Mindset for the Competitive Equestrian

What separates elite athletes from the rest?

Talent?

Many talented athletes never lived up to their potential.

Technical skills?

All the technical skills in the world will not help if you are unable to perform those skills in the heat of competition.

Natural athleticism?

There are many examples in sports where less athletic athletes became elite, and physically gifted athletes failed to succeed.

So what is the special ingredient that produces elite athletic performances?

The biggest contributor to elite performances is mindset after all the training and talent is baked in.

Mindset is your mental outlook and how it helps or hinders your performance in competition.

So, let’s talk about mindset for the equestrian athlete.

Have you ever felt nerves or anxiety while competing? When I was younger I literally could not eat the morning of a show. Saying I had butterflies, or jitters, was an understatement! I was even known at the show grounds for getting so worked up I was sick to my stomach the mornings of the show!

For most people pre show, or pre class, nerves are a common occurrence. Often we don’t even realize how much those nerves are holding us back or how CRUCIAL mindset is for our success. Further, a lot of us pull it together at the last minute without even realizing how much better we could have done if we were properly prepared mentally.

Telling yourself to “just relax” does not work. It won’t even work coming from your mother, trainer or long time friend. A winning mindset needs to be prepared well before unloading your horse at the show or walking towards the dressage ring.

I am going to summarize the top 5 mindset skills that I feel are required to be a successful athlete. This is not an exhaustive list and, of course, there are other skills as well. This list comes from my own education, experience and training in Psychology as well as NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) as well as a long time working with athletes in my coaching programs!

  1. Choose and maintain a positive attitude.
  2. Use positive self-talk.
  3. Use positive mental imagery.
  4. Manage anxiety effectively.
  5. Maintain concentration.

Skills 1: Successful athletes choose and Maintain a Positive Attitude

Successful athletes:

  • Realize that attitude is a choice then choose an attitude that is predominantly positive.
  • View their sport as an opportunity to compete against themselves and learn from their successes and failures.
    • This allows you to focus on what you can control, which is your own attitude, performance and progress. This gives YOU the power to succeed instead of worrying about factors outside of your control, such as what Sally and her horse are bringing to the ring that day.
  • Have a coach-able attitude and do not say things like “I know that already” or “I have already tried that”. Successful athletes are open to feedback and welcome advice on how to improve.
  • Respect their sport, other participants, coaches, officials, and themselves.

Skill 2: Use positive self-talk.

Successful athletes:

  • Work through stressful situations using positive self-talk. It is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to do well in a sport if your negative thoughts are telling you otherwise.
    • I recommend my athletes begin with writing down their most common self limiting beliefs, such as “I am not good enough to do well” , “I could never beat the girls with the fancy warmbloods”, “I always mess up my dressage test” and reframe it into positive self talk, such as:
      • ” I perform well in tough competitions”
      • ” I am prepared and unstoppable”
      • “I am a great athlete and my horse is ready”
      • “My horse and I always perform our best”
      • “I am a badass and I am ready”
      • Post these new beliefs everywhere and anywhere you need to until they become your default thought process!
  • Tip: To generate a strong sense of self-belief, an athlete cannot worry about feeling arrogant. To be the best you can be you must believe you are the best. There is no shame in being arrogant inside one’s own head. In fact, it is a critical element to achieving success.
  • Use self-talk to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors during competition. When you feel negativity or anxiety creeping it reframe it with positive self talk. Positive self talk will also help an athlete overcome setbacks during competition.

Skill 3: Use Positive Mental Imagery

Successful athletes:

  • Use positive mental imagery to focus on the desired outcome. There is no more powerful mental tool than mental imagery and it can have a huge impact on your sports performance.
    • Imagery is used by virtually all great athletes and research has shown that, when combined with actual practice, improves performance more than practice alone.
  • Visualize themselves winning in great detail. They include multiple senses such as the sound of the horse breathing, the sound landing from a jump, feeling the warmth of the sun, the feel of the horses coat, etc.
    • You should duplicate the sights, sounds, physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions that you would experience in an actual competition. 
    • Tip: Create and use mental images that are detailed, specific, and realistic.
    • For those that struggle with visualization I recommend beginning with guided meditation to learn how to focus your mind.
  • Use imagery during competition to prepare for action and recover from errors and poor performances. Maybe you “messed up” in your dressage test. These skills will help you brush it off so it does not negatively impact the rest of your competition.

