Change your thoughts to change your ride

By Annette Paterakis

It is safe to say that the Equestrian sport is a challenging one, not only physically but also mentally. Making one error can result in a bad fall and injuries and might mean, you are out for the season. This obviously adds extra pressure to not make any mistakes. In addition, it is the only Olympic sport that involves working together with a living animal and that too adds an extra difficulty to the mix. Working together with a highly sensitive animal means that your mind not only impacts your body, but your horse will be influenced by it too.


Your thoughts have a powerful influence on your body

Imagine slicing up a lemon and squeezing half of it on your tongue. Can you feel your body responding to this thought by producing more saliva? Your thoughts have a powerful influence on your body and when you have negative thoughts, these can impact your ride. The more you go over a certain situation in your mind, the more you fire specific neurons in your brain and create a neural pathway. By thinking about what could go wrong, you strengthen a negative neural pathway. By thinking about how it could go right, you activate and strengthen a more desired neural pathway.

having the same negative thoughts can result in creating a negative neural pathway

This obviously doesn’t happen over night, but imagine someone telling you what a terrible rider you are, all day and every day for the next week. How would you feel about yourself at the end of the week? Probably not very positive. But this is exactly what happens when we have critical thoughts about ourselves all the time. Research has shown that from the 50.000 to 70.000 thoughts a day, about 70% of them are the same, day in and day out. So having the same negative thoughts can result in creating a negative neural pathway or in other words, you are creating limiting beliefs about yourself.


Neutral networks

The good news is we can create new, more helpful neural networks.
Using visualisation as a technique to strengthen your positive mindset is very powerful if done regularly. You probably already use it when you walk the course. Most likely you will go through the course in your mind a few more times so you won’t forget your plan. A great way to use visualisation to strengthen your confidence and positive outlook, is by reliving your best round ever. Whether you use it at home or right before you go into the arena at a show, it helps you focus on your strengths instead of on all the things that could go wrong.

Go back to that best round ever

So what you want to do is the following. Close your eyes and go back into your memory to that best round you have ever ridden. Go back to feel what you were feeling (the sensation of your horse moving), hear what you were hearing (the bell), maybe even smell what you were smelling (the combination of shavings and hay?). The more senses you use, the more neural connections will be made in your brain. Then just ride that course again in your mind and feel how everything comes together and seems to flow effortlessly. Relive the amazing feeling when you have cleared all the fences and ridden beautifully. Watching videos from well-ridden rounds or wins can obviously help as well. Whenever negative or unhelpful thoughts pop up, just recognize them without judgment and refocus your attention to what DID go well and what you DO want.