By Miranda Akins.
It’s no secret that we all face mental blocks as equestrians. Because honestly, we ride 1200 pound animals and jump them over fences.. some taller than we are. We’re all just a little (ahem, a lot) crazy.
We can sit a buck, growling and laughing at a animal with the power to kill us and dare them: “Try it again, let me see you try to get me off.” We can throw a 50 pound feed bag over our shoulder like it weighed as much as a feather pillow. We are pretty strong; we can hold on to a galloping animal with the muscles in our thighs.
But, what happens when your mind has doubts? That you can’t do it, that you’ll fail?
Your heart pounds against your chest so loud you think someone can hear it; your stomach turns into knots, and it feels like you have butterflies pounding against the insides of your body. Your palms sweat, maybe your legs even shake, and your mind goes into overdrive. Visions of crashing through a fence, your horse spooking and skidding, a stop that sends you over the fence alone. You are melting down on the inside like a nuclear plant as you stare at the course you are supposed to begin. This can happen in the blink of an eye or be ongoing for days, weeks, and even months.
How are you supposed to perform when the part of your body that controls your actions is frozen? How are you supposed to ride when all your mind wants to do is run wild? Fear is an incredibly strong emotion.
Gary Mack, author of the sports psychology book Mind Gym wrote: “The desire to succeed needs to be stronger than the fear of failure”
It’s hard. Riding is an incredibly hard sport. Your teammate doesn’t speak English (okay but I’m convinced they can interpret the word ‘cookies’). You can’t say “move your shoulder over” and poof! Your horse is going to move into a shoulder out. Your body has to do all the talking. Whether you are a hunter, jumper, eventer, dressage rider, reiner, barrel racer, etc., you will have challenges. You will fall. You will get bucked off. You will come in last place. You will get discouraged. You will be scared.
And guess what? That’s okay. That is fine. That is normal. You’re not crazy for being afraid. Everyone – yes, everyone – is afraid at some point. Even Olympians, even Grand Prix riders.. they have been scared; maybe they are scared. And, they even have the added pressure of the media and a spotlight that a majority of us don’t have.
What makes them so successful is not only their talent and drive but their mastery of the mind games. They know how to settle the butterflies, the sweaty palms, and the fears. I’m no master myself, but helping crack the secret to the mind games is finding “your thing.” You have to find your zone, the sweet spot, the happy place. To ride well you need to think about anything but the ride.
Crazy I know.
My zone is in my music. Before I ride, it’s earbuds in, everything else out. I let my mind escape and fill it with lyrics. When I get out of the truck to ride, I have left all my problems and stress of the everyday world behind me. My mind is ready to work. I know that when everything else is gone, all I can focus on is the ride. Sometimes they stay in for a course walk or if I’m humming while cleaning tack. Music isn’t for everyone though… try a few things out and see what works for you. A game on your phone, a book, even sleeping. The goal is to clear your head and have a blank slate to work with.
Once you get your zone, visualize, visualize, visualize. Go through every step of your course, every fence, every turn. Run through your dressage test, every change, every transition. Ride that cross country course, that barrel run. Go through every. single. second. Put yourself on the back of your horse, and think of the view between their ears. Get your plan, go out there, and ride it. Don’t let your mind shut down, don’t let it think of a fall, of a miss, of a crash. It’s all about the plan. Think of the plan. That’s all that is allowed in there until you finish. Let your mind run on overdrive of success not failure.
Your mind is in control. When you step into a show ring your trainer is not there to hold your hand, they’re not the one cantering towards a fence. It’s you, it’s your body, and it’s your mind. They better be working together.
Win the mind games, and you will win the ribbons. Let the crazy horse girl win over human nature. You are capable of winning the mental war between instinct and the crazy passion we have for riding these 1,200 pound animals.
Learn to control your emotions or they will control you. – Edgar Martinez
What have you done to overcome mental blocks? Share below!