Skill 4: Manage anxiety effectively.

Successful athletes:

  • Accept some anxiety as part of sport. Pre competition jitters are not only normal but help increase performance.
    • Accept, rather than fight, the nervous energy you feel. Don’t misinterpret it by thinking that it is fear. That adrenaline rush you feel is normal and it is part of your body’s natural preparation for the competition. Notice it, but don’t focus on it.
  • Realize that some degree of anxiety can help them perform well. This is important so athletes do not allow jitters to develop into a spiral of stress and negativity.
  • Recognize ways to deal with stress and anxiety in their day to day life. This could be yoga, meditation, walks in nature, breathing techniques, etc.
  • TIP: If you connect a state with a behaviour, for example, deep breathing with your eyes closed to a quiet mind or fist pumping to pump yourself up you can INSTANTLY change your state at the competition. This, of course, must be a neural connection that is solidified well before the competition. The outcome needs to be connecting a desired state with a certain behaviour. This can be seen with elite athletes that have pre show rituals!
An example on how there is an optimal amount of arousal (“stress”) to reach a peak level of performance.

Skill 5: Maintain concentration

Successful athletes:

  • Have learned how to maintain focus and resist distractions, whether they come from the environment or from within themselves.
  • Are able to regain their focus when concentration is lost during competition. You see this with viral videos of loose horses running through a test and the rider staying focused. While the horse is often the one credited it is more so the RIDERS concentration that keeps the horse focused and relaxed. Horses feed off of our emotions and the more relaxed and focused you are the more relaxed and focused they are.
  • Have learned how to play in the “here-and-now”, without regard to either past or anticipated future events. If they are unhappy with their last dressage test successful athletes move on and focus on the current moment and the current test. Allowing the past or future to dictate emotions will cause anxiety and lower your performance.

In summary…

Effective athletes train their mind as they train their body, or, to relate to horses effective equestrian athletes train their mind as they train their horses! Keep in mind that research has consistently proven that athletes who possess a growth mindset, and believed their performance could be improved simply through effort significantly outperformed those who believed that their talent was fixed.

I hope you enjoyed this article and it challenged you to think about how your mindset may be effecting your performance!

Free equestrian community:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/426232728129685/

My YouTube Fitness and Mindset Channel, make sure to subscribe to stay up to date!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3QQdWscURZYByuNLHF5f-g

xo

Ashley

Wake Up. Hug Dog. Hustle.

Start everyday with a big hug for your doggo.

“Sometimes you just have to grind it out, stake your claim on your goal and hustle, hard, for what you want MOST in life” ~ Ashley Eve

From the nervousness and doubt we feel when we take risks in our careers, to the butterflies in our bellies when we are waiting for our dressage test, the shortness of breath as we push for the final 5 minutes of our run, or the soreness in our muscles as we start a new weight training program. Our largest successes are born out of discomfort, uncertainty and risk.

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over it became a butterfly.

Anytime you’re working to achieve something big you are working against the current. Often the opinions of the people around you are trying to push and pull you away from your destination and sometimes those closest to you can be the loudest naysayers.

Often you will hear “You are making a mistake”, “it is impossible to reach that goal” or “You will fail”. The more unique and out of the box your goals the stronger the push back will be. And, I have to admit here that I have heard the LOUDEST opposition from family and it can be very hard to receive this criticism when your OWN thoughts are trying to derail your big dreams. Even the seemingly innocent “Sleeping in won’t make that big of a difference!” are self limiting beliefs trying to stop you on your way to greatness.

The most successful among us got to where they are today because they transcended obstacles, setbacks and negativity both from others and themselves.

This, of course, is easier said than done. And this is why so many businesses, diets, athletic pursuits and health goals fail. It is one to thing to say “Never give up” (and truthfully, I am tired of bumper sticker type motivational quotes), or to post a bunch of motivational one liner memes on your Facebook account, and quite another to actually become tenacious and grind it out NO. MATTER. WHAT.

Here is the truth that everyone needs to hear:

The world does not stop you from succeeding. The universe is not conspiring for you to fail.

