7 ways to mentally prepare for the ring

By Annette Paterakis

A lot of riders can feel anxious and nervous about going in the ring. It’s a common response but not one you may like. For the riders who now this feeling, here are zeven ways to mentally prepare yourself.

1. What’s your goal?

A common responds from riders when you ask them “What is your goal for this show?” will be, “Riding a nice round and for my horse(s) to jump well”. Obviously, that sounds great and might seem like a fair goal, but unfortunately it’s not very clear. This way we can easily get distracted, as riding a “nice round” is so vague it is hard to stay focused and thoughts or people watching you can easily distract your mind. Instead, create one or maximum two clear objectives you would like to improve and focus on – Keeping your horse strait or keeping your upper body back on the jumps, for example. As a result you will feel less scared to make mistakes and more in control of the outcome.

2. Visualize 3 times

When walking the course, make sure you create a very clear plan from the moment you enter the arena till the moment you walk out again. The clearer your plan is, the easier it will be to stay focused. After you have walked the course and perhaps watched a few other riders (if possible), you will want to visualize this plan 3 times. The best way to do this is to use all your senses. You can hear the bell, feel your horse and see the distances in your mind. The more vividly you imagine riding your round, the more neurons get activated in your brain sending out clear messages to your body. This way it will become easier to ride it in real life. You might even want to do this on your horse, moving your body as if you are riding through the turns and over the jumps. After three times, let it all go and trust yourself you will ride like you have visualized.

3. Disrupt the worry

Worries are the brains way of trying to keep you safe and out of danger. Unfortunately though, this is not really helpful (certainly not when riding a horse). So how do we go about disrupting this unwanted train of thoughts? The first step is to check in with yourself and understand your current mindset. We often try to get rid of negative thoughts and the more we do that, the more they persist. Therefor it is very important to acknowledge them first. You can do this by asking yourself, “What am I worried about right now?” The next step could be for you to focus your attention in your heart area. Imagine you are breathing through your heart, breathing a little slower and deeper than usual. With each breath, draw in a feeling of calm, confidence and inner ease.

4. Get into “Flow”

The next step will be for you to get into your personal peak performance state. We all deal with pressure in a different way, so find out how much pressure is actually useful for you to get into your zone or “flow”. You will recognize it when you feel relaxed yet very focused and everything seems to come naturally and easy. When pressure becomes too much and you start to feel tense or stressed, bring your body into a more relaxed state through deep breathing or any relaxation technique for that matter.

5. Create clear expectations

As Benjamin Franklin put it, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. This is not only true for you but also for the team around you. Make sure that your trainer, groom and/or parents or sponsors know what to expect, what to do and what not to do. Creating clear expectations can save you a lot of hassle in the warm up and arena.

6. Focus on the process

Once you are on the horse, you want to be ready and completely focused. When you notice you are still thinking about the outcome (results), or the people around you, you are not completely focused on your horse. So whenever you notice your distracted, just go back to your bubble, be in the moment and focus on what you can influence right now, which is your riding.

7. You can do this!

The thoughts you enter the arena with, have a big impact on your riding and therefor your horse and the results. When your aim is to just get round the track and survive, telling yourself you shouldn’t make any mistakes, it’s not very likely you will enjoy the ride or improve over time. Even if you don’t feel like you really belong in this show or in this class, “fake it until you make it”. Tell yourself you CAN do this over and over again, so often, you will start to believe it after a while. Because in the end, whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you are always right!