Top Tips for Competition Success and Overcoming Setbacks
For the last week I've again been involved in running a British Dressage Regional Championships (my 4th one now). Its so lovely to see lots of people competing at an event they've worked really hard to qualify for and doing their very best to qualify for Nationals (including many of my clients - I'm so proud of you all!).
I also get to see a lot of people who are nervous or desperate to pull out their best performance and because of this they are tense, distracted, allow mistakes, get flustered etc and actually pull out what is in fact one of their worst performances at a time that really matters. I saw countless tests that I watched thinking how tense the rider was and then the sheets stated the horse was "tense". Often it is the rider causing this - especially on horses who aren't normally tense out competing or at home.
Have you got a big competition coming up or do you get nervous when going out to compete? Performance anxiety is very common and can have all sorts of effects. Its how you deal with nerves that count and that is a set of skills skill that can be learnt - just like in the physical riding itself. Of course you can be lucky and work these out on your own or if you get the right mindset coaching and support in place then you will get exactly what you need and accelerate the process (without having to make costly mistakes in learning it by yourself). These are some tips to help you to be successful in your competitions and how to deal with setbacks…
1 – Have a clear goal for each competition that is based on your training programme. This includes Qualifiers or Championships (the goal isn't to qualify or win by the way - that's just the result!). For example: at home you have been working on keeping your horse in front of your leg. So this is the focus at the competition. Then you can gauge your success based on how well you feel you executed this. The score will improve as you improve in your training, use the first score as a baseline and go from there. At competitions with qualifiers or medals etc then its more important than ever to focus on what you have been training. It keeps your mind in the now and stops you getting distracted into results focused thinking - this is what often affects performance.
2 – Keep goals personal and process based (not product). Product goals are often way outside of our control, such as %, placings, qualifiers, or medals as these depend on the other competitors or the judge’s opinion. Product goals do come as a result of good process goals but if the focus is on product alone it can be demoralising and affect your performance. Process based goals (such as keeping the horse in front of your leg or clean transitions) are small things that you judge and are within your control. You will know if you have achieved them and can work out a plan to keep improving.
3 - Analysis is ok but comparison to others is not. There is no comparison between yourself and another competitor. Unless you are riding the same horse and have exactly the same background, skills, body type and even coach. Comparison simply add judgement and self-doubt. Keep your thoughts in analysis mode instead. Analyse your behaviours and riding only. Analysis is without judgement and based on observable behaviour (things you physically do or say). Think about what you can change and create a plan to do it. Then focus on this plan and work out how you are going to execute it. Keep it to just a few (3 max) things to work on in training and then make these the focus of you next competition. There is no point trying to boil the ocean!
4 – Keep things in perspective. There will have been loads of good parts to your test/ round and if you think about how they have improved you will realise your hard work is paying off. Of course there is always something to improve on, that’s dressage! However focusing on the negative often takes it out of perspective. For example: if you messed up a couple of transitions or had a couple of poles it can be easy to end up thinking the whole test/ round was awful. So think of at least 3 positives for every less than ideal aspect. Then use analysis to work out your plan to improve it and keep the other great parts too. There is always another competition or opportunity to shine.
5 – Keep a track of your progress. I can be easy to forget how far you have come. You only achieve the bigger goals through a series of little ones being completed. Again celebrating your successes puts you in a positive frame of mind.
6 – Remember why you ride or compete. Keep this at the forefront of your mind. This helps you to make decisions and stay focused if things don’t go to plan. As a guess – it’s your love of horses that means you ride? Remember this and take a moment to appreciate how lucky you are to do what you do. Lots of others would love to be in your boots.
To help you keep a track of your competitions and make sure you are able to analyse and plan easily then you can download this simple to use Competition Checklist here.
Of course personal bespoke coaching is the most transformative way of discovering the very best tools for you to use to overcome nerves, stay focused achieve your own personal best. So do drop me a message if this is something you would like to explore further.
Goal Setting - The difference between smashing them and not!
How many of you have set goals only to fall at the first hurdle? Whilst the process of setting the goals themselves seems simple, there are often so many factors involved in reaching them that achieving those goals isn’t always so easy.
