Establishing the winning show ring frame of mind |

Establishing the winning show ring frame of mind

Courtesy photoKathy Valentine, veteran instructor, equine educator and owner of the Heart Centered Equine Academy of Victor, MT, offers some valuable suggestions to get competitors in the right frame of mind to compete at their highest level this summer.

With the show and rodeo season moving into full swing, acquiring a positive mental attitude is just as important as your work in the training arena with your horse.

Kathy Valentine, a veteran instructor, equine educator and owner of the Heart Centered Equine Academy of Victor, MT, has offered some valuable suggestions to get competitors in the right frame of mind to compete at their highest level this summer.

A trainer and competitor for over 25 years, Valentine is a certified John Lyons instructor and Peak Performance Coaching Professional who understands the role of sports psychology to achieve success in the arena.

“Riders need to start with a sense of competence and confidence as they enter competition day,” Valentine said. “With these elements in place, you are free to be in the moment, you are relaxed and you are focused on the correct performance cues, ready to ride an outstanding performance.”

Valentine has some tried and true suggestions that she has learned from working with Patrick Cohn, Ph.D, a Master Mental Game Coach, to help riders get the proper mindset to obtain that full tank of confidence.

“A sense of competence and confidence is central if a rider is serious about the mental part of competition,” Valentine said. “If you prepare yourself mentally, it allows you to use your pre-show jitters/anxiety to propel you to excellence rather than be another obstacle for you to overcome.”

It’s also important to remember that the confidence she talks about develops over years of practice and competition, not through one immediate performance.

“Take control of your preshow routine. Think and behave in a thoughtful and rehearsed way, always striving to keep that routine the same from show to show,” she says. “The key is to focus on what you can control, which translates to your preparation, your mindset, and the emotions that follow. You are not spending your time worrying about the results because you are ready to meet the challenges of the competition, knowing that the results will simply be an artifact of what you have done to this point.”

Valentine asks her students to complete three important tacks to bring confidence to the first class of the completion:

1. Make a “confidence resume” and review it before the event. Riders should include all of the things that they have done to prepare for this particular moment, including practice sessions and past success. For example, the confidence resume could list the riders strengths as a rider, the ability to cue a horse correctly or the good hands and seat they have when riding. Another statement might be to list the accomplishments that have taken the rider to a higher level.

2. Be aware of the doubts that undermine preshow confidence and be able to challenge those doubts.

3. Use positive “self-talk” to help stay on task and to feel confident about and prepared for the upcoming ride.

Because doubt is the number one killer to a confident, prepared mindset, the goal of the rider is to be able to recognize when one has high negative chatter and replace the doubt with statements of confidence, which is known as reframing.

It’s important to reframe or change each doubt, Valentine said. For example, rather than worry about missing a lead change, visualize making smooth, effortless lead changes in the competition.

“When you are confident and thinking in a positive manner, your riding will be more authentic,” Valentine said. “When working with horses, they feel everything we do. When we are anxious and tense horses immediately pick up on this and mirror those exact feelings. So being confident and relaxed will send the message to your horse that everything is great, leaving your horse free to be attentive and responsive to your cues.”

Valentine suggests that riders pick one part of their performance that they want to improve, such as rollbacks in reining, and use five positive “self-talk” statements to boost confidence before competing. Examples could be “My rollbacks in practice were great,” “My horse and I are really in sync with each other,” or “I can ride my rollbacks with ease.”

She reminds riders this approach needs to be integrated into the pre-show routine on a regular basis to be successful and to stop the negative chatter.

“Review your confidence resume before each competition until it becomes second nature for you,” says Valentine. “Review your resume several times a day before the competition and re-read it the morning of the show before you tack up your horse. Give yourself five or ten minutes to relax, think about what you have written, and connect with it. It is simply not a writing exercise, but an exercise where you not only write it, you feel it.”

After each competition, the instructor suggests the rider keep track of the frequency and nature of their doubts as a way to monitor the success of controlling their mental approach to the competition. Continue to practice reframing or refuting each doubt as they arise.

Valentine says to remember that self doubts will only sabotage a performance. The rider’s goal is to have confidence and trust as they enter the arena which leads to a successful show season.

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