If you’re like most people there’s a good chance you made a New Year's resolution this month, and if you’re like most there’s a really good chance you’re going to have a hard time hanging onto it past the beginning of February!
Daniel Stewart is coming to Area III, January 22-23, 2022! Registration closes January 11, 2022.
Worrying about losing to a rider, or being beaten by another, is a common mistake many riders make. Wondering if you’re going to beat someone or be beaten by someone else is just as common. Together this kind of worrying and wondering is called the opponent effect and is one of the most obvious - and overwhelming - causes of show jitters and performance anxiety.
The only sure thing about riding is that sooner or later you’ll succeed- and sooner or later you’ll fail. Like it or not, the reality of a sport as complex and challenging as ours is that doing everything right doesn’t always guarantee things will turn out that way. You’ll present your horse the perfect fence with the perfect approach and perfect quality canter, all to have it go south because of a plastic bag in the corner! Unfortunately, you’ve picked the wrong sport if you wanted everything to go right all the time.
We all strive for greatness. Regardless of your age, level or discipline; your horse and sport are just too important for you to give anything less than your best. But what happens when mistakes or missed opportunities interfere with your ability to achieve that greatness? What happens when disappointments make you mess-up or feel let-down? Well, for most riders the answer is simple. Regret.
Chances are pretty high that you’ve experienced show-jitters before. Maybe it was before an important competition, a clinic with an unknown clinician, your first group lesson, or riding in front of a friend or family member for the first time. Regardless of the situation, you’ll probably agree that performance anxiety is one thing you’d rather avoid.
Our sport is brilliant and epic and unlike any other. . . But at times, it can feel more pressure-packed than all other sports combined. When your horse’s unpredictable nature combines with high expectations and the endless physical and mental demands of riding, it's only natural to feel a bit overwhelmed from time to time.
In a way, it’s kind of like weird “pressure” math:
Unpredictability + Expectations + Physical and Mental demands = Pressure.
To succeed in riding your focus needs to be as strong as your leg and seat. Luckily your brain works in a unique way called selective attention that allows you to focus on the many important aspects of the ride. From balancing your corners to seeing your distances and remembering your course; your brain knows what’s important and directs your attention towards them. . . That is until your brain gets distracted by things like fears, failures, and freaking out, in which case it directs your attention to them instead! In the end, it’s up to you to select what you’re going to pay attention to. . . The good or the bad, the past or the future, the mistake or the lesson it just taught you. The good or the evil!
I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it because it’ll keep happening: sometimes you’ll do everything right but it’ll still go wrong! You’ll ride balanced, make your changes, see your distances, and clear all your fences, only to have your horse throw a shoe causing him to trip and spook at a butterfly causing you to fall!
Our sport is going to present you with many amazing opportunities, and some equally amazing challenges. While you’re sure to enjoy the opportunities, it sometimes takes a little more effort to enjoy the challenges. Contrary to the common misconception (from non-equestrians) that our sport is easy, it’s actually one of the hardest and most demanding sports of all!
Three months ago we began a conversation about riding rehearsals. Since then I’ve introduced you to many unique ways to visualize your riding using different mental perspectives (think camera angles). In case you missed then, here’s a brief summary of the many different camera angles we’ve talked about.