Mental health is high on the public agenda at the moment. There have been some tragic cases of riders who have felt they had nowhere to turn.
To help those who need to get back to focusing on dressage instead of slaying their internal demons, I felt it might be useful to share my tips on mindset in top sport.
- On the balance of probabilities, the chances of getting a “perfect” score in a subjective sport, while perched on top of a one tonne animal that is designed to bolt from anything that jumps on its back, is extremely unlikely. In dressage, you will always feel like you are failing. But the best riders have accepted this and are comfortable with it. When you fail — this is not an “if” — it won’t kill you. The only riders who don’t fail are the ones who don’t compete and stay at home. If you are in the arena, in public, I admire you.
- Telling one’s inner voice to shut up is quicker than meditating and cheaper than sport psychology. A sport psychologist may start with telling you to breathe, so while it undoubtedly helps some, it’s an expensive way to be reminded of something you have a 100% success rate at. Just carry on doing it in the arena.
- Everyone will look thinner than you. Especially the Dutch. If this bothers you, I advise that you do not compete in Holland.
- Everyone else’s lorry will look better than yours. Their lorries all break down and cost a fortune, too.
- When spying on fellow riders’ social media channels, do bear in mind that a hashtag does not equal a multi-million pound sponsorship contract.
- Everyone else does not have it easier or is luckier than you. True stories of international competitors include those who have substituted their bras for emergency fan belts in order to reach international shows, another who inseminated his mare using his stallion and a baking tray to create his next winning dressage horse, and a national champion who had to ride his horse in the dark as it tried to kill him every time it saw him on board for the first two years.
- Sharing feelings with trusted confidantes or professionals is good, but oversharing on social media is unwise. If you are a multi-millionaire already, feel free to crack on, but those who need to run a business and earn a living should private message or phone a friend in times of struggle, or you could find yourselves with a declining client list.
- Remember, some people rarely share personal stuff on social media. But everyone has “stuff”, even though not everyone chooses to share it. This does not mean their lives are perfect.
- If you win, I advise you not to dump your old friends while you await dinner party invitations from the dressage hoi poloi to come flooding in. What goes up must come down, and you will be needing those friends again. If you lose, remember one bad show does not mean you will spend your later years living in a caravan and eating pony nuts.
Never forget that form is temporary, but class is permanent. Like rising and sitting trot, competing is full of ups and downs. To be a successful rider you have to take advice, find a steady rhythm and learn to handle both.
Ref Horse & Hound; 7 June 2018