The reality is the universe is conspiring neither for nor against you, and the only thing that stops you from succeeding IS YOU.

Once you have convinced yourself that you will fail you are then stopped dead in your tracks. Until then it is on like Donkey Kong.

One of my favourite quotes is this:

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” ~ Aristotle

The reason I love this quote so much is that every single successful person has had setbacks, self limiting beliefs and obstacles. Every single person has thought they may fail, has wondered if they could accomplish their goals and debated between sleeping in and working on their goals. HOWEVER the successful entertain those thoughts but push forward regardless.

Don’t believe me?

Consider everything that has been considered impossible in history. Putting a man on the moon. Diseases we have cured. Or, the fact that flying would have been considered impossible before it was done. Think about this: If you went up to someone in the 1700’s and told them people would, one day, be able to fly in a metal tube across the world they would have likely sent you to the local mental health facility for some shock therapy!

The Wright brothers, however, did not accept that flight was impossible, and they did not allow their lack of funding hold them back. They failed over and over again but they did not give up. They had many naysayers as well as no physical proof that flight was even possible, yet they pushed forward. And, look where we are now.

Your goals ARE possible. However, don’t be fooled by the self-help bullshit and the universe will give you what you desire fluff. You don’t deserve it. No one does. Those statements will leave you waiting and wanting and eventually make you fall victim to your own life. You just have to grind that shit out, stake your claim on your goal and hustle HARD for what you want.

You quite literally have to MAKE IT HAPPEN.

So, when someone looks at you and says your idea will never happen or if your subconscious beliefs tell you that you will “fail anyway, so why try” you have two choices:

  1. You can succumb to the notion that you don’t know what you are doing, you don’t have what it takes and it is a waste of time/ money.
  2. You can disagree and refuse to accept it. You have the option to say “No, you’re wrong, and I’m going to prove it”.

The impossible only becomes possible when you believe it is. Your reality is what you BELIEVE to be possible or impossible. You can fail at something 1000 times and on try 1001 succeed. Had you given up on try 1000 you would have proven yourself right, that your goal was impossible. YOU, and only you, create your reality.

The truth is that no one can prove what is or is not possible. It just takes someone with enough tenacity to come along and not give up until it is done.

Further, my biggest pet peeve is when someone says “the market is saturated, I can’t come along now and do the same thing”.

The market isn’t saturated. The world has not seen your idea or take on it. Instead, re-frame your mindset and realize that if someone else has done it before it means that you can too! Instead of seeing the market as saturated see it as an opportunity to produce your results faster by learning from others.

There is a wondrous, magical life out there waiting for you in the unknown.

And while, yes, working to achieve it will NOT be all rainbows and butterflies all the time there is a reality waiting for you that is far beyond the one you are currently wasting away in.

Ask yourself: Is your dream worth working hard for? Is it worth getting up early for? Are you willing to be uncomfortable now for your dreams? Are you willing to give up what you want RIGHT NOW for what you want most?

If the answer is yes, you are willing, then stop making excuses and go out there and accomplish it. Skinned knees, bumps and bruises provide great stories to tell so don’t be afraid of falling.

A lion sleeps in the heart of every brave person.

xo

Ashley

Posture for the rider

Instructors, here is the truth about yelling “Shoulders back” at your riders. It doesn’t work. And it isn’t that it doesn’t work because the rider is ignoring you or isn’t trying. It doesn’t work because tightness in the riders body is CAUSING the shoulders to be internally rotated and weakness in the abs is further building on this problem.

This is not something that can be fixed in the saddle.

What causes a hunched position

Clients come from a variety of backgrounds BUT the one thing many have in common is the fact that they do either a lot of time sitting at a desk (student, office worker) OR they do a lot of time driving. Both of these positions cause tightness in the front of the shoulder and chest, also known as the internal rotators.

The more someone sits with their shoulders rounded forward the tighter the internal rotators get, however this isn’t the end of the problem! This position also causes the back muscles to weaken and lengthen. The very muscles that would maintain a tall position and shoulders back.

This position further impacts the rider with a weak core, tight hip flexors and weak glutes. For the purpose of today we are focusing on shoulders.

Here is a graphic for the problems hunched shoulders create:

What does this mean for the horse?

