Felicity Collins is a 5* Event Rider based in East Sussex. Having moved through The Pony Club, she began competing in FEI Pony Trials in 2012. Since then she has gone on to compete at numerous International events and European Championships. Felicity has also previously been crowned U21 National Champion and has been selected for the BEF Excel and World Class Programmes.
At the time of this Q&A, recorded in 2020, Jenni had been working with Felicity for nearly two years, and during this time Felicity had competed at multiple European Championships and completed her last year as a team GB Young Rider during which they won team gold.
Felicity and Jenni discuss mindset, nerves, and the importance of having a good team of people surrounding you.
Jenni: So I know you’ve grown up around this, and you probably don’t know anything else, but it always fascinates me. The question I always ask people is why do you do it? What’s it all about for you?
Felicity: I really wanted to be a vet until I was about 15 and just before my GCSEs I got a lot more serious about eventing. That’s what I really wanted to do and I was one of those people who used to lie in bed at night and dream about jumping that last fence on the third day, having won a medal, and that feeling is euphoric. That’s what I chase and why I do what I do.
Jenni: And so you chase that. Tell me about the first time that you actually experienced that. Where were you and what was it when it happened? When you realised the dream had happened?
Felicity: I can pinpoint exactly that moment. That was my first championship in Italy in 2016, it was showjumping. The difference between competitors was marginal and it was really tight that year. I knew I had to jump clear to be in with a shot or to keep the team level. So jumping the last fence and knowing that I finished on my dressage score, that is all I had wanted to do for so many years, and to do that with that horse as well. It meant everything to me. I even have a photo of that moment and it’s my favourite photo because it encapsulates everything that I have worked towards at that point.
Jennie: So having worked towards that and achieved that, what is it that made you carry on? Why didn’t you stop at that point because you’d done it?
Felicity: I think that’s where the youth programmes are really helpful because there is so much structure around them and it was just a natural progression. That moment was my last year in juniors and so I was like “OK I want to be able to go and get on the Young Rider Team, I want to do this again and do it even better”. So that’s what made me think that I wanted to have that feeling again and I was lucky enough to experience something similar in Millstreet. It was my first Young Riders, and again I was inside the time cross country and I thought that I wasn’t going to get it that time, I was more nervous. I don’t know why I think I was more nervous but it was the same feeling of relief and joy. It was amazing.
So there is always something to work towards and it’s always different. It’s not necessarily jumping the last fence of a championship, it can be finishing on a young horse doing their first BE90 and I’ve had really similar feelings doing that. There are always little mini-goals along the way and with different horses that differ completely. I could be as thrilled to only have one down on one as I would be winning a medal with another horse.
Jenni: So do you think that means that you’re just as happy with that as you are winning something bigger on another horse? It’s about you then really isn’t it. It is obviously not just about winning medals. Is that a bonus?
Felicity: I think it’s just keeping perspective and about a love of the horses and wanting to get the best out of each horse. I’ve been brought up riding quite a few different horses and I’ve been lucky to buy some really lovely horses, but also some trickier ones. I was always taught by my Mum to get the best out of each horse. And I know that if I’ve got ten horses to ride, not every horse is going to be a world-beater. But it can still be good to think, that was their best and I can’t ask for anything more than that.
Jenni: So my next question is one I ask a lot of people, I want to know what are your thoughts on nerves and how do you handle them, especially when you are under pressure? Such as at a European Championships and as a Young Rider?
Felicity: As you know I struggle pretty badly with my nerves, and I always have done. I think it’s just one of those things, I’m quite an intense person and when I want something, I really want it. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m really lucky with my Mum as she did it herself, she’s completely supportive of me. The nerves are no one else but me. I just put that pressure on myself, I don’t want to make mistakes and that’s where the nerves come from.
Obviously, the nerves differ over different levels, different scenarios and different horses. I remember in my first championship because I wanted it so much I was a quivering wreck. I was beside myself and sick with nerves. I just felt like I didn’t want to mess up. But I had so much support around me at that championship that I was in that zone. I remember this complete feeling of complete focus. Actually, I’ve never quite gotten close to it again. My coach was just talking to me because she knows I get nervous. But I just knew I had a job to do, and the night before I’d written all my notes about the course and visualised everything and that really helped me.
So I think the support that you have around you always helps me more than if I’m doing a competition on my own. And if I do a lower level, I’m usually better because obviously less is on the line but I can still be really nervous going around a young horse’s first BE100 because I don’t want to mess it up for them, and give them a bad experience.
Jenni: It’s good for people to hear that you can be at the level that you’re doing and still get nervous. But the thing is, you wouldn’t be at the level you’re at now if you can’t switch them off and focus on the game. What is it that you do? You could be nervous in the start box but does something switch in your head that means you then go and get the job done?
Felicity: I think for me, again, it’s that feeling of not wanting to let the horse down. So the only thing that helps me is that as soon as I need to start, I’m like “that’s it, they’ve got to go or it’s not fair on them”. You know that they’re excited, they want to go, so the best thing I can do for that horse is to just go and be really positive and go for it and the horse will respond to that. But I wouldn’t say I cope very well as I can be in the warm-up, up to the last minute thinking “this is terrible, why am I doing this?” but then as soon as I go, I’m alright. I’ve had to work on my breathing to make sure I keep breathing throughout.
Jenni: What that says to me is that there is a trigger in your brain that says “now I need to be on my game”. But would you say it has worked really well for you in having me in your team? In what way have I helped in what you were trying to say? What’s your team around you? How do we all help you to achieve your best?
Felicity: Although you guys don’t necessarily meet up and get together and chat about it all, I relay everything that’s been said. So I will talk to you about my coaching, about what was good and what was not so good or what I was worried about. Then you know I’ll go back and feed that back to Caroline (Moore, my coach) and she also helps me with it. So it’s just all about working together because it doesn’t help if you’re giving me all these brilliant things and then I go to someone else and they say completely the opposite. Everyone being on the same page is what’s worked well for me and been valuable to me. So teamwork is the most valuable tool and that has really helped.
Jenni: It’s interesting isn’t it as collectively we aren’t a team in that we don’t meet up, and I’ve been known to work with some people that way. I will talk to their trainers and vice versa. But actually, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re open enough to help us be your team, then that’s like you are the middle manager really and that is how it needs to be, isn’t it for you to get the best out of yourself?
Felicity: Yeah, because no one else knows what I need apart from me really. And as you’ll probably know, I didn’t know that. So it’s just about communication. And obviously sometimes, unfortunately, it does get to the point where you do have to get upset about something or stressed about something before you can deal with it, but it’s all part of the journey as well.
This is part one of a two-part blog taken from a Q+A that was recorded in 2020.
Find out more about Felicity Collins via her website.