As last year turns to this, it is natural to reflect on the past 365 days and to resolve to improve things for the next! How many of us have made (and already broken) our 2018 resolutions? Statistics actually show that nearly all of resolutions made at New Year have fallen by the wayside by the 15th January - just 14 days into the year!
This blog post will look at the most common pitfalls in resolution making and will (hopefully) offer you some simple tips and tricks on how to actually achieve your 2018 goals…
· Have you ever made a resolution with the words “stop” or “start” in it? E.g. “I will stop replacing hacking with schooling.” or “I will start riding in the rain.”
Why do you need to start/stop this behaviour? How did it start/stop in the first place? What can you change to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Making your goals attainable is very important and being clear about WHY you are setting the goal in the first place will help you to do just that!
· Have you ever set a new year goal that involved the phrase “I am going to be better at (riding)”?
This phrase has no real context – Better than what? What do you need to improve? How are you going to do that?
By having no measurable factors how will you know when you have achieved your goal? “My goal is to be able to do a single flying change over a pole in the school” would be a good example of an easily measured goal – you can obviously see (and feel) when you have achieved it.
· Do you set yourself LOTS of resolutions each year and manage to stick to none of them?
One thing I have learnt, in both the equestrian and business worlds, is that if you focus on changing one thing at a time you are much more likely to achieve what you set out to than if you look to change everything all at once. Spreading yourself too thinly can ultimately lead to you dropping those multiple goals one by one until there aren’t any goals left at all!
· How many of your goals have had no time limit?
“My goal is to jump my horse.” Right now? Tomorrow? Next year?
With no mention of a timeframe this goal has the potential to never happen. If it is something that you do not do regularly or that you haven’t done for a long time it is likely that it is something that will take a bit of inner-strength to achieve. Without a deadline, it is far too easy to keep putting your goal off until tomorrow, or the next day or even the next.
Be specific and realistic about when you want to have achieved it “My goal is to jump my horse before the 31st January.”
By adding a realistic deadline, you can plan accordingly (include pole work in your schooling, use cavaletti, have jump lessons etc.) to enable you to build up to your ultimate goal, giving you even more chance of smashing it…
· How many of us have set goals that are so far out of our comfort zone we’d need a herd of galloping horses to get us there?
Setting a goal that you have little or no interest in achieving is as silly as it sounds. “I am going to concentrate on improving my dressage, (even though I was born to gallop for hours out hacking)” is not really ever going to end well unless you are ultra-laser focussed and are prepared to change your entire mind set to enable you to achieve it.
Declaring that you will do something that bears no relevance to the things you love and value is ultimately not sensible. If you have no real intention of falling in love with dressage and trotting in circles from now until the end of time (not that there is anything wrong with that at all if it is your thing) then my biggest suggestion would be to re-align your goal with something you love. Try a hunter trial for the first time or join a team chasing team, you are much more likely to leap into achieving your goals if they set your soul on fire!
· Have you ever declared you would do something just because you thought it was expected of you?
Setting goals to impress other people is not sensible and can sometimes actually be quite dangerous when it comes to horses.
Aiming to do something simply because your horse used to do it or has the capability to do it is only going to help you conform to other people’s perceptions of what is right. Do you actually care enough about what others think? Are you at the same level and as capable as your horse’s last rider? Do you have the confidence to face that huge show jump? Are you Carl Hester? Could you fly the Cottesmore Leap?
YOUR goals HAVE to be achievable for you. No one else matters.
If you only take one thing from this post make it this:
Stick to these three basic principles and your resolutions will last long into 2018 (way past the average 15th January…)
1 – Make your goal positive, achievable, realistic, measurable & YOURS (no one else’s).
2 – Stick to one change at a time. Once you’ve nailed one thing you can move on to the next. Lots of little goals are far more effective and motivating than one big long-term goal.
3 – Set a realistic time frame for achieving your goal and get out there and smash them!
