Are you riding to your full potential?
Is your head getting in the way of your performance?
Many riders struggle with incapacitating fears. These fears may prevent the equestrian from riding a particular horse, jumping a certain height, or performing to her potential. Fears within this sport are exceptionally common and are integrally related to the very nature of the sport. As an equestrian, you are riding atop a rather large animal, who at times can be easily spooked and respond unpredictably. Furthermore, the learning process is fraught with falls, scary close calls, and even injuries. Unlike other sports, your performance in this sport is a unique team effort where your teammate can sometimes turn against you. The end result of this is that every rider accumulates any number of upsetting and/or scary experiences as they mature in the sport.
- Fears and blocks are a NORMAL part of being a competitive equestrian.
- How you handle your fears will determine how quickly you move through them.
- Be patient and forgiving when you get afraid and lose skills/technique.
- Getting frustrated with and angry at yourself will make your fears increase.
- Do not pressure yourself to get things back quickly. Time deadlines make things worse!
- When you’re really afraid, your system needs time to settle and calm down, so “change channels” and work on something less scary until you are able to relax more.
As a result of some of these scary experiences and injuries, a rider can develop a significant, fear-based performance block. In fact, many equestrians unknowingly suffer from what I call Repetitive Sports Performance Problems, (RSPPs). Here’s how it works:
Every time that you have a scary close call, fall, or injury, your brain and body memorize the entire experience in exquisite detail. You unconsciously remember all the sights, sounds, smells, movements, emotions, and thoughts from this experience. In fact, long after this experience may have been consciously forgotten, it still remains frozen in its entirety in your mind and body. The problem with this is that the next time you are under pressure or are in any way reminded of that original scary experience, components from this original upsetting event (images, sounds, emotions, anxiety, physical tension, and/or negative thinking) get activated and bubble up into your awareness, interfering with the present performance. What the rider becomes aware of is feeling unsafe inside. When this happens, your nervous system, sensing danger, instinctively responds with the self-protective reflex of FREEZE. As a result, the rider literally loses access to their trained performance skills, which have been pushed offline so that the more important task of self-protection can take over.
Unless past upsetting events are effectively processed through for the rider, s/he will never be able to effectively move beyond their performance fears. This is the kind of work that we do with riders. In addition to teaching them specific mental toughness training techniques to help them stay calm under pressure, focus on what’s important and block out everything else, rebound quickly from mistakes and failures, develop self-confidence, and manage last minute negative thinking and self-doubts, we help the rider get over his/her incapacitating fears utilizing mind-body based ways of working.
Remember, fears, scary close calls and blocks are normal part of your sport and can be worked through. Your trained performance skills and confidence have only been temporarily kicked offline and can be recovered with a little work on the mental side of your riding.
Dr. Alan Goldberg is an internationally recognized expert in the field of performance enhancement. As a Sports Performance Consultant, Dr. G works with equestrians from all over the world. He has written on the subjects of peak performance and mental toughness for a number of national and international publications. He is the author of the revolutionary book, “This Is Your Brain on Sports: Beating Blocks, Slumps and Performance Anxiety for Good! and several Mental Toughness Training Packages. Check out his popular introductory Mental Toughness Training Package.
My best news is that I ended up in first place on the leader board for the year! I am the U.S. Eventing Association Master Adult and Master Amateur Rider of the Year at my level!! Thank you so, so much for all of your help.
In June, Mandy had shows almost every weekend and at one, she won the single day Novice Youth All-Around title and at the Region 8 Champs, she won 2 events! She's not afraid to jump anymore and she has come so far since we first talked to you. You have helped her get over the hump and really take off!
I love riding and showjumping but I came to a point where I dreaded competitions. This resulted in mistakes and freeze ups. With Sara I was able to learn to be in the moment and unlock the riding skills I had during high pressure moments. Now, I’m able to focus my energy and enjoy what I am doing!
THINKING TOO MUCH Want an absolutely great way to sabotage your performance? A surefire way to help you choke under pressure and steal defeat from the closing jaws of victory? If so, then try THINKING while you perform!
OVERCOMING PERFORMANCE FEARS AND BLOCKS Are you struggling with a seemingly mysterious performance problem? Have you or your athlete suddenly lost BASIC abilities? FINALLY understand where this FRUSTRATING problem comes from and what you can do about it!
THE MENTAL SIDE OF ATHLETIC INJURIES The mental pain caused by your injury and the temporary or permanent loss of your sport can be far more devastating than the strained or torn ligaments, pulled muscles, ripped cartilage or broken bones. Unless this type of pain is directly addressed and “treated”, your overall recovery will be slow and incomplete.