I just came across a Sport Psychologist’s website for dressage riders and thought I’d share.

“Sport Psychologists consider the equestrian sports to be one of the most psychologically demanding of all of the sports. This is because half of the competitive team is a very large animal that can be very unpredictable. We all admire the mental toughness of athletes such as golfer Tiger Woods. Yet how mentally tough would Tiger be if he was never sure, on any given day, whether his golf club might want to spook at the ball! Retaining strong mental and emotional resilience despite this unpredictability is a tremendous goal. Yet our mental performance is something we do not have a great deal of control over in this unpredictable sport.”

“There are many ways in which Sport Psychology can help the rider’s performance.

The Over Analyzer You think too much. You need to ride in a state of focus with only a few thoughts. Balance these thoughts with a lot of images and a trust in your feel. Too much thinking on the left side of the brain can block the right brain’s body intelligence from full expression. The Over Analyzer needs to learn to condense their analysis into a few key words, and then allow their body’s innate intelligence to express itself. (That’s me!)

The Distracted A rider who is extremely distracted. She’s aware of everything going on around her. She sees children playing on a nearby lawn, the grounds keeper emptying garbage cans and a horse in the warm-up misbehaving. This lack of focus means incorrect geometry and the lack of quality in the horse’s work. The horse will also be distracted. Leading to a vicious circle. The rider looks for possible distractions that might upset her horse, which meant she was not attending to her horse’s connection, which meant her horse was more easily distracted! (My best friend!)

The Under Thinker relies too much on natural ability and feel, and does not fully utilize their ability to plan and strategize. It is wonderful to have a natural ability but there is more you can do to prepare for a competitive performance.

The Blank Slate has all the best intentions to prepare for competition. Unfortunately all their training goes out the window once the bell rings. There are few dressage experiences more horrifying than realizing you have no idea where you are or what you are supposed to be doing. This person often experiences performance anxiety. When the brain feels this anxiety, it immediately reverts to a primitive state. All intelligent thought shuts down as the brain withdraws to its more primitive brain centers. Your body prepares for fight or flight and immediately forgets the dressage test you have so diligently studied.

Focus Fatigue Even the best riders in the world struggle to maintain their focus. The brain is like a muscle. It must be trained to retain focus for long periods of time, despite the stress and pressure of competition.”