannot coexist with funny, off-the-wall thoughts.

  • Think energetically. High, positive energy will take your riding where you want to go. Tell yourself all the time, and especially during difficult times, “I love this.”

  • Stay in the moment. Thinking about the future brings fear, while thinking about the past can cause frustration. Think about your job right here, right now. Focus on a specific target and what’s to be done at critical moments.

  • Visualize success. There are documented, amazing stories of prisoners who played great rounds of golf immediately after returning home because they played 18 holes mentally several times a day while in captivity. You can dramatically strengthen your physical riding skills by seeing and feeling yourself ride. Rehearse your weaknesses by seeing yourself ride in your mind with the accuracy you desire.

  • Be clear about why you’re riding. Anyone loves what they do when the going is good. It’s the true commitment to press on through excruciating times that separates riders. When you love the battle, your riding will accelerate to a whole new level.

  • Review powerful thoughts and images daily. Write these thoughts on a piece of paper. Carry it in your pocket for quick review and/or tape it to your bathroom mirror.

  • Become disciplined in the way you process your mistakes. Many riders fear mistakes so their minds are consumed with painful “what if” weaknesses. Whatever you fear will come to pass. Here are suggestions to process mistakes:

  1. Know that mistakes are necessary to learn. No mistakes, no learning.

  2. Be aggressive in your riding and horse showing, whatever the consequences, without fear, again because of the learning involved.

  3. After making a mistake, ask yourself: What could you have done differently? What can you do in the future?

  4. And then, move on and don’t look back.