It has become a well-known and accepted fact that in order to excel in sport we must train our mind as well as our body. Many high profile riders have accredited their success to personal fitness and mental training as well as learning the technical aspects of competitive level riding. We are delighted to bring you the second in our series by Sports Psychologist Debbie Percy from Jigsaw Equine. Here Debbie shares some confidence tricks that matter.
Spring is most definitely in the air but is it in your step? Are you walking out boldly with confidence and self-belief? If you aren’t, can you expect to ride with confidence? How we feel off our horse can easily become the groundwork for how we feel, on our horse. Most of us don’t realise the close link between what we do with our body and how it impacts our feelings. Believe it or not we can change how we feel by changing our body stance or pose, and vice versa.
In a study of athletes, it was discovered that athletes (blind from birth), still throw their arms up in the air in that ultimate ‘victory’ winner pose as they cross the finishing line first. If they’ve never seen other successful athletes do this then how come they knew to do it? It seems that when we feel successful and proud we literally fill the space up around us with our body! We grow tall, we spread out!
Test it out for yourself – think yourself to be ‘timid, shy, withdrawn’ and now walk back and forth across the room a couple of times. I bet you walk more hunched over with slower, smaller steps, eyes looking down. Now think ‘big, bold, brave’ and walk back and forth noticing the difference in your body.
How can this knowledge help us with our riding?
The key to boosting your confidence is to practice being confident! Spend time watching people you think are confident and observe what they do, how they behave and the kind of things they say. Then practice some of the action steps below: –
Activity 1 – Think big; Get big!
Before you mount your horse, walk boldly around the yard, taking strong strides, eyes up, ‘feeling confident’. Stretch your arms out to the sides, legs wide apart and arms up above your head, taking deep breaths in and out. If you can safely do some stretching in the saddle too (have a friend hold your horse), have a go – it’s fun and will give you a good laugh!
Activity 2 – Play to your Strengths
Confidence is simply ‘trusting in your abilities’. If we are honest, we all know what we are capable of and not good at, so play to your strengths. Do a lot of what you and your horse are good at! This builds our confidence, which is key to keeping the momentum of building on the good experiences especially if you’ve recently lost your confidence after a fall or tricky ride.
Activity 3 – Boast, Boast and Boast some more!
Some of us struggle to feel confident afraid that it means we are some sort of boastful, show off! It isn’t true! Use whatever technique works for you but DO pay attention to how well you ride. Keep a written log, diary or set up a blog.
What you did,
What worked well?
How it felt for you (only the good feelings)
What surprised you?
What you noticed about sensations, feelings and thoughts
If you can, set up your iPhone on the ménage fence line on a gorilla tripod and record some of your riding. Watch it back over and over and over! The more you see yourself riding well the better. Ask a friend or trainer to film sections of a lesson again – capturing the good stuff. Don’t worry about the bits that aren’t so pretty – it will come!
Activity 4 – Seeing is believing!
The reason why having a video recording (or photos) of yourself riding well is important is because we tend to believe things that we see. Confidence is about building our belief in ourselves. Therefore the more we see ourselves doing well at something the more we will succeed at it.
To take this to the next level – practice visualizing yourself riding in a difficult situation, and seeing a positive result, or outcome. Imagine in your minds eye all the details of yourself and your horse riding out together or in a lesson. See his/ her coat and fur, mane, ears. Visualise you sitting relaxed, smiling. Rehearse in your mind elements of a riding lesson or hack, trot to canter or popping over a small fence. Hear the stride, smell the fresh air, or woody earth around you. Soak up all the details. Most of all see yourself – smiling, relaxed, calm and happy.
Every visit to the toilet, trip to the supermarket, times spent filling up the car with fuel are all times to practice visualizing yourself riding confidently. The more you practice the more your body and mind expects that to happen just as you imagine it. It’s called muscle memory for the mind! It works, and it always amazes people.
Activity 5 – Say Cheese and Smile
Remember that mind-body connection I mentioned earlier? Well, it turns out that the simple act of smiling sends a message to your brain that you’re happy. And when you’re happy, your body sends out all kinds of feel-good endorphins – just like when you eat chocolate – only better on the hips!
Scientists proved in a German study that people felt happy just by holding a small pen clenched between their teeth, imitating a smile – so can you imagine the positive effect of having something real to smile about? Bask in the joy of having a horse, remember what it felt like to get your first pony or riding lesson. Think about all the qualities you love about your horse or pony and what he/ she does that makes you smile.
Smile big broad cheesy grins while you ride. At every marker ‘smile’. Get into the habit and even though as you read this you will worry that you’ll look like a simpleton – who cares? Do you want to ride more confidently or not!
There are many more tips and tricks we can have some fun with and if you are looking to create your own, then my golden rule is this….
“If it makes you smile, giggle or laugh out loud – then give it a go”!
Whilst I don’t want to sound glib about boosting your confidence and in the absence of any specific traumatic event or fall, most of the time our issues fade away with a bit of play! Be conscious of what confidence is, how it feels and what for you triggers its absence or abundance.
Experiment with techniques, listen to music that makes you happy before you ride, or have a laugh with a friend. If you are at Badminton next month, watch the world’s best three-day event riders in the collecting ring by the cross-country course. Many of them will ride two or three abreast chatting, gossiping and having a laugh. Why? They know the importance of relaxing, smiling, releasing tension and building confidence. If it works for them, I promise it will work for you too!
Jigsaw Equine was formed in 2006 and specialises in delivering the ground breaking concepts: “Equilates”- pilates based exercises to straighten and stabilise the rider’s seat, and, “Mind Factor™” – a unique approach to sports psychology using proven techniques and exercises to focus the rider’s mind.
Debbie Percy is trained in Neuro Linguistic Programming, Psych-K, Metaphysics and Mindfulness for Coaches. Originally from Cheshire, she now lives in Berkshire with her husband Ian, their three dogs and three horses. Debbie has a strong vision for helping riders and heaps of energy that makes her coaching and presentation style interactive,fun and compelling.