MENTAL EVENTING | ARE YOU PREPARED FOR THE SEASON AHEAD?

The ‘Hows’ that make your own “good luck”

It’s that time of year when January blues are moving aside for riders to get excited for the eventing season to start. Across the UK, BE fixture lists are being furiously scrutinised with marker pens and diaries, and priorities are being questioned…..

Jessica and Mark’s wedding? Hmm…clashes with the CIC*…. Well, we don’t know them that well do we? If I ask for early times we could get to the evening do…”


Only last week, a friend sent me an excel spreadsheet with her eventing season planned out – colour-coded categories for levels, difficulty, location; the epitome of organisation.  Which brings me onto the crux of this blog: How prepared are you for the season ahead? With just 7 weeks until eventing kick-off, are you clear about what needs to get done, and how you’re going to do it, in order to arrive at your first event without any ‘what if’ or ‘I ought to have’ regrets.

From XC schooling, to booking that SJ clinic, to decorating your field with white boards and flowers (aka spook-busting for crazy thoroughbreds); there is a whole array of things to prepare (and a whole array of things you may not even have thought of yet!). Keeping your ‘to do’ list in your head is probably a good recipe for a headache, and I am a big advocate of getting plans written down on paper. I have been working with several riders recently on just this: Setting goals for the season and for particular events (the ‘what’), and then working backwards to the present, planning strategies to reach those goals (the ‘how’).

It often helps to give this plan some structure by compartmentalising the ‘hows’, for instance the ‘Technical’ elements of your preparation (e.g., angles and skinny focus in my next two jump training sessions); as well as the ‘Tactical’ (e.g, shopping trip for the lorry essentials); ‘Physical’ (e.g., book and diarise the local gallops); and ‘Mental’ (e.g., create my travelling music playlist for next weekend’s combined training). These plans will often then further detail ‘on-the-day hows’, e.g., warm-up strategy; focus words for SJ round…

Is this over-the-top; fussy? Pedantic? Let’s face it – it’s difficult enough to get all three phases right on the same day without leaving things down to chance. Being definite about your ‘hows’ should bring confidence that there is a clear pathway to achieving your goal; and self-belief and mental calm that you have done everything in your power to succeed. Of course, this plan may need to be flexible. We are of course talking about horses! However, by controlling your controllables (generally internal, e.g., your strategies, effort, focus, mental attitude), rather than worrying about things you can’t control (generally external, e.g., the weather, your work meeting over-running; who the dressage judge is, your competitors), you are focusing on productive elements of performance; maximising your gains and at the same time minimising the risk of error because less is left to lady luck.

On this note, it may be worth mentioning that I generally avoid wishing people good luck (heaven forbid you meet me one day and think me very rude!). “What do you mean” – I was asked incredulously over dinner recently –“you don’t wish people good luck? You’re a sport psychologist!” Exactly! Luck isn’t needed per se; it’s the mix of preparation, opportunity, and action that come before it. I can’t claim that as my own; it was Roman philosopher, Seneca who said: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”, but I can agree with those principles. It was interesting to chat recently with an eventing XC Starter who, in a similar vein, told me that he rarely wishes riders “good luck”.

In fact, those familiar start-box instructions “5…4…3…2…1…Go!” were more commonly followed by “Have a good ride!” or similar; words I would tend to use myself. That is, encouraging phrases with a positive focus and an essence of ‘get the job done’. Perhaps ‘carpe diem’/‘seize the day’ is appropriate (military inspiration); ‘Just do it’ (may sound like may sound like you are promoting the new style of Nike trainers!); or simply ‘enjoy!’, which for some riders is a main goal for the day, yet may be forgotten in the throes of competition. So, it may be pernickety but ‘good luck’ doesn’t cut it for me. I generally avoid ‘break a leg’ too, for obvious reasons.

So, what are your ‘hows’ that will allow you to create your own ‘good luck’? What can you take control over across the coming weeks? What strategies will you use? Ultimately, what can you put into place now that will help you feel confident trotting down the centre line or leaving the XC start box in March?

TO READ MORE ABOUT JO, OUR SPORT PSYCHOLOGIST OR TO GET IN TOUCH, GO TO HER BIOG BY CLICKING HERE.

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