Mental Hurdles

Mental Hurdles

How do you get over mental hurdles?

In case you’re new here, I’m a mental basketcase.  It’s frustrating for me, because sometimes I am totally fine.  I’ll walk into the ring with an attitude that is all about personal wins and triumphs vs ribbons.  I’ll relax enough to give my horse a good ride, and if I mess up I don’t beat myself up for it until I want to crawl in a hole and hide forever.

And then… there are the other times.


I know it’s not about winning, but I don’t want to embarrass myself.  I make a mistake early on in my course, and practically give up.  I feel like all eyes are on me ready to judge my mistakes.  I feel like I’m letting my horse down and I want to cry and give him to a better rider.

Those are pretty big extremes.


The thing is, they tend to be all on or all off during an entire show. Now this is something I’m directly working on this year.  Showing needs to be mostly fun.  If I have a bad show that’s fine, but I have to fix my attitude enough so the overall experience is still fun for me instead of crippling.

I know that in order to be a successful rider, I need to learn to trust myself and trust my horse.  We are a capable team, and my trainer has never put us into any class that we weren’t able to handle with me in a good mental state.


I’m writing this post today because I had been avoiding two big triggers to my mental demons, but due to some scheduling changes I’m going to have to face them if I want to show much this summer.

So far, my ideas are to amp myself up.  Example… I’m cantering to a single oxer early on in the course and I’m not a fan of it.  I chant in my head “I’m gonna make this oxer my bitch!”


Riding wise, my goal is to respond to every insecurity with forward.  Don’t die… leg!  Don’t look down.. up and forward.  Up and over!  I know how to do this… I really do.

But those mental hurdles come up.  For me, the mental jumps are 10x higher than the physical ones.

34 thoughts on “Mental Hurdles

  1. The making things my bitch approach is how I conquer pretty much everything. Except dressage. In dressage I’m screaming “PLEASE STOP STARING AT ME AND JUDGING ME” on the inside pretty much the whole time.

  2. I am terrified of looking bad in front of others. However, at a show this fear turns into anger. I get angry and I get fierce and I basically go ‘screw other people, I’m doing this MY way.’ Then after I’m out of the ring I mentally beat myself up about it if needed, complain for a day or two, and then I’m good to go~

  3. My friend gave me really great, pretty obvious advice when I was feeling unconfident with Gatsby. She said I need to go into every riding situation and tell myself, I AM good enough to do this, I am a rider – I’m not the helpless beginner anymore that I once was. It’s super obvious but when go into situations thinking I CAN do this without giving myself any time to waiver, it really works and my confident ride produces a confident horse.

  4. Riding is a total mental game! It took a long time for me to accept that I’m an amateur and I mess up. I regularly apologize to my trainer and horse when I make mistakes. The trainer I have now finally said to me one day, “you know, you really don’t have to apologize for a bad distance. Neither your horse nor I am particularly offended.” It was nice to hear.
    Hope you’re able to have all confident days this show season!

  5. Definitely have the ‘make things your bitch’ attitude and fake it till you make it! Psyche yourself up instead of bringing yourself down (easier said than done – I know). If you go into the ring and act confident and like you’re having the best time, even if you don’t feel like you are, then you’ll still be more likely to come out of the ring actually feeling confident and have had a good ride. Say to yourself before each round “I am confident” even if it isn’t entirely true, because eventually you will MAKE it true! You can do it 🙂

  6. I nearly wrote this exact post after a recent job interview in which I basically froze and panicked…the same thing that has happened during clinics and shows. You`re right, thinking positively and confidently helps! Good luck 🙂

  7. My friend has a bit of a mental block about showing, due to years of having lovely schools at home, then getting to the show, & having a tense, nervous wreck of a horse. So I started bringing her the tiny airplane bottles of Fireball. I make her drink it as soon as we get to the show grounds, & I’ve gotta say, it sure did a good job relaxing her & let her move forward from the bad show experiences! She was able to get her last score towards her bronze medal last weekend, something that she’d been trying to do for a couple years now. 🙂
    Just a thought! & I know you can make that oxer your bitch!! 😀

  8. Something that has made a HUGE difference for me is working with an equestrian sports psychologist. Seriously changed my life! I highly recommend Dr. Jenny Susser – she makes you feel like a million bucks and that you can conquer the world while getting to the root of your issues. I’ve learned that our personal emotional/psychological baggage comes out big time in our riding.. so working with someone who can help identify that and help manage it is huge!

  9. That’s almost word for word what I tell myself when a jump makes me nervous. 🙂 Also it’s good every once in a while to have either the bf or the trainer yell at me that I’ve seen my horse go over training level jumps so I need to just go!

  10. Have I already told you to read “That Winning Feeling” by Jane Savoie? If not, PLEASE READ IT. It made such a huge difference to my mental game in riding. In fact, I think I’ll go read it again right now, because I just had a freaking flat ride that is making me suicidal.

    1. This book is amazing. I think I got it for like $3 on amazon and while I’m not a self-help-book person, it made a huge difference for me as far as being able to turn the tide of negativity in my riding and start to gain some confidence.

  11. I have never had the fear of looking dumb in front of others, because that’s my status quo and I’m used to it. 🙂 I did however have major panic attacks at the in-gate every single time because my crazy brain would go to the worst possible scenario and I’d be convinced I was going to die and/or destroy my horse if I chipped in to the first jump or left long to the oxer. Not that Tucker ever really cared about any of that, unless of course I was a tension filled maniac and he took his cue from me. On the days I could get over myself and be relaxed we had lovely trips. I have no advice for you but your approach sounds solid!

