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All in Your Head

Learn how to develop mental toughness, overcome your fear of failure and perform under pressure by training your brain.

By Alana Harrison

After a less-than-stellar ride put a dent in your confidence, your in-the-saddle jitters havespiraled out of control. A veil of dread shrouds your mind as you realize what’s at the core of your riding rut: You are terrified of failure. Failing seems like it could threaten your future goals and invalidate all your hard work and past successes.

Equestrian sports psychology expert Daniel Stewart examines riders’ fear of failure in his book Pressure Proof Your Riding and notes that up to 80 percent of all equestrian athletes experience it at some point during their careers. The good news? Research has shown that talent is derived from training, not genetics. This means you can train your brain not to fear failure; you can actually learn to succeed by failing. When you’re not afraid of failure, you’re free to make the mistakes that will eventually lead to your success.

Utilizing sports psychology techniques that have long served mainstream athletes, equestrians are learning how to hardwire their brains for success. Research shows a specific type of brain training called mindfulness meditation (being aware of your thoughts instead of getting lost inthem) helps sharpen focus, reduce anxiety and neutralize negative thoughts. In turn, you’ll be able develop the mental toughness necessary to overcome your fear of failure and maximize your capabilities. Learn how two trainers and top equestrian performance coaches help ridersunlock their potential.

Identify Your Motivations

World champion trainer and APHA/Markel Professional Horsewoman Tina Langness owns and operates Tina Langness Performance Horses in New Richmond, Wisconsin, where she offers performance coaching. Tina says determining what truly motivates you will help eliminate distractions or obstacles that are holding you back so you can channel your energy into your performance.

“Judges work hard to be as objective as possible, but they can’t [be perfect] 100 percent of the time,” Tina said. “You need to figure out why you really want to be there. If your primary motivation is accumulating ribbons or showing off your horse, I encourage you to reevaluate your riding goals.”

Riders often must contend with a host of other external factors beyond their control—a spectator pushing a stroller, a plastic bag in the arena, the loud clatter of people traveling up and down bleachers or another horse spooking can all cause your horse to react. And just like you have bad days, so does your horse. Because any number of distractions could throw you off your game, Tina says it’s important to look at your goals and motivations in a broader perspective.

Cutting horse trainer Barbra Schulte of Brenham, Texas, was intrigued by a book on mental toughness for athletes and started utilizing the techniques to improve her performance in the cutting pen. After experiencing remarkable results, Barbra was eager to share her newfoundsuccess with fellow riders. She obtained certification as a personal performance coach at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Florida, and for the last 25 years, she’s been coaching riders to perform under pressure and develop mental toughness to maximize their potential.

Through my work and studying other sports psychology philosophies, I learned that we have layers of confidence within ourselves,” Barbra said. “These layers include our purpose, our values, the vision we have of ourselves, our motivations to keep going and not give up—all of the things that fill your heart and make you feel whole.

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This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Winter 2019 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.

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