You may not think you need to know about sports psychology as a rider, but perhaps the following has happened to you. Ever had a “good feeling” about something, a feeling that everything is going to work out just the way you want it to? What about a “bad feeling”? Ever had one of those moments where you’re convinced everything is going to go wrong?
We might call it a gut feeling, but where does that feeling really come from? The answer is your mind. When you feel positive about something, good things tend to happen, right? But here’s the thing, it takes a positive thought to generate a positive emotion, and positive emotions lead to positive actions being taken… and those positive actions make good things happen.
In the field of sports psychology, research has shown that an athlete’s potential performance can be traced through something known as the success cycle. In a nutshell, the cycle demonstrates the connection between how an athlete feels about themselves and how they’re likely to perform.
Here’s how it works:
So, let’s put this into context. Let’s say you’re a competitive rider and it’s the morning of an important event. Training has been going great; you’ve put in the hours, you’ve practiced, and you’re ready. Your positive thoughts generate positive feelings, and you’re in a place, physically and mentally, where you believe in yourself and your ability to succeed – bring it on!
Now consider what happens if you begin the cycle with negative thoughts in your mind. If you’re thinking, “What if I’m not ready for this?” or, “What if it all goes wrong?” then you’re generating negative feelings that put you in a place where you believe you’re going to fail, and guess what – you fail. That’s the incredible power of the mind. Your thoughts create your reality.
Create Your Own Positive Vibe
But, the success cycle applies to all riders, not just competitive riders. Riding at every level is about the connection between horse and rider. The way you think, the way you feel, and the consequent actions you take will have a direct impact on your horse.
Think about it for a moment: if you’ve had a bad day, maybe someone at work has been on your back all day or maybe a string of negative happenings have simply put you in a low mood, how well do you think you’re likely to ride? Your emotional state affects your physical state, and your horse picks up on the negative vibe you’re putting out there.
The mood of the people you hang out with can influence your mood. Hanging out with positive people can leave you feeling inspired and energized, and being around a bunch of “moaning Minnies” can sap every ounce of energy out of you, leaving you physically and mentally drained. Horses are sensitive creatures, why should it be any different for them? In the same way that you can feel a good or a bad atmosphere in a room without anyone in the room physically doing anything or saying anything to create it, it still exists because the people there are putting that energy out through their thoughts…
Your horse can feel the vibe you’re creating as soon as you roll up at the barn.
Riding is a mental game. Whatever it is you hope to achieve in your ride, whether it’s mastering a new skill or simply enjoying the time you have in the saddle, you need to begin that ride with positive thoughts in your mind. Without a positive intention as you mount up, you’re not giving your horse your best energy – and it’s what you give that comes back to you.