  12. It’s a BIG mental game for me … fear has been almost crippling in the past.

    I am all about mind over matter.. i find that when I let me mind run away with me, I get in Henry’s way and it’s never good… I have to be confident that I CAN do this… trainer wouldn’t let me do it if I wasn’t capable and Henry is more then capable of it.

    Dang mind game!!

  13. Yknow, what works best for me – and I have the same damn issues, all that self-consciousness! – is to work to remove all emotion from the equation, at least while I’m preparing and riding. When I’ve crossed the finish line, then I celebrate or kick myself.

    But on approach to the fence, I try to think logically: chant the rhythm: THIS rhythm, THIS rhythm, THIS rhythm; confirm I’m not holding Apollo’s face – check or fix; leg on strong – check or fix; sit two strides out – check; leg stays on – check or fix …. etc. And only those things. Riding my line, keeping my leg on, sitting before the fence, and hands correct – those are the things I have to pay attention to. If I start thinking about anyone or anything else, I don’t do well. Apollo and I both start our minds wandering, and suddenly JUMP! … we both get distracted if I don’t focus hard.

    How to do that? I dunno. I wish I could explain. Just … start by thinking about rhythm and leg on. Focus on those and only on those, see what happens. Once you get that down, add something else, like sitting or not hanging, or think about Denny Emerson’s advice to allow the horse to close your hip and knee angles into a question mark shape over the fence. I’m working on adding that into my focus now myself. 🙂

  14. I agree with Alli–maybe you can look into sports psychology. I read a book called “Thinking Body, Dancing Mind” that is good, and although it doesn’t apply specifically to riding, that techniques are the same for any sport. Also, there is a book called “Inside Your Ride” that it specifically targeted for showing. I haven’t read it but it was recommend to me by a friend. You can do this! Just know your blogging friends are supporting you.

  15. I could have written this exact post. Agree with everything. I need to make the go forward and eyes up my bitch!
    I find that chanting in my head sometimes helps too.

  16. At the moment, I would love to be able to even get on my horse. But, we, like everyone, have our own challenges. The best thing that keeps me going is realizing how absofreakinglutely lucky I am that I have a creature I love, who loves me, and I can afford to care for. Maybe no one will ever sit on him again, maybe he will be repaired sometime in the future. I don’t know. But I just look at him and tell myself I am lucky, and truly believe it. That melts everything away. look at it this way: you’ve tried doubting yourself and that didn’t work, now try saying, screw it, I’m gonna trust myself. Ever notice that ‘What the hell?’ is always the right decision?

  17. Yep so much of riding is mental. For me, learning to focus on the next fence and not let one bad jump turn into an entire bad round has been crucial. And I find that if I’m stressing or emotional about other things in life, I am not as “together” mentally in the saddle, and that’s just life and I try not to guilt trip myself about it too much.

  18. yep i totally relate. you totally got this tho!!!!

    one of my favorite pieces of advice is from the eventer Sally Cousins – something along the lines of ‘if it doesn’t look great the first time around, ride it with everything you got bc it won’t look any better the 2nd time.” i feel like that general concept can be applied to lots of things 🙂

  19. I can relate to this. Breathing helps me. I seriously shut down when I’m freaked out and just making myself breathe makes it all seem better. Oxygen maybe? Or maybe just focusing on breathing takes my mind off of whatever I was obsessing over.

  20. You know what helped me? Watching other adult ammy classes and seeing all the other non-perfect rounds. All the foibles, all the misses. I stopped comparing myself to riders that were at a higher level than me. Instead, I realized I am not that bad for my level. Apples to apples. I’m not perfect and I’m ok with that.

  21. “I know how to do this… I really do.” YES!! Sometimes it’s hard to see your progress until you take a step back and realize that you’re doing things you had no idea you could do.

  22. I’m going to third or fourth the recommendation of a sports psych book to start with. There are some very good ideas that I’m starting to incorporate into my rides and I’m feeling more positive. I can loan you the book I’ve got if you would like – this is SUCH a mental game, and having some tools in your toolbox to help handle that seems good!

  23. Yeah – our mental hurdles seem to soar sky-high. I love the “make that oxer my bitch” idea – remind yourself how strong you are! You are a rider! You are a good rider! you go girl.

  24. It’s always really hard to come back from a bad fall or such things that can make you question your sanity or why you got involved in the sport in the first place. But you just have to find it within yourself to pick yourself back up and MAKE that oxer your bitch!!!

  25. As you know since you read my blog I have similar issues. I started seeing a sports psych last year and that helped a lot. I get most nervous warming up and then waiting at the in gate. Oddly enough once I’m in I’m usually okay. But those demons are really bad beforehand!

    My sports psych had me think of my “calm place” – a mental image of ideal calmness and tranquility. For me that’s a northern lake within a boreal forest and no humanity. I will flash to that if Im starting to panic.

    The other thing that works really well for me is literally pretending to be someone else. For ages my riding idol was Eric Lamaze so I would pretend to be Eric Lamaze. Gosh this height sure is easy for Eric Lamaze! He would be laughing and joking right now and not be so worried. He would show the course who’s boss. At the height of my fear issues a friend of mine knew exactly what I was going through and would yell “FOR CANADA, ERIC!” when I went in. Nobody got it but us and it would make me smile and go into my “Eric” mode. Silly but simple and it worked.

  26. I always try to pretend no one else is there, it’s easier said then done but it helps. Just remind yourself that it’s you and your horse out there.

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