Now if you want get a bit of support and guidance with the process of goal setting you can get the Goal Setting Support pack online. This includes a 1 hour webinar all about how to set the right goals and how to make a realistic plan to get to them. As well as a downloadable pack to record it all and a tracker to keep you on your path to success. Just click below to get yours now
As riders, especially those of us who compete, Getting it Right is really important. Even if you don’t compete, Getting it Right so that you and your horse are both happy and comfortable is of course of the upmost importance at all times. If we think back to childhood times (especially if you were lucky enough to ride as a child), you probably had more of a Have a Go mind-set.
As humans we are operating on a variety of different continuums or scales which can move from one end to the other in a matter of milliseconds. If we think about a scale with Getting it Right at one end and Having a Go at the other, then it’s easy to see how they can be polar opposites. Yet they can also come together in the middle to create a blend which is very helpful as well.
Have a think about times when you have found Getting it Right to be very useful. Now think of times when the idea of Getting it Right being at the forefront wasn’t the most helpful. Now think of the same for Having a Go - when has it been helpful and when has it been not so much? Doing this I expect you have realised that each one has its own benefits and setbacks if it is the only outcome in that moment.
Getting it Right can be the cause of the "perfectionist trait" which many competitors get in the pursuit of winning. When competing in any sport it can be easy to get our mind set on Getting it Right because we want to win, show what we are capable of or even how hard we have worked. Often with horses having this fixed mind-set can cause tension (often unconscious) in us and is then counterproductive as our horse picks up on this tension and becomes tense or unhappy themselves. A tense and unhappy horse then can cause the rider to become negative in their thinking and have to work even harder to get it right and the spiral continues to undermine the overall performance of the partnership. I come across this spiral a lot when working with Performance Coaching and work with you to undo it.
Sliding your scale further towards Having a Go might just help you to find a point that works better for you and your horse. Allowing mistakes in training is certainly helpful as we tend to learn so much more from a mistake. Then seeing competition as a chance to Have a Go at putting training into practice can be a great way of taking of the pressure of performance and guiding your mind-set towards doing your very best (rather then "Getting it Right) which is often exactly what you need to succeed.
I’ve had lots of fun with clients recently exploring this scale and helping them to discover the perfect blend for them at home in training and at competitions as well as when to spot if the scale has slid too much to one end, which may not be helping in that moment.
Now notice which one you tend towards and have a play with sliding the scale to understand the different it really does make.
At the end of the day we are all primal beings. Humans are predators designed to hunt (and horses are prey designed to avoid us!). Yet we can work together in a beautiful partnership and achieve things only dreams are made of.
Humans when they are put under pressure or stressed will release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These are designed to heighten your awareness and increase your reaction times. Although they can have the opposite affect if they get too high and they can put you into “fight or flight” mode and that stops your logical brain from functioning and switches to your primal survival brain function.
Being focused and very aware of your body is amazingly powerful for as a rider. When you are totally “in the zone”, focused only on your body and your horses’ body, you are able to make fast adjustments and support your horse to do their job. 4* eventers are 100% focused when they are xc because here is very little room for error without causing serious injury! However, they don’t focus on the potential for injury (although of course they are aware of it and wear the best safety kit they can to prevent it). They focus on the task at hand. The speed, impulsion, direction, line, feel of the horse and the route they have decided to take (always with an option b if needed). Top riders even understand the necessary rhythm of the footfall and breathing rate of the horse to reach the desired MPM and avoid time penalties. This focus on the physical aspects of riding means there is no room in the brain for fear or worries.
By keeping the level of hormones low, so they don’t reach levels that trigger fight or flight, you can use them to your advantage to keep your brain focused and your body able to make lightening quick changes. These are made when necessary and in reaction to minute changes from your horse and the environment around you. That way changes are adjusted before they escalate to become an issue in anyway. Top dressage riders are very accomplished at feeling the tiny changes in their horse and correcting them quickly, so the untrained eye doesn’t even notice what’s going on.
You can identify the triggers that make you stressed and what happens to your body when your hormones flood in high levels. You might grit your teeth, feel sick, shake, talk lots, go quiet, become angry at those around you, tense up etc. It’s very individual to you and your stress/ nervous tolerance will be different in many situations. If you feel any of these and do nothing about them you will simply take this way of being up onto your horse and they will react by being tense, backing off, spooking, dancing about, tuning out or many other less than desirable behaviours. None of which are associated with top performance. Here are some things you can do to work with nerves to help you both perform at your best…
1 – Identify that your behaviour has changed and also to think about what may have triggered it.
