Jan 14, 2023

What is a Sport Psychologist and What Do They Offer Equestrians?

Dr. Paul Haefner presenting at the 2022 USEA ECP Symposium. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

At first, it may seem obvious; sport psychologists help athletes optimize their performance in competition. Don’t they? Of course… this is the spirit behind the entire field of sport psychology.

Yet, in over 25 years of assisting riders with their mental game, I have been surprised to discover that the vast majority of equestrians who seek my assistance want my help tackling core emotional concerns such as fear, anxiety, and trauma related to their riding.

Rather than simply enhancing performance, I more often work to help my clients get back in the saddle, heal from traumatic events, and reclaim their joy of riding. My experience has led me to expand my understanding of the role of sport psychology in equestrian sport.

The work of a sport psychologist can be divided into three categories. The first is performance enhancement. We help athletes perform to their highest ability when it counts the most, in competition. There are many tools available to assist athletes in this endeavor and include many of the skills and strategies that are familiar to the public such as goal setting, positive self-talk, energy regulation, and visualization, among others.

The second category is helping athletes with personal reactions or experiences that interfere with peak performance. This might include dealing with limiting beliefs, self-critical thoughts, negative self-concept, lack of confidence, or performance anxiety. These qualities of thinking or feeling often have a significant negative effect on performance. Once they are dealt with, an athlete can focus more directly on fine-tuning their mental game for peak performance.

Finally, sport psychologists assist athletes with personal struggles that may be related to a competitive lifestyle. These struggles might include relationship difficulties, depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. It is in this last role that it is important to understand that not all sport psychology professionals have the same training or background.

When searching for an equestrian sport psychologist you will notice that professionals will adopt different titles. You will find sport psychology consultants, mental skills consultants, equestrian psychology coaches, and many others. The reason that they present themselves with this wide range of titles is that the term “psychologist” is a protected term in most states. The title a person uses does not reflect negatively on their competence and ability to help you with your mental game. Rather, their title indicates a difference in their training and licensure from a professional who is trained and licensed as a psychologist. When seeking assistance, it is helpful to understand this difference and ask about their training and experience so you can be assured that they will be able to help you with the particular challenges you face.

Sport Psychologists have a lot to offer today’s equestrians.

Our knowledge of human psychology and performance has grown exponentially in recent years. From teaching mental skills for peak performance to helping riders heal from serious emotional challenges, sport psychologists have something to offer equestrians for a variety of challenges at every level of the sport. The next time you are looking to overcome a challenge to your riding, elevate your horsemanship, and take your riding to a new level… in addition to seeking out new teachers or trainers… in addition to working on your own health and physical fitness… consider consulting with a sport psychologist. They may be able to help you maximize your investment while helping to sustain your passion and joy in the process.

About Dr. Paul Haefner Ph.D

Psychologist, mentor, educator, and speaker. With over 35 years of professional experience, Paul T. Haefner, Ph.D. focuses his energy these days serving the equestrian community. In 1998 he founded Riding Far, LLC to provide a broad range of sport and performance psychology services for riders. He is passionate about learning and integrating knowledge and skills from a wide range of perspectives, academic disciplines, and worlds of human experience. In addition to 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist, Dr. Haefner is a clinical hypnotherapist and a Neurolinguistic Programming master practitioner. He has worked extensively with equestrians of all ages and disciplines and finds great joy helping people create meaningful change in their lives and in their riding. Dr. Paul Haefner is a returning guest speaker to the USEA's 2023 ECP Symposium.

Dec 01, 2023 Eventing News

USEF Announces 2024 Eventing Pathway Program Lists

The U.S. Equestrian Federation is pleased to announce the Eventing Pathway Program Lists for 2024, including the Elite, Pre-Elite, Development, and Emerging Programs. In addition to these Eventing Pathway Program updates, several opportunities will be available in 2024 for both Program and non-Program athletes.

Dec 01, 2023 Instructors

2024 ECP Symposium to Be Held at the Florida Horse Park on Jan. 30-Feb. 1

The United States Eventing Associations’ (USEA) Eventing Coaches Program (ECP) is pleased to announce the dates and location of the upcoming 2024 ECP Symposium. The annual ECP Symposium, which is held in the southeast to accommodate the migration of eventers for the winter season, will be hosted at the Florida Horse Park in Ocala, Florida, on Jan. 30 – Feb. 1, 2024. This three-day immersive educational experience is recommended for anyone who is interested in learning more about eventing coaching, including current coaches, riders, parents, owners or avid supporters. Click here to download the registration form today!

Nov 30, 2023 Classic Series

Looking Back at the 2023 USEA Classic Series

The USEA is incredibly proud to allow the thrill of the 'chase to live on for those who want to experience the unforgettable rush of the classic long format three-day event through our USEA Classic Series events. Long-format events from the Beginner Novice to Preliminary levels are still a reality with the USEA Classic Series and include roads and tracks, steeplechase, and cross-country on "endurance day," as well as horse inspections. In addition, educational activities are offered at the USEA Classic Series Events to help prepare competitors, especially those who are contesting their first-ever long format event.

Nov 30, 2023 Sponsor

STRIDER Returns as an Official Educational Partner of the USEA for 2024

The United States Eventing Association, Inc. (USEA) is happy to announce that STRIDER will return as an “Official Educational Partner” of the USEA for 2024. As the operator of one of the leading platforms for equestrian bookings, STRIDER is dedicated to supporting access and community growth across equestrian experiences, regardless of discipline, breed, level or location.

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Official Real Estate Partner of the USEA

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