What I’ve learned from Cian O’ Connor

By Annette Paterakis

As I’m sure you all know by now, I am currently working on writing my second book and, for that, I am having the pleasure of interviewing some of the most successful riders in showjumping. Perhaps most known for his ability to manage everything to perfection, Cian shared so many wise lessons with me during our hour-long conversation back in early 2018, I don’t really need to add anything at all! So, for this blog, I will let Cian do the talking. Here are 5 lessons I learned from Cian which I hope will also be valuable for you.

1. Be organized

“In order to keep everyone informed of the training, and show plans and timings, we have created WhatsApp groups with every member of staff and client. There is a group per stable and every night we run through the plan for the next day. I also make notes for myself every night, ‘breakfast, gym, ride that horse, teach that client’. I have a whole plan for the day and then I tick things off as I go along. This works better for the staff as well, as they always know exactly what the plan is in advance and I can always check to find out where everyone is or what they are doing instead of taking people away from their tasks by constantly calling or interrupting them.”

2. Write it down

“In general we write everything down so we keep notes of everything. For instance, I’m riding this horse in the grand prix tonight and let’s say he jumps double clear. Now, if I were to jump this horse again in July, I can look back at my notes and remind myself of what was going on at the time when he was jumping well. I might remember I changed a bit then or I tried a different spur on.”


“How I eliminate any unnecessary stress is by being organized.”


3. Always be on time

“If the course walk is at 18:00, I am not turning up at 18:20, I am there before 18:00. In fact, today, I already know the course plan for tomorrow. I saw the plan on the start list last night, so I might even put down some of the lines with poles and go over it with my horse today.” This approach gives Cian an advantage over riders that don’t know the course until they walk into the arena. You can do the same by always being organized, on time and thinking ahead.

4. Visualize it like a story

“I go through my course plan like a story. I don’t go into the ring holding my breath. I go into the ring having a dialogue with myself quietly. I do the same with my students. We go through the plan together. When they talk through it like a story, they don’t get a chance to be stressed. This creates peace of mind and a clear vision of what they want to execute. I find it really helps to stay focused because it lets nothing to chance. They don’t need to wonder how to jump a line when they go into the arena. Somebody else might say, ‘see how you jump that and maybe go on 5 or 6 strides’. But that just adds doubt.”

5. Think long term

“I think with a goal you shouldn’t be afraid to aim high. However, you have to be realistic too. There’s no point in someone with no experience saying, ‘I am going to the Olympics next year’. Instead, aim to go there in eight years. You pick your target, and don’t be afraid to aim high, then work back from it. For example, you want to jump the world championships and one of the mini goals is a particular show six weeks before, but you arrive there and the ground is diabolical, then you don’t risk the bigger goal. You scrap that one. Don’t be afraid to be strong. When you are young, you are impetuous and you think, ‘oh, today is the most important day ever’. But you have to always keep the bigger picture in mind. The main thing we need to protect with horses is their soundness. Whether they are good or bad, they can’t go anywhere if they are lame. In addition, it’s really important to make sure you don’t over jump your horses. You have to think about the bigger picture.”

Want to learn even more from a top rider?

In my Master Your Mind Online Mental Training Program I have included the full, live audio recording of my one-on-one interview with McLain Ward – that’s 50 minutes of deep insights and life lessons from a true legend! In it, McLain opens up about his journey in the sport, his successes (and failures), and his own life-changing, mental strengthening journey, which has helped him win 30% more annually. In the program I will also guide you, through videos and step-by-step exercises, on how to become mentally tough, and how to really connect with your horses and enjoy the ride. Learn more about the program here: http://bit.ly/masteryourmindapp

Photo Credit: Noelle Floyd Style.