As riders, in order to get the most out of our riding, achieve our goals and have total belief in our abilities, we need to develop the four C’s of mental toughness.
Whatever discipline you have chosen and, whatever level you are riding at within that discipline, having a strong mental attitude will help you considerably. It will help when you are learning new skills, overcoming challenges and coping with the stresses of competition.
The following list gives suggestions of helpful attributes for each of the four C’s. Read through them and, being honest with yourself, give yourself a mark out of ten for each one. This will give you an idea of your strengths and your challenges and highlight areas which you can work on.
It is likely that you will have periods of time when you’re feeling mentally tougher than others but the aim is to increase your strength in each of the four areas.
If you need any help with this then do just get in touch
1. Commitment and Motivation
I let go of mistakes and focus on what I am going to do next
I don’t give up even when the odds are against me
When I don’t achieve my goals it makes me try even harder
I am prepared to work hard in order to see improvements
I can raise my game even when I’m not in the mood.
I know how to relax during tense moments
I don’t get angry, even when I make a mistake
I am able to focus on the things which I can control and don’t worry about bad luck
When riding, I focus in the moment and on the task I am performing
I am able to make correct decisions even when under pressure.
I can stay focussed even when I have other distractions
I can control distracting or unhelpful thoughts when I am riding
I am able to control my nerves so that they don’t harm my performance
I am able to control my emotions when I am riding
I am able to quieten my mind and avoid overthinking.
I bounce back quickly after any mistakes
I am able to trust my talent and experience rather than try to over control things
I am able to overcome self doubt when it creeps in
I still believe in myself, even after a poor performance
Jennifer is a client with whom I have been working for some time, helping her to overcome some significant anxieties and regain her enjoyment of riding. She very kindly offered to allow me to publish her story and share it with you, so huge thanks to Jennifer for volunteering to go public and for her kind words about the work we do together. It is a huge privilege to be part of a rider’s team and to have somebody trust me enough to allow me to tell others about how they have been helped is deeply moving.
In her own words, here is Jennifer’s Story:
I was on holiday on Skye when my daughter first announced that she wanted to go pony trekking. I decided to go along with her for old times’ sake, because I rode from the age of 8 to the age of 28, when I gave up after a particularly nasty accident. I had under-estimated how afraid I had become in the ten years since I last rode a horse (and rode in an ambulance). I knew I’d be a bit nervous, but I was not prepared for the extreme physical response. I tried to get on the lovely sensible cob they tacked up for me, and blacked out for a moment, with the first panic attack I ever experienced. The people at the yard were lovely about it, and I got on eventually. I ended up going on a hack with two leaders beside me, one at each side of the poor, blameless horse, who never put a foot wrong. I was sobbing quietly with fear and turning round now and then to force a smile and wave at my daughter… I was making bargains with the universe at that point… ‘if I survive this hour, I’ll never ride again and I promise I’ll try to be a better person…’
Because my daughter loved her pony trek, I booked her weekly riding lessons at an absolutely first-rate local riding school. I couldn’t even watch at first. Then I did, and then I suddenly wanted to ride again. I booked myself in for weekly one-to-one lessons. In my first lesson, I got off when my instructor had to step out of the school for a moment. I was too afraid to sit, by myself, on a stationary horse. I didn’t like riding, and I didn’t like that particular horse. I’m pretty sure she was laughing at me.
Although I always planned to call up and cancel my lesson, I found that I went back every week, for some reason. I rode the same horse, who got steadily smaller and less frightening… My instructor was brilliant, and I was getting less afraid.
I became reasonably confident, if not exactly bold, and decided that the horse was actually lovely, and the only one I could ever ride. I bought her in October 2017 and I was full of excitement and optimism. Unfortunately, we had a few setbacks over the winter, and I fell off more times than I can remember now. My confidence shrank, and my anxiety made my poor, sweet mare anxious. The more tense I got, the more likely she was to spook, and the more she spooked, the less confident I became. I tried a few things (every book ever written on the subject, an instructor who specialised in nervous riders, prescribed medication even… ) but none of it really made an impact on my lack of confidence because it didn’t address the underlying issues. I’d got to the stage of being nervous around my horse on the ground too.
By the time I contacted Jane, I was desperate to move past my fear or riding so I could enjoy this again. I really didn’t want to part with my mare, but the situation was making me miserable.
Jane took time to listen and understand, then worked out how we could tackle the causes of my anxiety. She worked on both the bigger picture and on the small triggers that provoked a fear response. We worked on a plan to tackle the issues stage by stage. We set short, medium and long term goals and she cheered me on when I ticked them off. I learned some relaxation techniques and some confidence-building tools, and we used hypnosis to support these. They are all tools that I can use in other areas of life, too. I’ve found them surprisingly helpful for more than just riding.
It’s worth mentioning that I also have regular lessons with an excellent instructor – Jane’s work is non-ridden, and away from a yard environment, which felt very ‘safe’ and comfortable for me, particularly in the early stages. I personally found the two approaches worked very well and gave me quick results. As I learned how to manage my fear, I found that I was able to get more out of my riding lessons, becoming calm enough to concentrate on learning the skills to make me a better rider. As I improved technically, my confidence increased, and being a better riding gave me the confidence to know I could handle my horse safely. I stopped scaring my poor mare with my own nervousness, and I’m quite surprised (and really delighted) by the progress we’ve made together. First time I hacked out for an hour by myself and enjoyed it was just the best feeling. I kept ticking off the goals; riding a dressage test, hacking along different routes, schooling alone, jumping… it all started to fall into place for me, and it was just amazing.
Jane helped me to change my mental approach to riding, to manage my expectations and to challenge myself without triggering fear again. She didn’t show me how to ride in spite of my fear –Jane has taught me how to ride and enjoy it, without fear.
I have gone from being anxious from the moment I thought about driving to the stables, to riding my own horse every day and looking forward to that time above all else. I’ve even started jumping again. As my horse is resting after treatment for the next few months, I will enjoy the privilege of riding a very handsome young cob belonging to a friend, and I’m really excited to start working with him; to have the confidence and skills to ride him.
Jane has given me back my confidence and I can’t express how grateful I am to be able to love riding again. Maybe even more than I did first time round.