2 – Work out the best way for you to bring down your hormone levels and use them to focus your mind and body. Normally breathing deeply is a very good start.
3 – Take a moment to get present. This means focusing on the sounds around you, your body, and your breath. Let any negative thoughts flow away for now.
4 – Think about releasing tension in your jaw, shoulders, neck, back etc all the way down to your toes. This is very quick to do.
5 – Put things into perspective. There will always be another test, another show, another day. This is about doing your best. Your best is very rarely achieved in fight or flight mode!
6 – Remember why you are here. Why you love this. What is motivating you to do it and how much you love riding your horse!!!
I’ve got a great goal for 2016… so now what?? How to actually achieve your goals instead of giving up on them by the end of January!
It’s January, which means that you have very likely set some goals for the year. Often they haven’t taken you long to think of and they might be something you wanted to achieve last year but haven’t done yet. How long did it take you to come up with the goal? How long have you spent thinking about how you will actually achieve it? Is it something you want or something you feel you “should” do? All good questions that highlight just how easy it is to come up with an idea that we want to follow. Great! So what can you do to really help yourself to achieve it?
The down side to just coming out with an idea is that it probably hasn’t been that well thought through and you are very likely to come across difficulties that make the goal seem too hard to achieve, so you either give up on it or lose interest. It is easy to come out with perfect and very real excuses that put a stop on the path to the goal. That’s because we nearly always think of all the great reasons for achieving the goal with no thought at all for the downsides to either achieving it or the journey to get there. Then you start to believe that it wasn’t the right goal for you and maybe loose the motivation to get over the hurdles and achieve it. You give up on that one but it might still be there eating away at the back of your mind.
Have a think about your goals. Take one of the biggest ones. Now think about it using this model to really explore it and work out if the goal is right for you. Examine each point in the order below –
Positive – What do you want (or maybe what do you not want)? This is normally your goal written down.
Evidence – How will you know when you have got it? Think about more than just a product goal such as a win or a score. Think about a physical feeling, a picture of where you will be or something that doesn’t rely on external influences (over which you have no control, like a judge’s opinion)
Context – When and where do you want this (or not want it)? Be really clear on this as it helps to make the goal more specific and therefore achievable.
Self – Is this something you (and your horse) can achieve by yourself? Yes you might need a support team around you (we all need a team) but is it crucial that someone else behaves a certain way or you won’t get to the goal? If this is the case then you don’t fully have influence over your goal. Think about any factors that you don’t have control over – are there any ways you can get more influence?
Advantages and Disadvantages – we nearly always think of the advantages – have you thought of the disadvantages? Not only of achieving the goal but in getting there. Will you lose out on things if you have to put in more training time, competitions and time with sponsors (time with friends, money for clothes, holidays and trips etc). Are you prepared to not have these things in order to get your goal? Think even further too. You qualify for “event A”, which was your goal – now what does that mean? More time, money and effort etc to get to “event A”. Are you prepared to work with the consequences of achieving what may have seemed like a brilliant goal when you set it?
Worthwhile – Now you’ve thought of all the things above, is it still worthwhile? Are you still fully motivated to do whatever it takes to get there? Are you fully supported and have what you need to make it happen (or a plan to get what you need along the way)? How will it feel when you achieve this? Some Olympic athletes have been known to crash with depression after achieving the Gold because they haven’t thought beyond the goal and what it will mean. Their lives change because it’s not all about getting Gold anymore and they haven’t thought about what they will do afterwards. Do you then have to keep being the best and what does that really mean?? So think about the consequences of achieving the goal.
Using the model above helps you to examine your goals in depth and work out if you need to change then or come up with new ones. Then these become your real goals that you are truly motivated to achieve and you can start planning and working to get them into reality. That’s really exciting!!
