There’s more to showjumping success and eventing excellence than the talents of your four legged friends – and though yes, your physical ability is key, today we’re talking about the power of your mind! More specifically, we’re talking about getting into ‘the zone’ and how you can unlock your full potential by getting into the right headspace before and during your competition.
So, what is ‘the zone’?
Put simply, ‘the zone’ is a mental state where you’re at peak performance – you feel focused, confident and you are entirely immersed in the moment. In today’s world, with so many distractions surrounding us, achieving this golden state has become harder and harder to do – but those that can often excel. In equestrian sports, entering this zone can help you take total control and make split second decisions essential for top performance.
To get there, we need a combination of three things: mental preparation, emotional control and physical awareness.
Before entering your competition, visualisation can be key to helping you approach the course with confidence. Imagine yourself clearing jumps flawlessly, negotiating tricky obstacles and riding with purpose. This can all be done in the days (or even weeks) leading up to the event and has been an immensely helpful technique used by riders at all levels, including the Olympics.
In addition, positive affirmations and self-talk can help boost confidence, and though people say you’re crazy if you talk to yourself, it’s actually been shown to improve performance and instil a winning mindset.
If you’ve found yourself however, right before the event and in need of calm, deep breathing exercises you can find on YouTube or even listening to motivational music can be an effective way to reset and find your composure.
Feeling nervous or anxious before your competition is entirely normal, but learning how to channel them into something positive can help you develop an incredible focus at the most important time. Breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness techniques are all perfect for helping riders manage their emotions and stay centred. By learning to harness these emotions, which are often disruptive to a rider’s confidence, you can perform freely and without restrictions.
Understanding your body’s movements, balance and position on the horse allows for better coordination and communication with your equine partner. This can only be achieved with regular training, it’s that muscle memory, that, once in place, makes certain moves second nature. Developing that bond and familiarity between rider and horse, regular practice hones a relationship where you can intuitively respond to each other’s cues.
Mastering the zone isn’t something you can achieve overnight. To get there requires continuous work on your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing – but, with consistency and incorporating some of the techniques mentioned above, riders can make huge improvements to their performance and start to unleash their potential.
Some days you’ll find it easy to get in the zone, on other days it might seem impossible. The important thing to remember is you’re human and all you can do is focus on those fundamentals of mental, physical and emotional wellbeing to give yourself the best chance of finding the zone and letting it guide you to victory!