By Margie Sugarman
It’s been a while since I’ve shown. After Indoors we turned the horses out and let them be horses. But now it’s time and I’m getting ready to head to Florida for the winter circuit. I’m feeling a bit anxious about getting back into the competitive state of mind, doubting myself and feeling more stress than I did when I was showing. Is this normal? What’s happening to me? What do I do to get back into the right place in my head? Why do I keep going back to this if it does what it does to me at the start of each season?
Throughout human history, people have enjoyed organizing competitions—the Ancient Greek Olympic Games go back to 776 BC. If you look around, you’ll notice that competition is everywhere in the modern world. Many historians believe that “competitiveness” is a biological trait that co-evolved with the basic need for human survival. However, returning to a competitive state after time off from being a competitive athlete can be quite daunting.
When you return to competing, your state of mind is often cluttered with doubts and fears: Will I be able to do it? Will my horse get around the course? What if I make a mistake? What will my trainer think? What will my parents say? What about how much it costs? etc.
Skill and talent are only part of the game. Being involved in a sport comes with a significant amount of mental pressure, and the stress that accompanies it impacts the athlete’s performance. Learning important skills like relaxation techniques, positive self-talk and imagery are valuable psychological aides that, when appropriately used, support and enhance performance.
The real question is: How do you foster a confident, patient mindset?
Foremost, it’s important to set reasonable goals for your first few shows. Instead of going into the ring having to win everything, a more reasonable approach would be to give it your all and see what happens. The difference between going into the ring (upon your return) with the mindset of having to win as opposed to going into the ring and doing your best has a huge impact on the mind/body response. The more pressure and anxiety one feels, the higher the brain state. This higher brain state interferes with the mind/body connection. Have you ever come out of the ring and had your trainer ask you what you were thinking during one part of your ride and not been able to answer? Your brain state was too high and you couldn’t remember. In other words, your head and your body weren’t communicating properly and consequently, performance was impacted.
The proper mindset keeps you grounded in the present instead of solely focusing on the results. This automatically helps lower the performance brain state and allows for better focus, performance and results.
Focus on what you can control.
Think of what you do when you’re the most relaxed. Do you listen to music? Do you relax just walking around? Do you find yourself the most relaxed just being in the stall with your horse?
Most importantly, talk to your coach and identify small goals for your first classes back.
Depending upon your level of riding, either choose one goal to focus on for your first class or, if you’re more advanced, two or three goals. These are the focal points of your ride. Perhaps you’re a rider who carries your hands too high or tends to lose pace in the corners and runs out of the turns. The first classes back should be honing in on and perfecting these small goals. This approach will help you feel accomplished, enhance your confidence and motivate you.
Remember, you have to make a conscious effort to proactively build back your confidence through thoughts, actions and, ultimately, results.
A building is built from the ground floor up. Approach your return to the competitive arena by having a solid foundation.
Confidence is what separates the champion from the rest of the pack. Champions are produced with time, and you can only win when your mind is stronger than your emotions.
It’s important to talk to your coach and identify small goals for your first classes back.
Photo by Ruby Tevis