Yesterday I took a friend out on a hack with her ex racer, who she hadn’t hacked out for a long time due to him being ill and she was very nervous of what he might do. She took some persuasion to go, but he needed to be worked in straight lines and for short periods, so a hack was certainly good for his recovery. Plus the sun was shining, we both had a busy day and unwinding with our horses was a perfect tonic! I too didn’t used to be a big fan of hacking out because of the unknown...
One of the things that training to be a coach, going through a total change of career and working with horse riders’ confidence has taught me, is that we never know what the future holds. We can guess but that’s all it is, a guess. My mind-set that yesterday was to say that we will take each step at a time, keep breathing and in the present moment and not allow our mind to create a story for us, just be in the now and enjoy the hack. Needless to say her horse was perfectly behaved (as was mine of course!) and we both had a beautiful hack on a sunny evening together.
Fear is in the future. Our minds are really very good at thinking of something that we find scary and creating all sorts of fantastic stories of what could happen, based on our previous experience, what we’ve been told, or simply what we believe.The key is to be aware that at that moment, it really is all in your mind. It’s not actually happening. You’re just creating a story. It’s up to you if that story will come true or not! If you want to do something but you find it too scary to attempt it then this will help…
When you think of something you find scary, have you noticed that you normally come up with 100s of bad things that could happen? Do you come up with good things? Probably not. Because your mind is trying to protect you from experiencing the scary thing and so it convinces you that you don’t want to try it.When you think of something exciting or happy I bet you think of loads of good reasons to do it? So let’s use that strategy for scary things too.
1 – Think of the scary thing and make a note of all the things your mind comes up with as reasons why you shouldn’t do it, or what terrible things might happen.
2 – Now do the following – think of the worst possible thing that might happen – actually think beyond your initial scary situation, beyond the fall or injury or pain. Our mind doesn’t normally like to do this. It likes to stop at the point before the outcome of the fear. You think about falling off and that’s where it stops. If it happens, is it really that bad? Do you have any moments when you realise what you are actually fearing? Helplessness, anger, people who told you so, embarrassment etc.
3- Now spend some time thinking of why you do actually do want to do it. What are all of the positives?
4 – This time re run any negative thoughts and replace them with a positive outcome. Instead of falling off you stay on… then what?
5 – Tell yourself that you don’t know what will happen, good or bad, so you can imagine the good and what you focus on will grow. You can also imagine exactly how you want it to happen and practice this in your mind. Then when you come to do it, you know exactly what you will create in reality!
Soon you will begin to realise that the mind becomes very good at imagining good or bad and you can train it to do either. Allow the mind to be creative, but be in control of it and play with positives too. Create a mind-set that you are capable of dealing with whatever life brings. It all happens for a reason and everything is a lesson.
This is just one of many tools you can learn to use if you come and work with The Heart of Confidence. We’ve got 100s of them up our sleeves and can quickly work out exactly which one will work for you!!
I have a great instructor although I’m still fearful or nervous of X– what difference would a confidence coach make?
This is a question I often answer and it’s a great one too! Most horse riders have some form of instructor, trainer, coach, knowledgeable friend who teaches, or whatever you want to call them. That’s fantastic! They can teach you the mechanics of riding and are normally very good at improving your skills and sometimes therefore your confidence. Some instructors are even good at understanding the mind and how it affects your horse, but do they know how to help you change your thinking for good?
Confidence is about far more than just skills. So many people say “I used to jump 1.20m” or “I never thought anything about just going hacking out” but (insert horror story) happened and now I can’t even think about it. Or “each time I have a lesson I have to go back to square one and work back up to where I last left off, so I don’t feel I am really progressing”. Sometimes actually nothing has happened they just feel they are slowly losing the positivity they once had, “I can get really great dressage moves at home but put me in a warm up and all I see is how much better the other riders are”. Clearly these riders have the skills, so what is stopping them?? That’s where a Confidence Coach comes in…
As a certified NLP Practitioner and Equine Assisted Coach I have a whole toolbox full of techniques that we use to help you to essentially rewire your brain and translate your positive thinking to your horse. This allows you to think the way you want to about the things you want to do and to give the past experiences far less power over your actions (or lack of). Once your brain is behaving, so can your body and then you get the results with your horse (and your instructor will love your new way of thinking too)!