When you have hunched shoulders your core is weak, forcing you to sit on the back of your pelvis. Sitting in your chair right now sit up tall with a strong core then allow your shoulders to hump forward and stop any contraction in your core. Do you notice how you go from sitting evenly on your pelvis to the back of your pelvis? Your body literally folds forward from pelvis to shoulders.

Now, sit up tall again, core tight. Force your shoulders back by pushing your chest forward. If you have naturally tight internal rotators right now your chest will naturally pop forward to accommodate the shoulders being forced back. Notice how your lower back arches and you shift to the FRONT of your pelvis? THIS is what happens when you tell a client “Shoulders back” and they force them back with tight internal rotators.

Here is a graphic to illustrate what I just described:

We require a neutral seat to not only have a strong and balanced position but to also properly influence the horse with clear aids. Imagine how FRUSTRATED your horse is when you are giving unclear aids and they are trying to interpret what you want!

Riders, and coaches, if the shoulders are being forced back, causing an exaggerated arch in the lower back this is the position you are in:

Forcing the shoulders back, despite the tight chest and weak core is causing extreme rounding of the lower back. Notice how this position is also forcing the legs forward and the rider is unable to properly get the heels down, so the toes point out. Without fixing the root cause you are only causing issues downstream of the “issue” you have fixed.

Further, notice how the horse has dropped his back and lacks impulsion. This is the immediate effect of sitting on the front of your pelvis. Your horse will drop their back and be unable to push from behind. You will lack impulsion and the ability to give clear aids from this position.

By correcting the body tightness and weakness you see an immediate improvement in the rider and horse:

Where to go from here

To start you must stretch the tight tissue and strengthen the weak tissue. I highly recommend beginning with yoga, particularly Yin Yoga. The long holds of 1-2 minutes not only properly release the muscles but also the connective tissue.

Next you need to identify your weak areas are strengthen them. Make sure to do 2 back exercises for every 1 pushing (push up for example) exercise.

I offer a fantastic 80 day program to my riding clients that helps to address postural imbalances and weakness. This program is an essential base to have for a balanced and strong position.

It is no longer acceptable to say “This is just how I am!”. The horse depends on us treating ourselves as the athletes we are. Postural imbalances in us can also lead to lameness issues in our horses.

For more information on the programs I offer to riders please feel free to fill out the form below:

Happy Wednesday friends!

Ashley

I choose to be powerful beyond measure

I would like you to take a moment for reflection. What are the main thoughts that are on repeat in your mind throughout the day. What stories do you tell yourself, and how are those stories limiting your true potential.

Starting today I want you to make the conscious effort to eliminate the following low vibe phrases from your vocabulary:

I want.
I should.
I wish.
I can’t.
I’m trying.
I don’t know.

These words take the power AWAY from you, when you are actually powerful beyond measure. These thoughts, and words, will stop you from taking risks on the things you really want in life. And, the worst part is none of them are true.

Now that you have eliminated those words from your vocabulary I need you to make the conscious effort to fill your vocabulary with the following high vibe phrases today:

🗝️I choose.
🗝️I can.
🗝️I enjoy.
🗝️I create.
🗝️I love.
🗝️I am a badass.
🗝️The answers are on their way.

What you may not yet realize is that what comes out of your mouth comes into your life, so choose your words, and thoughts, wisely.

At this point I often hear “but I am so unhappy in my job, I can’t be positive” or “I can’t lose the weight no matter what I do…”.

These are all your perceptions of reality. Made up stories you tell yourself.

Even if you HATE your full time job and it brings tears to your eyes, and your soul wilts, at the thought of even going in CHOOSE power words. Take your power back.

I CHOOSE to go into work because it funds my personal business I am building.

I LOVE that (employer) is the main financial supporter of my business.

It is also your CHOICE to hate your situation and do nothing about it, whether it is your job, weight, relationship, etc. The reality is NOT that you cannot be successful. The reality is not that you cannot lose the weight.

The reality IS you are choosing not to do the behaviours that will lead to success.

You are CHOOSING to stay miserable or you are CHOOSING to be happy.

Whether you believe it or not you ALWAYS have a choice.

I want nothing more than to leave an impact on this world by creating badass women that realize they have no limits and truly go for it.

Xo

Ashley