Pressure Proof Your Riding

We decided to continue on the path of rider focus and the mental toughness needed for competition and optimal performance. After last month we're fascinated with rider psychology and the importance of it. So our April book review is on Pressure Proof Your Riding: Mental Training Techniques, Gain Confidence and Get Motivated So You (and Your Horse) Achieve Peak Performance by Daniel Stewart. Mr. Stewart was part of the US Equestrian Team coaches staff from 1999 to 2007, and he has also coached many world class equestrian athletes from other countries. Mr. Stewart is definitely one of the leading experts on equestrian sport psychology, athletics and performance, and his book goes over how to "gain confidence and get motivated so you (and your horse) achieve peak performance."

"Our sport is unlike any other because of the incredibly meaningful relationship between horse and rider. It's even more than a sport to us. It's our life: It's who we are, what we stand for, and why we do what we do."

It's hard to define what draws us to horses and the equestrian sport. For each of us, it's a different experience but it is generally about the connection we feel. But often that connection can gets lost when going from our home stables to the competition ring. We can let our minds run away with our good intentions leaving us with nervousness, anxiety and stress. Those negative emotions detract from the wonderful, positive experience showing our equine partner should be (for both teammates).

We as riders should be training beyond just the physical and add in training our mental abilities too, because "mental strength is a skill that can be learned". This book really breaks this process out and is a must read for any competitor.

Ten chapters are organized into these areas:

  1. Introduction to Equestrian Sport Psychology
  2. Defense Mechanisms
  3. Positive Mental Traits
  4. Negative Mental Traits
  5. Brain Babble
  6. Mental Imagery
  7. Goal Setting
  8. Stress Management
  9. Remembering It All
  10. Don't Ever Give Up: Laugh, Learn, and Love

Do you have a mental plan for competition? Do you know what kind of rider you are? Are you fear-driven? Are you outcome-driven? Or are you success-driven? Do you understand the difference?

  • Fear-driven riders want to succeed but lack self-confidence, always thinking of what could happen, or what did happen, instead of what is happening. 
  • Outcome-driven riders also lack self-confidence because they base their ability and worth on the outcomes of their performance (placings, scores, ribbons, etc.).
  • Success-driven riders focus on what they need to do in order to ride and perform well, regardless of the fears or outcomes that are inevitably part of competing. 
"Focusing on physical preparation, but ignoring mental preparation means that a rider is only willing to go half the distance."

Page 22 had a great table listing the "myths" of mental coaching. One of the biggest ones that stood out to us is that most people think mental coaching is only for those riders with problems. But that is far from the truth, because "mental training is about helping ordinary riders become extraordinary." Mental training and coaching is about identifying with yourself on  a much deeper level; really assessing your strengths and weaknesses, and making a plan on how to improve them and use them to your advantage.

This book has little "Pressure Proof Projects" at the end of each chapter to help you assess and review the main concepts of the chapter. Going through these exercises will help you to evaluate yourself better and know where you need to improve.  

One of the biggest things people fail to do is actually establish goals for themselves and their equine partnership in a solid way. A great way to do that is to ensure you follow the Five Golden Rules of goal setting:

  1. Set goals that motivate you
  2. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals 
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Relevant
    • Time Bound
  3. Set your goals in writing
    • studies have decisively concluded that you're over 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write. them. down. 
  4. Make an action plan to accomplish those goals
  5. Stick with your plan

All in all, it's easy to get yourself together but much harder to keep it together as Chapter 9 will cover. So plan to dedicate as much time to your mental training program as you do to your physical training program! Two great articles expanding on Mr. Stewart's coaching techniques are Practical Horseman's Three Mental Strategies and Eventing Nation's Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone. Both were great, quick reads that really reinforce why "soft" or mental skills are every bit as crucial, and in a lot of respects more so, than riding ability and physical skill. Because even if you're one of the best riders and have one of the best horses, if you can't perform under stress or in various situations, then you aren't living up to your potential.

Take the time to become mentally focused and mentally tough, it could be the last elusive piece that is keeping you from excelling with your equine partner! Best of luck with the 2016 show season!

"What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving them."
-Henry David Thoreau

Live. Love. Horses.