What is NLP??
It stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming. Sounds scary?! Its definitely not, in fact it’s quite the opposite. It can quite literally be described as the study of success.
Neuro refers to how the mind and body interact
Linguistic refers to the insights into a person’s thinking that can be obtained by careful attention to their use of language
Programming refers, not to the activity of programming, but to the study of the thinking and behavioural patterns or ‘programmes’ which people use in their daily lives.
Using these successful techniques we literally change your thinking so that past negative experiences don’t come straight to mind when you think of what you want to do. We also create new ways of positive thinking that slowly but surely teach the brain to behave differently and get your where you want to be.
The Pathway to Success
I talk about it as a pathway to a front door. The front door is the thing you want to achieve. The brick pathway is the positive way of getting there (and the way your instructor wants you to use). However the shortcut that your brain has started to make cuts across the front lawn to the door and has created a muddy path that you don’t want. But it’s so well worn and quick to use that it’s hard to get it to use the lovely brick pathway that you do want. When you can understand how to use the brick pathway and use the muddy one less often, you find that the grass starts to grow and the muddy pathway eventually disappears. This is NLP and the pathways are your neurons in the brain. Humans can create them very easily and are doing all the time at an unconscious level! Amazingly, just making our pathways conscious changes the way we think and means we achieve the results we really want.
So an instructor may be getting you to physically do the task, but unless you address the muddy pathway they will find it very hard to get you over that blocker and use the brick pathway, which they know how to use, to get the result you want.
Equine Assisted Coaching adds another layer that makes the recipe all come together into a beautiful cake of achieving your goals, filled with the jam of confidence…
Equine Assisted Coaching works with your mind and explores just how much it does affect your horse. I combine NLP and horse work in hand and see what your horse has to say about your thinking. This is when we often get the most profound results! Your horse is always reading your mind even if you are trying to disguise it. They can see straight through the act. So we get to the heart of the matter and ensure you are being truthful with your horse. Then we find out if there are any more things we need to work on or if what we have done so far is accepted by your horse. Once you change your thinking you will really see how your horse reacts in a far more positive way. This work not only helps your confidence but your horses’ too and it can really depend your relationship, which is a massive bonus for your both!
Once you then move onto the ridden work you really feel the difference that your thinking makes to your body and what your horse is picking up on. Once you catch that moment of uncertainty that makes your horse back off the jump you can catch it and ask you horse to keep going. Or understand that thinking about all of the possible horrible outcomes of going past the plastic bag out hacking is translating to your horse and you can support them. Maybe you now get why looking at all the other competitors in the warm up and deciding they are better is actually not helping your riding and supporting horse to perform at their best too.
So my Confidence Coaching goes beyond the physical skills and into the deeper realms of your mind and body connection, with your horse too. Just think about all the things you could achieve if you changed your way of thinking about them and how much your instructor will appreciate that lovely brick pathway they can use to get to your front door quickly and without getting muddy!!
High Performance is a term used a lot in business and personal coaching. But what is it really about?
High Performance is about being the best you can be, giving it everything you have and exceeding your goals. It’s about reaching your full potential and being successful, in whatever way you want to define success.
The key to success is to develop individuals to be high performers and then everything else will follow. Once you have high performing people, you can think about your teams and your business as a whole.
Often the most influential individuals to accelerate change are the leaders. High Performing leaders will use their logic to make decisions, consider risk to decide on the best actions and use their people skills to lead strong teams of individuals. They need to develop agility, emotional intelligence, resilience and self-awareness to achieve this.
My unusual but influential methods of coaching with horses provides the right environment for individuals, leaders and teams to explore their own awareness and use of each of these factors and how this affects others around them.
You do not need to ride the horses (but you can if you wish). I work mostly on the ground to explore the interaction between yourself, your horse and the others around you. Sometimes I may even get you to work at liberty (no lead rope to control the horse with) as this has a powerful learning effect – you have to persuade to horse to follow you with their own free will.
Just like people. If you want to get the best out of a horse, you need them to feel empowered and willing to do what is needed to achieve the goal.