Revisiting the Psychology of Riding

Liza Boyd and Brunello at the 2014 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship

Liza Boyd and Brunello at the 2014 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship

By Liza Boyd

I recently clicked on a link that appeared in my Facebook feed, and I was so glad I did.

The article, titled “Understanding The Mental Skills of Highly Successful Riders,” named six key components successful riders use to conquer the mental challenges in the sport of riding. They include:

1.     Stay focused in the Moment

2.     Be Proactive

3.     Have Confidence in Your Preparation

4.     Understand One Moment Doesn’t Define You

5.     Have Manageable Goals

6.     Channel Energy Appropriately

Each numbered component includes a short explanation, which you can read if you click on the article’s link.

I printed the article off and then sent it to the mom of a rider who was struggling a bit. I asked her mother to give the article to her to read as she was eating breakfast the next morning before the show.

This young rider is super smart, so I knew this article would hit home with her. She’s a very analytical rider, which can be a benefit and a drawback. Many riders are this way, and sometimes they overthink things and start to second-guess their decisions when something doesn’t happen exactly the way they expect it.

As a trainer, I was at the point where I needed to make some choices. Should I get on her horse in the morning? Do I need to give her a lesson before she shows? Do I need to prepare the horse differently? It really wasn’t the horse’s fault, but I was trying to figure out how to help the rider gain confidence. If the preparation was different, perhaps that one change would help her mentally, I thought. All of these scenarios were running through my mind.

But that morning when she came to the barn, she thanked me for the article. She read it before she arrived, and then she had a great day and was reserve champion and second in the classic. We didn’t change a thing, but having read the article her thought process was different, and it made all of the difference.

Even though riding is a physical sport, we all know that there’s a huge mental component, too. Some Finally Farm riders use sports psychology to help them achieve their goals, and I encourage all riders to investigate all of the available resources and use them to their advantage.

In fact, just this weekend I was giving my daughter Elle a lesson. As I told her the next course of crossrails to trot, with directions to go around the rock and toward the green hose as reference points, she suddenly closed her eyes. She said, “Mom, I’m doing what you make all of your riders do.”

I laughed. I often have riders close their eyes and visualize riding the course perfectly in their minds before they go into the ring. Once you’ve done that exercise, you’ll feel like you’ve already jumped the course, and for many it makes a huge difference.

The psychology of riding is equally as important as the physical training. For any level rider, from short stirrup to grand prix, you can go from confident and winning to falling apart at a moment’s notice. We’ve all had it happen. Taking the time to explore the mental aspect of riding and competing is totally worth it, and I encourage you to click on the article link (and explore other sports psychology avenues) and take a riding lesson in your mind.


Posted on April 23, 2015 .