It is that time again. We are only days away from the equestrian sport equivalent of the Olympics: the World Equestrian Games. A physical, emotional and, without a doubt, mental challenge over four long days in dressage, showjumping, eventing and many more disciplines. Four long days of controlled focus, belief, energy and confidence is needed to make every round count. Being able to bring everything together at the right moment requires preparation and a lot of training.
Now, as I like to promote working smart over working hard, here are five ways you can train your mental skills in preparation for a big event, in a comfy position from your very own couch.
In his book “Gold”, Nick Skelton explains how he, in preparation for the Rio Olympics, visualized exactly how he wanted to ride and how he would be standing at the podium. Even when the vets weren’t sure whether Big Star would be able to go to Rio, and many started to doubt whether he should even be on the team, Nick stayed focused on his goal and kept visualizing with even more determination that he would not only compete, but also get the gold.
Now it’s your turn! Create a mental video for yourself of how you want to be riding at your event, how you want your horse to jump and how you want to feel riding into the arena and throughout the course. The second element of your video could entail your jumpoff or final round. Watch yourself riding as if it is already happening, nailing that inside turn, and flying without hesitation towards and over the last jump, and reaching over the finish line with all you’ve got. Finally, watch yourself at the podium, feeling the medal around your neck, waving to your team and hearing your national anthem being played.
2. Let go of expectations
This might seem like a contradiction after what I’ve just explained, but hear me out. Preparing your mind and body to perform at your best and expecting a certain result are two different things. Once you have prepared and visualized how you want to ride, then you let go of any expectations of the results. We can aim for it, but we don’t need to expect it. Once you let go of the pressure to have to do well, you will be able to stay more present and focused on the process.
“Make important decisions way in advance of an event.”
3. Prepare for the worst
Perhaps an odd one, but an important part of mental preparation leading up to a big event, is to also prepare for the things that could go wrong. Instead of pushing negative thoughts away, visualize what could happen, and how you will stay focused and respond in the best way possible. Think about what you can do to avoid, solve or learn from the situation.
4. Make sure you are well rested
Regular sleep is so important in order to generate consistent results, and this is especially true for a multiple day event like the WEG where you need to be focused from beginning till end. Sleeping for longer, around 10 hours a night, for a few nights before the show can help you perform better and minimize the impact of jet lag or a bad night’s sleep before the event. If you can’t get that much sleep in a night, try to plan in a nap about two hours before you need to compete.
5. Make your decisions in advance
Speaking to Peder Fredrickson recently, he told me he has learned to make important decisions way in advance of an event. Making important decisions like, “will I ride the first ‘training’ day or keep my horse fresh”, for example, can take a lot of mental energy. So think ahead and decide everything you will need to in advance. This way, you will save precious energy you will need to stay focused, confident and on top of your game.